Diaries Of Executive Education During COVID-19 Pandemic
Who would believe that just one month ago, it was business as usual? With over 40 face2face sessions running regularly on a weekly basis, the only shadow cast by the Coronavirus (it wasn’t yet commonly referred to as COVID-19) was the University announcing the installation of hand sanitizers around campus with the advice that washing hands still remains the most effective method for infection prevention.
It took less than a week for the announcement that all face2face sessions had been suspended. This was followed closely by the decision to limit presence on campus to the absolute necessity for critical cases, and have all staff members ready to conduct their duties from the safety of their own homes; a frantic chase to secure equipment, establish VPN connections to university platforms and secure internet access to the ones who needed it.
Fast forward to the present day. Teams have settled into a comfortable routine of online communication and collaboration, 34 open enrollment courses are already stable and successfully running live online with 25 instructors and over 1000 participants, with the rest of the 40 programs scheduled to commence within the next week. Moreover, corporate clients initially shying away from completing their courses online and preferring to postpone the rest of their sessions, agreed to resume their programs online after receiving an orientation on online delivery and attending trial sessions that included their participants and their L&D managers.
Who can believe that all of this happened in just one month? Can’t wait to see what we’ll be doing one month from now.
By Reem Abouemera
Recount of Mohamed Hussein, program officer
Last Thursday, during our weekly meeting, I found myself voicing how proud I was of myself and of my accomplishments since the day the university announced the move to online learning; Sunday, March 15. What appeared to be a ‘regular’ day at work had suddenly become not so regular, and almost overnight, the world as we know it had changed.
I recollect how stunt I felt as a program officer. The main thought at the forefront of my mind was how the participants of the programs I was responsible for, around 250 individuals, would receive this decision; with full resistance and rejection.
Since then, we’ve been working diligently and tirelessly to make the transition as smooth as possible and to adapt to the new normal. The real test came when we had to inform participants of the new learning method. As I anticipated, the flood of emails and calls was surreal. There was strong opposition to the idea and a refusal to accept the new ‘normal.’ From angry participants to refund requests, we saw it all!
All trials of showcasing the potential benefits of virtual learning were met with opposition and refusal to accept the idea, with some participants having already made up their minds on choosing to withdraw from the programs. A series of back and forth negotiations were enacted in hopes of persuading the participants to merely try the idea before passing judgment. Opportunely, the effectiveness of our trial sessions proved to be pivotal in retaining and reassuring our participants.
Fast-forward to today, after almost a month of online instruction, we are witnessing a genuine transformation in participants’ perception of online learning. The feedback we receive after classes is a testament to the fact that our hard work has paid off. Hearing comments like, “You are role models in transitioning to online learning” and “Online courses are not as bad as I thought before trying them” are among the best moments of my life.
Today, it has become an everyday occurrence to hear participants say that the experience is rewarding, fulfilling, convenient, and effective. What’s even better is that they aren’t praising us for the sake of complements; they attest to the same even when presented with anonymous surveys! The vast majority praise the swift action, while numerous others acknowledge specific aspects of the process, like the privilege of time-efficiency, the interactive tools, the effort exerted by instructors, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Around 92% of our 220 participants are truly finding the experience unique and rewarding.
I recall a notable testimonial by Mai Hafez, one of the participants who was set against online learning and was among those who chose to immediately pull back from her program post-lockdown. Hearing her today, she expresses: “Of course I was worried about different aspects; the chance of the learning experience falling apart, the absence of interaction, the unstable network connections, and much more. However, when I tried it, the interaction with the instructor is still as perfect, and regardless of whether my network is unsteady or not, the sessions are recorded so I can refer to them later. The experience also saves a lot of time because the commute aspect is gone. I truly need to thank everyone who made this shift so unique. I’m very happy that I reclaimed my decision and continued the course.”
Now, thinking back, I’m not only proud of myself, but of all my colleagues. While we are living in a time of crisis, this is the best period of my work experience, a true attestation to our teamwork, and the literal definition of ‘we’re in this together’ with loyalties demonstrated.