The rise of Zoom

Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, universities around the world found themselves “shoved into the digital sphere,” as Oliver puts it, forced to look into alternative methods of interacting. (02:00)

In this article, we refer to “Zoom University,” but it is important to note that we’re not only talking about Zoom, but also other digital tools like Microsoft Teams and Google Meet.

For Oliver, the term “Zoom University” is “about the integration of technology into a learning experience. It’s not exclusively about making a degree program an online program…The question is really: How can we involve technology in a degree program or in a study experience where the value of on-campus and face-to-face teaching and interaction is maximized?” (00:34)

Benefits of blended learning

“For students, I think there’s a certain amount of skepticism when they hear ‘blended,’” Oliver admits. “There’s a healthy amount of skepticism that what they’re being offered is value for money.” (12:32)

But, when online or blended learning is done right, it can be incredibly valuable for the students and their learning experience.

For example, Oliver tells us that if a student is looking for really specialized content, they can literally “dip into a partner network” and attend one of their classes online. “We’ve just seen an explosion in opportunities of what you could study,” Oliver says. “You don’t have to travel to Australia to take one very specialized module in whichever area you wanted to do. You can simply join remotely and assume that many of our partner universities have got the capability of delivering online or hybrid content.” (14:02)

While certain exercises like group work might be more convenient or productive to do in person, one of the major advantages of online learning is the access to “shared content and a far wider range of materials.” (15:00)

Is Zoom University here to stay?

Short answer: Yes.

“I understand that some universities, especially large state universities, simply don’t have the resources and the ability to affect such a wholesale change of technology and equipment in the classrooms,” Oliver says. “But on the other end of the scale, certainly somewhere like Frankfurt School…we made the change and it’s here to stay.” (10:54)

At Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, online and blended learning is in full swing. Even before the pandemic, Frankfurt School offered a fully online master’s program, so they were well-equipped to quickly adapt to digital in March 2020 and the months that followed.

“We’re investing in classrooms which are digitally enabled for both on-site and off-site participants,” Oliver explains. (03:28) The university built digital classrooms, equipped with proper technology like cameras and extra widescreen monitors to enable hybrid learning.

Frankfurt School gave students the choice to study on-campus or online. “It was such a relief to say that we’ve got every classroom now enabled for hybrid and we could give students a choice – and we did. We had no capacity constraints because we had enough space. We really altered the size of the rooms and the ability to have half the people in the room [and] the other half online, and there was still sufficient space for social distancing. So, nobody was forced to study online,” Oliver says. (07:31)

While the university – and the rest of the world – assumed we would go “back to normal” from September 2020 onwards, it became clear that this would not be the case. “From September onwards, that was our real learning experience,” Oliver remembers. “This was where we said, ‘This is now our mainstream model: blended delivery of education,’ where students have a choice of how and when and where they consume their content and interaction.” (08:29)

Frankfurt School is not alone in embracing these new ways of learning. Oliver tells us, “I think you’ll see that across the business school community. The top-tier schools have invested – they’ve changed, the experience has changed. Even the training of our faculty is evolving so that they deliver a better online and hybrid and on-campus experience.” (12:15)

Is grad school worth the cost without in-person learning?

“It could be,” Oliver answers. “This is a very tricky subject.” (15:08)

The assumption has long been that online education should be offered at a lower price point due to the lower costs. However, as we’ve seen, online learning has benefits that in-person learning does not (more flexibility and access to a larger variety of content at partner universities, to name a few).

For Oliver, it all comes down to giving students a choice.

“I think the answer is somewhere in the middle,” he says. “Students need to be given the choice.” (17:11)

At the same time, if universities are going to ask for the same amount of money for an online program, Oliver argues, they have to ensure that the “technology and the experience is really catered and designed for them as much as for the on-campus students. How are you going to make up the experience gap between the two groups?” (17:40)

“Only then can you honestly stand in front of a group of students and say, ‘That’s why the price is the same online and offline. You had a choice and the experience is equivalent, and it’s not the same,” Oliver states. (18:13)

To conclude, try not to compare in-person versus online learning. They both have pros and cons that are difficult to compare against each other. What Oliver has shown us is that you as a student need to examine a school’s commitment to creating a valuable learning experience, whether it’s online or offline. A high-quality learning experience is a high-quality life experience, whether you’re surrounded by desks and chairs in a physical classroom or sitting in front of your screen in the living room.