Key challenges in the online business education world

Online teaching academy

Martin Rodriguez, Director of IE Publishing and Executive Education Online at IE Business School and facilitator of the EFMD Online Teaching Academy, addresses some of the challenges of online business education. To tackle those challenges and keep up with rapidly-evolving trends in online business education, we look forward to seeing you at the Online Teaching Academy, a programme developed by the EFMD Professional Development with the support of IE Business School and Imperial College Business School.

Online learning, hybrid learning, blended learning, remote teaching, virtual learning environments; all these terms are booming in today’s business education world. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit many sectors and business education has been no exception.

At this stage, most of us can affirm that the situation we are currently living in has accelerated the digital transformation of higher education and many challenges are appearing as a result. The perceptions of students are changing, as well as the technology and new possibilities are on the rise. Business schools and management education play a vital role in this adaptation and transformation.

I will conduct my analysis by acknowledging the different participants in the process, in an attempt to identify and understand their individual points of view and needs:

The students

  • Engagement: High commitment, retention and completion rates are key challenges in online education. This is particularly the case with courses that involve high levels of asynchronous and self-paced learning. Each course has to be designed to implement an array of elements to increase student engagement. It should include interaction or interactivities, continuous feedback and the implementation of creative solutions. It should also provide examples, as well as analogies and metaphors, which help the student understand concepts and increase their retention rate. Furthermore, the design of the curriculum should be student-centred and created in a way which ensures that students learn efficiently and practically.
  • Active role: Make sure your students know that they have an essential role in the learning process. It is difficult to learn when you are not interested in the topic or convinced about your responsibility in the learning process.
  • Personalisation: Students who are taking courses in business education (from bachelor degrees, MBAs or executive education) are seeking a transformative and personalised experience. A level of personalisation is essential in the design and delivery in each online course and this represents a significant challenge. When designing these courses, it is important to include different types of learning resources and formats. It is also necessary to find the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities.

The faculty

  • Support: When moving online, faculty members tend to have many questions and need help. We normally say that moving from face-to-face to online teaching is not a course translation, but rather a course transformation that requires new pedagogies, activities and tools for a new design. It is imperative that the faculty is aware of the challenges presented in online learning. This way they can design and deliver their courses having taken these challenges into consideration. It is also important that professors receive support during this process and through the course iterations that follow the first intakes.
  • Technology: LMSs, platforms, apps, functionalities, simulations, EdTech, learning analytics and many other tech possibilities exist. Again, knowing and managing the available options (and supported/recommended by the institution) are key challenges that require both time and backing. Start by adopting simple solutions and try to get support at a school or institutional level. Education should lead your choice in technology and not the other way around.
  • Effort and time: This transition requires a lot of time and effort from the faculty involved. The final goal is to deliver high-quality online experiences. Thus, just lectures delivered via Zoom and streaming should be avoided and many other sophisticated and creative options should be implemented. Simply replacing a lecture with a video of a lecture, will always be a second-rate experience for students and does not encourage active learning or engagement.

The institutions

They are facing critical challenges when it comes to going through digital transformation in short periods of time and under high levels of uncertainty.
  • Fit between online education and the institutional strategy: Top management and those in charge of these initiatives have to define how online delivery will become a part of the overarching strategy. This requires deep analysis, internal stakeholder management and funds to be located and secured.
  • Support and incentive systems to manage the change process: As the transition to high-quality online education has to be seen as a change management process, the institution has to define a support structure with learning designers, EdTech and audio-visual experts. Incentives are also crucial in this process.
  • Technology: This represents a key challenge (as mentioned earlier). Decisions about technology have to be made and these decisions are critical. An understanding of the EdTech world, tech options and implications are relevant as well as the speed at which these decisions are made.
  • Are we asking the right questions within the relevant stakeholders? What type of online methodologies to use and for what programmes? What percentage of our classes/experiences will be synchronous vs. asynchronous? What communication channel will professors have with their students? What kind of support and structure should we implement to help the transition process? What area in the organisation should be in charge of this process? – These are only a few examples of questions that institutions need to find answers to.

The entire educational sector

  • Very demanding stakeholders, scalability and effectiveness: All stakeholders involved, whether it be faculty, students or staff are demanding a lot from online education these days. High-touch and high-interaction online models are expected to be delivered whilst reaching big audiences. This is partnered with the expectation of greater efficiency and engagement.
  • Procrastination and attention span: In a world full of distractions, with vast options available at our fingertips, and where screen time is increasing, online education has to fight procrastination and find the necessary attention span needed for the achievement of learning outcomes.
  • Changing future: The future is challenging but exciting. In the current circumstances, it is even more challenging because we are navigating uncertain and changing times. We expect that online and technology-based teaching will continue to grow and that more hybrid, as well as blended programmes, will emerge. Nonetheless, we cannot forget that new business models will arise as well as new teaching environments which will encompass different types of solutions, for instance, virtual reality, immersive learning and simulations.

Online and technology-based education is here to stay. In the future, we will have new models evolving and we will mix formats. It is to understand the challenges that we are currently facing, to develop the capabilities, to face them and to get ready for the new challenges of tomorrow.

online teaching academy

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