In 2020, many universities and business schools transitioned to virtual classes. What has learning online been like so far? How is it different from attending classes in person? What should students expect, and how can they make the most of this experience?

In this special discussion, faculty at Newcastle University Business School (UK) shared an open, honest behind-the-scenes look at what virtual learning has been like for them and their students. They talked about the limitations, but also the many benefits. And they shared valuable advice for how students can get a head start on their future career while attending university online.

Preparing for the workplace of the future

The faculty members highlighted that not only universities have had to adapt this year – businesses have, as well. Workplaces across industries are going digital. This did not happen only because of Covid-19: the pandemic is only intensifying existing trends, said Dr. David Grundy, the Director of Digital Education at Newcastle University Business School.

Students who get used to learning in a digital environment will be ready to step right into a modern professional role, agreed Gill Holden, Senior Lecturer in Accounting. In her classes, students use Microsoft Teams – a technology now widely adopted by businesses, for example.

The switch to tech-enabled learning “aligns very well with developments in the workplace. And then the students find that the transition into the workplace is very smooth, and they can move from their educational environment into the workplace without too many difficulties,” Gill said. In addition to studying, business school students have been able to network with alumni and learn about job opportunities online, she said.

Dr. Benjamin Bader, the Deputy Head of Leadership, Work and Organisation at the Newcastle Business School, agreed that virtual learning gives students a head start for success in their careers. He believes that online learning spurs personal growth as it gives students the power to decide where, when, and how they want to learn. With support from faculty, students find their own motivation and learn self-management, he said. That responsibility is the foundation for subsequently managing and leading others.

More interactive teaching

Teaching itself has changed with the increasing use of tech. Students now have the choice of synchronous or asynchronous lectures, for example, as Dr. Bader explained. And faculty are doing much more than just lecturing, noted Dr. Grundy. New material is often provided in shorter chunks interspersed with engaging activities so students can practice and reinforce what they learnt.

Online environments also provide opportunities for student-to-student interaction. In addition to regularly meeting with faculty, students collaborate on projects, according to Ms. Holden. And Dr. Grundy has noticed that executive MBA students, in particular, are creating “tight-knit study groups to support each other”. Student clubs and societies at the university level have continued to operate online, as well.

Towards the end of the discussion, the Newcastle University Business School faculty answer many questions from prospective students. Watch it to find out:

  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of virtual versus in-person learning?
  • How does student assessment work online, in terms of exams and assignments?
  • How have students’ pass rates and grades changed during the pandemic?
  • How do you do alumni networking online?
  • What if students abroad don’t have the necessary tech to be able to study online? How does the university help them?