• Learning

Learning Ecosystems: Power of Collaboration

An interview with Dr Katharina Lange, Executive Director at Singapore Management University - ExD

Wednesday 13 September 2017


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In a globalized world characterized by its speed and complexity, the learning needs of executives change rapidly. To keep the show on the road, let alone actually expand into new markets and launch new products or services, managers need to hone their agility and creativity. Coming from a competitive mind-set, they need to learn how to collaborate inside and outside their organizations.

In consequence, this business environment demands a different learning and training approach. Classic classroom learning in a university setting can only deliver so much. Rather, complex learning ecosystems that comprise well-aligned and bespoke learning offerings will help managers to stay ahead of the curve.

Collaborations and Alliances an important part of the learning ecosystem

Forming alliances and working collaboratively has been preached by the business school world for many years; the irony has been how resistant the sector has been at doing that themselves. However, the past years have shown several examples of business schools offering global degree or executive programmes in a collaborative manner. One example is the IE SMU MBA that is delivered collaboratively in a blended format.

We are now seeing these collaborations being taken a step further with educational alliances between ‘unusual partners’ such as consulting companies or media houses. These alliances leverage their members’ various strengths for the benefit of their clients and betterment of the services and experiences they can deliver.

One of these innovative alliances is FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, founded on an entrepreneurial joint-venture collaboration between the Financial Times newspaper and IE Business School. Both entities bring new thinking to their clients and draw on the insights that academia and deeply sector-knowledgeable journalists can bring to the table. Among other universities across the globe, Corporate Learning Alliance has a strong partnership with the Executive Development department at Singapore Management University.

Dr Katharina Lange, Executive Director at SMU-ExD, sees the strategic partnership with FT|IE being very much part of the University’s USP as a bridge between West and East. “SMU is modelled after the West[ern business schools]. At the same time we leverage our Asian traditions to help global companies become successful in Asia – and to help Asian companies succeed globally.” Harnessing of content in new and impactful ways lies at the heart of the collaboration between SMU and FT|IE. “Learners value the contemporary relevance that journalists add to an academic framework. Also, the journalistic narrative eases understanding,” says Lange.

Good learning design starts with intense listening

To listen and understand the learners’ needs “is always a journey that you take when you start to work with new clients. You go through that unknown jungle into what they really need”. Designing impactful learning journeys requires excellent listening and observation skills. It is a very customer-centric approach to find out what is really needed to bridge performance or leadership gaps. And matching the identified learning needs with the best ‘faculty supply’ is an art by and in itself. In this regard a greater pool of teaching resources coming from an extended ecosystem helps tremendously. “You can nuance differences between East and West more precisely if you have a global collaboration network of experts and faculty at hand,” says Lange, herself a leadership faculty.

Educational technology expands learning possibilities

Recent ‘EdTech’ developments drive learning possibilities further. Supporting and supplementing ‘classic’ classroom learning with digital tools has been good practice for several years now. Web-based training methods such as virtual modules and online classes haven been well established. Increasingly, mobile educational technology expands possibilities and offers a broader range of meaningful learning applications.

“With mobile micro-learning platforms, people can easily learn on their daily commute. This keeps that learning momentum at a meaningful pace, in sync with the learners’ own preference and dynamic,” Lange says.

SMU is working closely with a number of emerging education technology businesses that create learning applications, such as Gnowbe or Smart Up. “With Smart Up we have collaboratively created the public channel ‘Future Skills’. Through that channel we publish academic content in a very accessible and fun way.” Lange sees this as a way to democratise academic content.

Forming technology-based learning ecosystems goes quite beyond ‘classic co-creation’ – rather it is a development which has the potential to transform the industry (witness the launch of EdSurge). In these systems, in which alliances between business schools play an important part, one can find bespoke answers to the kaleidoscope of learning demands from individuals and organizations.

Dr Lange has experienced how ‘EdTech’ extends learning beyond the classroom, and helps create a technology enabled learning ecosystem. “Making learning enjoyable and supporting the learning journey through technology is reality here in Asia,” says Lange. “And at the same time we have to ask: how much technology is useful? And how much is just a gimmick? This is a balance we have to strike very mindfully.”

Make it count – measure the impact

Measuring the impact of learning efforts remains more of an art than a science, particularly when so many different elements come together to enable performance improvement.

“Learning programs are part of a larger array of things,” says Lange. “How do you isolate the effect a particular learning intervention had on a manager’s performance?”

Again, technology promises to help: the analytics function of most applications generates meta-data before, during and after program delivery and helps track the learner’s engagement. This area is developing quickly with an increasing focus on the ability to capture measurable data points around learning impact. Analysing micro-behaviours and engagement time in addition to assessing the results of summative tests forms a larger picture of the learner’s situation before and after a specific learning intervention.

Improving and measuring the learning impact remains a learning journey, for all parties involved.

Headspring was launched April 2019 as a continuation and development of the successful collaboration between the Financial Times and IE Business School, formerly known as FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, an initiative created in 2015 to transform the way executive education and professional development meet the changing needs of business.

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