Nearly a year ago, the Covid-19 pandemic transformed the lives of most of our planet’s inhabitants. In Europe, the “strict” lockdowns implemented during the initial months eventually transformed into a long and ever-changing list of restrictions and norms which led to limiting face-to-face interactions to help to keep the virus from spreading further.
These norms also implied radical changes for many aspects of our lives, including education. In-person sessions were replaced with online classes and hybrid formats, combining both online and offline sessions. These hybrid formats also included strict health and safety measures to protect both students and faculty.
With the quick digitalisation of classes, we also discovered new online tools and resources that have served to enrich learning processes and provide greater flexibility so that all participants, regardless of their personal situations, can access those classes and content comfortably and without missing a single detail.
Online tools and resources enrich the learning processes and provide greater flexibility for participants
Several studies have demonstrated that in-person meetings have also switched to the online format. In just four months after the first Covid-19 cases were detected, the use of platforms such as Teams and Zoom increased dramatically by 894% and 677%, respectively. The ubiquity and versatility of these platforms, which allow organising meetings and several groups simultaneously, have made them a useful tool for educational institutions that want to provide training and promote digital networking.
“Whether we’re dealing with academic events, lecture classes or speeches by experts, everything can become virtual by means of platforms that allow live videoconferences or webinars. In both cases, you can record the content, send it to others and reuse it later on,” says Andrés Raya, Esade Executive Education programmes director.
Educational initiatives with a hybrid format, says professor Raya, “though requiring greater implementation, provide enormous benefits which far outweigh their costs.” In this respect, he mentions advantages such as their reach, the level of analysis possible and the flexibility that the online component provides.
Hybrid formats require greater implementation but provide enormous benefits which far outweigh their costs
This format increases potential audiences, while also allowing participants to connect from wherever they want. “As a professor, I’m starting to compile numerous anecdotes in this respect,” says Raya. This format also improves time management and facilitates the transition between meetings. Raya argues that “instead of the typical, 1-hour meetings, now you can have three highly focused 15-minute meetings in just one hour (including 5-minute breaks between them).”
The flexibility these platforms provide both participants and organisers is also complemented by the greater availability of data which can be used to analyse participants’ behaviour and improve the programmes based on their results.
Beyond class formats, the health and safety norms adopted and the growing presence of online formats have also changed how classmates network, a clear added-value in executive programmes. Without doubt, meeting online is nothing like interacting with fellow students between classes or during organised social events. However, there are numerous tools available to help online meeting organisers and participants to expand their networks of online programme contacts as much if not more than traditional methods.
However, not everything depends solely on organisers. In addition to an infrastructure and agendas designed to promote networking, participants have to adapt their networking strategies to the online setting to take full advantage of the latter.
The essential element is the connectivity infrastructure, allowing people to participate trouble-free. This includes a high-speed internet connection as well as quality audio and video equipment, the basics for anyone working remotely these days. It’s also important to keep interruptions at bay (someone watching Netflix during a meeting can affect other participants’ connections). Paying attention to the setting from which we broadcast is also key. “Good lighting can do wonders,” says Raya, adding that he personally recommends using headphones or earplugs: “They’re not necessary, but they improve meeting quality tremendously.”
Participants have to adapt their networking strategies to the online setting to take full advantage of networking
In addition to these technical concerns and, as the magazine Entrepreneur recommends, being familiar with the platforms and preparing for these online meetings as if they were held in person are also fundamental aspects.
Lastly, just like with meetings pre-pandemic, we have to provide continuity to our networking strategy when our online meetings end. Social media is the ideal platform for this. LinkedIn is a good starting point, though there is a wide range of different options available to help participants to achieve their goals.
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