Q&A with NMB Business School director Randall Jonas
The move to online learning – whether through live or recorded sessions – has been an education for teachers, says Nelson Mandela Bay Business School director Randall Jonas
FM: What effect have Covid and lockdowns had on executive education in 2021?
RJ: The year 2020 was one of “shock and awe”, causing many clients to suspend plans. Businesses are slowly re-engaging. Existing contracts have recommenced and there are more opportunities to quote and tender for programmes across the private and public sectors. We have not yet achieved the training volumes of the pre-Covid era, which is understandable due to universal trepidation.
FM: How have you sought to overcome the challenges?
RJ: Through more stringent budgetary measures and by diversifying into nontraditional markets. These have included robust sales and marketing campaigns augmented by strategic liaison and networking; competitive pricing; meeting the needs of clients in short turnaround times; and continuous expansion of our digital offerings.
We have been quite successful. Three new programmes will commence shortly with a targeted student group of more than 1,100 over two years. New client-engagement strategies have been developed. This has opened new business opportunities. Topical business webinars have attracted a diverse local and international audience, boosting our reputation as a forward- thinking, leading business school
FM: How have your lecturers coped with the change to online teaching?
RJ: Digital delivery was an awakening for even seasoned facilitators. A small number have indicated they do not feel comfortable with the new method of delivery and their services are now being used in different ways, such as course development and assessment. Most have learnt to embrace the new normal.
During online lectures, with cameras mostly turned off, it becomes tricky to gauge how information “lands” or how students react. It is difficult to ascertain if they are really “present” and engaged. In a face-to-face setting there are so many little nuances that a facilitator can pick up and weave into the class experience. For example, picking up on teatime informal talks and observing what students are reading during lunchtime can lead to stimulating discussions.
Synchronous digital delivery [live sessions] requires a lot more preparation by the facilitator and different preparation from the support team. Facilitators have to learn to more consciously plan for student engagement. Pre-course work, plenaries and breakaway sessions and activities between classes need to be carefully planned. Expectations need to be clearly stipulated from both sides. This was the practice in traditional face-to-face settings but is even more important in a digital setting.
Overall, facilitators have embraced the new way of delivery. Some actually enjoy this mode of delivery. As one gains more exposure and experience, it becomes less daunting and the possibilities that it brings are explored.
FM: What do you think is the future of business school teaching?
RJ: It will be a mixture of old and new. About 30% will be asynchronous [recorded sessions], 50% synchronous and 20% face-to-face. There is likely to be a preference for a hybrid model incorporating all three.
FM: What are the advantages and disadvantages of asynchronous teaching?
RJ: Students can access the course in their own time and at their own pace. They can mull over questions and take their time to submit feedback. On the downside, asynchronous learning is a relatively lonely journey. It requires self-discipline. Also, guidance from the facilitator is not immediately available. Students have to wait for guidance on their questions.
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