Collage of screenshots from multiple AACSB 2020 virtual events: Global Accreditation Conference; Europe, Middle East, and Africa Annual Conference;   Business Accreditation Seminar; Associate Deans Conference; and Diversity and Inclusion Summit.

A Very Virtual Year of Learning and Development

In shifting to virtual learning opportunities, AACSB has realized numerous key benefits that will outlast the crisis preventing our in-person connection.

Disruption has long been a popular case study in the business school classroom, but this year we have lived out what will likely become a chapter in management texts. One way the industry, and AACSB, has successfully adapted is through a major transition to virtual learning.

Since canceling all upcoming in-person events in early 2020, AACSB has virtually hosted seven conferences, more than 40 seminars, and over 75 webinars and online networking meetings. In total, more than 3,500 individuals from over 75 countries joined AACSB digitally for learning and networking in 2020.

After more than 500 hours of virtual keynote speakers, trainings, breakout sessions, and social hours, our connections to each other have changed and grown. We have realized a considerable number of key benefits that will outlast the crisis that kept us isolated at home. The gains we have made in harnessing technology, being flexible leaders and peers, and creating more accessible and global hubs for learning are important steps for the future of business education.

Improved Accessibility

When all it takes to join a meeting is internet access and a smart device, we all experience dramatic savingsin time, money, and effort. Travel restrictions, visa holdups, layovers, and delayed approvals no longer stand in our way. Though internet connectivity is still an issue in some parts of the world, we are closer to universal access now than ever before.

Technology platforms also enable us to provide accessible experiences for all learners, including those with disabilities. Compared to in-person presentations, recorded audio and visual presentations allow for the use of screen readers, captions, and translation software. It is important that we have inclusive systems that encourage participation from our entire network.

Creative Innovation

Industrywide, the product development process for virtual learning reached speeds that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago. Academics, long seen as reluctant to change, transitioned nearly overnight to teaching online. We have adapted quickly: in April, AACSB reported that 99 percent of schools moved at least some coursework online; 80 percent of those schools moved all coursework online. Similarly, AACSB has transitioned our core portfolio of seminars and conferences to virtual formats, with an increased emphasis on webinars and content delivery through virtual channels.

We have begun to discover what works best, and it is about balance. Spaced learning creates focus time in sessions and break times for recovery and information retention. Making recordings available post-event lets learners review sessions at their own pace. Networking through live video and audio calls, chat boxes, and attendee directories engage those with both introverted and extroverted tendencies. Without the crutch of in-person meetings, we have needed to improve our written and audiovisual communications skills, ultimately making us stronger, clearer communicators.

Focus on Impact

Nearly a year of virtual working, teaching, and collaborating has underscored the importance of outcomes over inputs. Our ability to lead through a computer screen has the power to inspire our peers and lead change in our organizations.

Notably, the sustainability impacts of reduced commuting and travel are substantial. One estimate suggests that changes to university student commutes have resulted in a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions savings of 100–340 pounds per student enrolled. Just one 22,000-person international conference results in about 40,000,000 kg in CO2 emissions.

AACSB is excited to continue creating important, topical, and global learning opportunities that bring business educators together virtually. We are pleased to announce that the 2021 International Conference and Annual Meeting will be an engaging, virtual event, combining interactive sessions with industry-leading keynote speakers and a variety of networking opportunities and meetings.

We hope you will join us as we adapt and innovate together in the virtual learning space.

Nick IgneriNicholas Igneri is the senior vice president for learning and development at AACSB International and is based in Tampa, Florida.