AACSB: Digital learning environment offers unique opportunities

AACSB is the world’s largest business education alliance. Recently, it held a virtual Europe, Middle East, and Africa annual conference which focused on business schools and the impact of COVID-19, and how education can move forward during this time of global uncertainty. Following the conference, Invest Foresight asked Caryn Beck-Dudley, President and CEO of AACSB International, to share her views of the changing business education in the current pandemic environment.

Similar to organizations and institutions in most of the world, AACSB’s member and accredited schools have faced unexpected difficulties throughout this past year. AACSB’s focus has been to help keep our members informed on the best practices to tackle the issues they’re facing, and how we can best serve them with our resources.

Currently, we have over 1,700 members throughout the world. In our Europe and Near East region, we have 368 educational members. We have not seen a decline in membership as a result of the pandemic as members realize the need for the support of AACSB and its peer network. Links to accredited schools, educational members, and business members are available at AACSB’s corporate website.

Business schools and educators have had to pivot their learning models at an unexpectedly fast pace since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As many schools adapted to the new normal, they were able to refine their programs to better reflect the growing needs of their leaners.

While business education at AACSB-accredited schools has always been high quality, we are starting to see a shift in the content of what is being taught. With such a world-altering event like COVID-19, it’s necessary for business schools to reevaluate their programs to see how they can best serve their learners in the new opportunities and challenges they will now face in the business world.

We will see more courses focused on managing risk and responding to crisis, as well as strategic management and talent acquisition and retention. Business schools will continue to constantly re-envision themselves to ensure that they are offering the most timely and innovative business education for all their learners. 

During periods of market disruption, it is common to see an increase in learners of all ages returning to further their education and help them realize and achieve their goals. During COVID-19, we’ve seen an increase in specialized master’s programs, which is an example of the agility and responsiveness of business schools to the needs of the changing market. 

Throughout the pandemic we’ve asked member schools about different challenges they were facing and how they were responding to them. We found that many schools were helping to address needs in their community of lifelong learners by offering free educational resources and upskilling opportunities (non-degree programs) to those who lost their jobs and may be in a time of transition. 

In a challenging or uncertain time, schools have to be flexible and innovative to continue to be successful. To better support our schools’ need for flexibility, we recently updated our accreditation standards. The new, principles-based standards are built on three themes — engagement, innovation, and impact — which all reinforce AACSB’s commitment to its mission.

Our new standards support schools as they deliver on their unique mission, emphasize outcomes in learning and research, and demonstrate positive societal impact. Positive societal impact is an area where schools are truly able to be innovative and bring change to their communities, both locally and globally. Our role is to be the connector and convener for schools and businesses during this process. 

To further inspire innovative impact, each year we highlight the new programs that our accredited and member schools have created, through our Innovations that Inspire challenge. These stories help inspire and show others how business education is changing the world. 

The world needs business schools more than ever, and AACSB-accredited schools are responding to this need by re-evaluating their programs and methods to best serve their learners. AACSB-accredited schools require the same level of quality and standards for their online programs as their in-person programs, ensuring continuity and high-quality curriculum for their learners, despite being in the middle of a pandemic.

We expect to see an increase in hybrid and fully online programs as schools alter their programs to better reflect the online needs of their learners. We are confident that these programs will offer the high-quality education necessary for learners’ future successes.

The rise of online learning offerings, or distance learning, could expand learner choice, as it provides more educational opportunities and formats that the learners may not have previously considered or had access to. For many learners who are not able to attend school because of family obligations, rural living conditions, or country-specific travel restrictions, distance learning allows the flexibility they need to continue their education.

We will also see schools adapt and configure new experiential opportunities digitally, with virtual experiences — like virtual study abroad trips, virtual internships, and virtual company visits. These collaborations require innovative thinking on how these groups can partner together and initiate change. Many business schools will be able to host virtual guest speakers and visits that they would have never been able to host before, due to time and budget constraints. The digital learning environment offers unique opportunities for learners that may not have been previously available.

Like most institutions, AACSB has responded to an unprecedented time with agility and flexibility and will continue to devote resources to elevating high-quality business education worldwide.

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