‘Going digital’ makes business education more inclusive than ever

Reflecting on her experience of working in a UK Business School when Covid-19 struck, Amy Knight from England’s National Enterprise Network considers how ‘going digital’ can make entrepreneurship training more inclusive.

This time last year, Business Schools globally were reeling from having to drastically rethink their delivery models and accelerate digital transformation overnight; condensing and orchestrating multi-year action plans into a matter of weeks.

At the time I was working for Cranfield Executive Development (CED), one of the UK’s top Business Schools. I’d been impressed by the lightning speed of Cranfield’s School of Management’s response at the onset of the pandemic. Now working for one of the partners on the INDEED project, I’m keen to consider what it takes to adapt a business school’s entire curriculum for the digital world, and learn how this could be applied to inclusive entrepreneurship education.

As part of the Cranfield’s Step Up Network which champions gender equality, I interviewed colleagues in the Digital Education Team and the School of Management, about their experience. There are twice as many women as men in Cranfield’s Digital Education Team, but what the leadership team values and appreciates most is their diverse perspectives, unique talents and unwavering commitment to teaching and learning.

Success in the digital world and the ability to embrace digital pedagogy depends on relationship building as well as technical knowledge. Just 6 months into lockdown over seven hundred post-graduate lectures had been meticulously scheduled and professionally executed at Cranfield University, with a trained co-host on hand to assist. More than five hundred faculty, associates and staff had been educated remotely in how to deploy the full functionality of Zoom by their Digital Education colleagues. This experience has been replicated in Business Schools all across Europe, and the need for strong support is described in this blog by HEC, Paris.

We’ve worked with faculty who don’t have a great deal of experience with computers and who are used to teaching face-to-face” said Graham Bell, Director of Digital Education at Cranfield. “The team have ensured that those faculty members, and the colleagues co-hosting alongside them, feel supported. Those relationships are absolutely crucial.”

The role of business advisors and mentors is more critical than ever as entrepreneurs and SME managers face the urgent need to reinvigorate their business models to survive post-pandemic. The INDEED project will support entrepreneurship educators to build their skills and confidence at their own pace, and connect with others on a similar journey.

To support the huge number of small businesses now requiring support, investment must be made into updating the skills and capability of trainers and mentors – so that they can deliver the vital human aspect of their work online, to anyone – regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or disability. Students and mentees who are launching small businesses in European markets will undoubtedly benefit.

Technology will never replace great teachers, but in the hands of great teachers, it’s transformational.” This quote from George Couros, author of The Innovator’s mindset was echoed in a conversation this week between myself and another former colleague Doctor Imran Zawwar, Cranfield’s Executive Development strategist and Head of Research at Madinah Institute for Leadership & Entrepreneurship (MILE). “We need to remember that digital technology exists to augment human capability, not to replace it,” he said.

I spoke with a Cranfield MBA student about her experience of Zoom lectures compared with face-to-face. “For students who lack the confidence to speak up in a lecture room, they can now pose questions privately on Zoom. That functionality is really inclusive,” she said.

Through the INDEED Online learning course, entrepreneurship educators will develop the skills to apply a range of up-to-date pedagogic strategies that are specifically adapted for remote teaching in virtual environments. More than ever before, entrepreneurship education is accessible for people of any age, stage or background.

This blog was inspired by “Stepping Up In The Digital World” and adapted for INDEED by Amy Knight, Marketing and Communications Executive at INDEED’s UK partner National Enterprise Network. Click here to see our project partners.