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Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Supplied
Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Supplied

Don’t expect a quick return to business education normality, says Sharmla Chetty, president of global markets at Duke Corporate Education. In fact, don’t expect a return at all.

Chetty, a South African, launched Duke’s Joburg office – still the US-based group’s only African operation – in 2008. She says worldwide demand for executive education suffered a massive blow from Covid. She thinks it will be 2023 at least before demand returns to pre-pandemic levels.

When it does, it won’t be provided in the same way. Face-to-face classroom teaching, whether at Duke or on clients’ premises, has given way to online education.  Global chief marketing officer Christine Robers says that where once classroom teaching accounted for more than 90% of activity, virtual teaching now owns that share.

There will be some reversal eventually, but traditional business teaching is dead. Some companies have turned the situation to their advantage, demanding free executive education because Covid prevented schools from meeting the precise terms of contracts. At the very least, clients have asked for fee reductions now that costs like travel, accommodation and catering are no longer part of the package.

No wonder Chetty remarks: “This is a very challenging time for executive education providers around the world. Duke has changed fundamentally. We have to redesign the future through innovation and technology.”

Duke was investing heavily in that future before the world turned upside down, so was able to adjust quickly to many of the consequences. Not all academics found the transition seamless, particularly when they discovered they would have to repackage what they taught. A three-hour, interactive classroom session does not transfer easily on to the small screen for students sitting alone.

“If you teach for more than 90 minutes online, you start to lose participants,” says Chetty. “It requires smaller chunks. Some lecturers have needed help to shrink content from one day to an hour and a half.”

Robers says Duke in the US hired expertise from the Disney entertainment corporation, to provide new ideas and create an engaging learning experience. There’s more to online education than simply transferring lectures to Zoom, she says. Lecturers may find themselves working with several digital platforms on screen at the same time.

Duke has created a significant presence for itself in SA, and collaborated with several schools on joint ventures. Chetty says the online shift has enabled Duke to expose more SA academics to the business education world at large.

“African thought leadership is becoming known internationally,” she says. “SA academics are in big demand. The country is well known for practical innovation in times of crisis.”


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