From sages on the stage to peers in the sphere

Is it time to break the traditional barriers to learning and provide vital corporate education?

By Jon Foster-Pedley, dean and director of Henley Business School Africa.

As we pass the two-year anniversary of our first lockdown to battle the spread of Covid-19, the question now is whether education will stay online, go back to in-person and on campus or be a blend of both?

Working from home, living from home and learning from home have been technically possible for many years, but there was never the need nor the will to actually implement them. Covid-19 disrupted that so dramatically that within weeks working remotely in a virtual world became as much of the new normal as wearing masks and washing our hands.

It was so successful that when employers began to push for employees to return to traditional office spaces, there was incredible resistance from many of the staff. The result, at least for now, has been to create a blended approach to work; some days in the corporate office to allow for face-to-face collaboration, followed by some days in the home office.

We are seeing exactly the same thing on our campuses in Johannesburg and Cape Town. There are students who hanker after campus-based study, for the quiet and the Wi-Fi access that they would not have at home – as well as the physical proximity of libraries and faculty. There are others who are perfectly happy with the seamless virtual learning experience that we have perfected over the last two years, with specially built learning platforms that allow engagement in class, a place to submit assignments and access to a global library of study resources.

There are incredible benefits both to being on campus and being able to learn asynchronously, in your own space at your own time. Thanks to the pandemic we can now do both or either, depending on an individual’s needs or even desires at any given time. It’s a very important innovation, because another one of the lessons that Covid-19 has taught us is that we have to start learning, unlearning and relearning because of this time of volatility, uncertainty, chaos and ambiguity, where the only constant is change.

We have learnt, both as a business and a business school, that it is not enough to innovate once. We all need to innovate continually to be able to ride this wave, or risk being drowned by it. One of the best ways of surviving is by learning, whether it’s new skills for new tools or the necessary skills to build resilience and leadership in a time of almost continual crisis.

At Henley, we have devised new courses – short interventions for immediate application – and adapted our longer programmes to provide the skills that are critical to identifying, understanding and resolving problems, whether in your workplace or in your head. Our lecturers have had to adapt too: historically they were the sages on the stage, then the guides on the side. Now they have become peers in the sphere.

All our courses, by definition, can now be accessed remotely and asynchronously or in real-time, real-life environments. At the beginning of February, of the 10 programmes we were running, nine were still virtual, with one in person but off site – and that was before we officially reopened our campus to on-site learning.

The old normal is gone: we cannot go back. All we can do is go forward and upward, blending the best of face-to-face and the best of virtual. The ability to provide both is an unparalleled advance and a vital innovation in the new struggle to forever break the traditional barriers to learning in a world where corporate education has never been as vital as it is now.