A solution somewhere in the middle, or new forms of online learning

Just a year ago we could barely imagine that business communication and education can be almost completely moved to online format. But due to the pandemic, the world has changed literally in front of our eyes. Digitalization has become an essential part of our life. Online books, courses, trainings, webinars, online conferences are steadily replacing the face-to-face format. But to what extent does the unlimited access to any information in the network make us more successful? Do online resources help us think better and make better decisions?

Perhaps paradoxically, information abundance and overload devalue information as such. And since information is most often associated with knowledge, the value of individual knowledge has also been decreasing. This trend has been observed over the past twenty years, marked by the development of search engines. A person with an excellent memory is no longer a role model, because any information can be found on the Internet, and therefore, there is no need to keep every bit of information in one’s memory. In this sense, online education has been planted into a fertile soil, as the young generation is already morally ready for it, while the number of opponents is also significant.

So the new times, related to the need to provide online services, have come for business schools. The issue is not only to provide the technical opportunity to continue the study process, but also to overcome the fact that many lecturers were not ready for the new kind of teaching.

In a fairly short period of adaptation to the online format, the Stockholm School of Economics in Russia has come to several important conclusions on the value of the main components of executive education: the necessity of practical application of theory, as well as creating an environment for reflection and dialogue, being especially important for managers. So a simple remote format, which provides only a passive source of information, is not suitable for executive education. And even younger generations, having reached this high level, are more inclined towards personal communication. Therefore, the Executive MBA program of the Stockholm School of Economics in Russia has not been simply transferred online. Instead, the participants were offered a blended training format. What does it mean?

Firstly, participants gather in groups as often as possible, to the extent it is permitted by the current restrictions, including in the classroom. There is a moderator in the classroom with them, who provides support for international teachers teaching through Zoom.

Secondly, a lot of work has been done to reformat the lections themselves: some of the lectures have been replaced by individual reading with the time, freed by it, given to practical exercises in teams. Thus, the practical orientation of the learning process and live communication still dominate.

"Of course, our Executive MBA program for top managers and leaders includes blocks related to global development trends, including digitalization. With the pandemic, digital technology is also used in the learning process itself. But we at SSE believe that technology only improves functional knowledge and integration, and connects participants with the international faculty and speakers around the world. You can learn finance or marketing remotely, but many things, including leadership, are learned through face-to-face communication, collaboration, and experience sharing," Anders Paalzow, president of the Stockholm School of Economics in Russia, says.

Blended learning, being by definition a high-tech format, preserves the opportunities for individual approach. This isn’t just a set of pre-recorded online courses, with no exchange of opinions, nor is this a platform for webinars, where communication is limited to chat messaging. The blended hybrid approach involves participants in the process of learning as actively as face-to-face classes: participants can ask the instructor all the necessary questions, exchange opinions, practice case studies in teams, and present them to the group for discussion. The most important thing about this combined approach concept is that program trainees, in addition to covering new ground, sharpen their group interaction skills, which helps each of them to improve in all areas, to up both their hard and soft skills.

"Getting information at the sessions is important, but it is not the main thing. Making more money at the end of the program (and this is one of the main criteria in business school rankings!) is useful, but also not the main thing. It is important to be able to work with information, to be able to identify the main point and to cover all the bases; with internal values, high moral standards and long-term vision being equally important. We want our graduates to understand the business practice, to be efficient. The aim is not just be highly functional specialists, but also responsible leaders. And this cannot be taught online," Vsevolod Krylov, Executive MBA Program Director, explains.

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Working in the classroom
Working in the classroom