16 September 2020

i-Flex networking experience

Author: Vito Conversano, International Flex EMBA candidate

Digital and “spread” classrooms, distance learning and international spirit: which are the benefits, the challenges and the incentives of building an i-Flex network?

The choice of a learning path is never a simple step. It will require you to dedicate your time, energy and also money. Especially for a master, it will affect your life for several months. There is no second opportunity, so it would be worth weighing up your decision. With the increase in online courses, the first question that comes to mind is whether these have the same value, in terms of knowledge, experience and overall job market recognition, as a traditional one.

One of the biggest differences between an online and a traditional course is the common concept that a traditional class reinforces the relationship among students. The social contribution of a course is vital, as well as the knowledge learnt during the course itself. Discussions with colleagues, the sharing and comparing of new ideas, working groups or pure networking all enable skills that enrich the training offer. There is no doubt that a face-to-face class has all those characteristics. But are we sure that they cannot be replicated in a remote class? Nowadays, we are living in a social world and everyone is in the habit of interacting with others on social media using the most varied tools. Chatting, speaking and video calling far-off people is a practice which takes place several times a day. It can start friendships and enable you to get in touch with people without any need to organize demanding trips. Furthermore, in this way, you can also get in touch with friends who are located very far away, even on the other side of the world. So why not benefit from such tools and adopt them in order to complete the learning path? This should not be a substitute for frontal lessons but can be considered as something that provides added value to the lessons. Being in an international class brings a variety of cultures and points of view that can be very different from the usual ones. By giving people, who could not otherwise attend, consent to access distance learning courses, the composition of the class is more diversified. Moreover, most jobs are already designed in this mode, being agile and involving collaboration with people who are not in the same workplace. A situation analogous to remote working groups can be created within distance learning. Groups are part of the learning process. And what remains when the course has ended? A solid network already trained for the whole ongoing program, in the sense of continuity and staying connected.

As I was saying, having online lessons should be complementary to an initial, face-to-face approach. As for any type of relationship, it’s necessary to trust other students when sharing questions of clarification or when targeting collaborative assignments. Trust takes longer to build at a distance and real contact can speed it up. The i-Flex program thinks exactly in this way. An initial week is mandatory in order to aid the establishing of trust among students in a teamwork perspective. This week is also useful to get to know the faculty processes and professors with a few face-to-face lessons. Anyone who has experimented with agile work knows that teamworking at a distance is totally different from working at the same table. There is the coordination of meeting times to be considered, collaboration without physical interaction, the need for training with regard to work alignment, as well as for the many assignments in working groups. Most of us are practitioners and professionals. Combining work and study may become a tough challenge which requires finding and keeping focus and enthusiasm on your own. The true difference from a traditional course is exactly that. On one hand, it allows so much more flexibility, choosing the most suitable time in accordance with other engagements, but on the other hand it requires strong determination and self-motivation to keep assignments with other students and to maintain your overall study plan. And if that is not enough, there are many additional complementary activities like business games, new idea challenges and webinars that help us get to know each other better, share interests and also provide support for extracurricular issues, and to build stronger relationships among us: a cohesive network.

I have definitively found many new friends. Of course, if we could have been in the same city we might have met up more frequently for dinner together but we are still in touch very often, even sometimes every day, and honestly this would not have been possible alongside all the other commitments of daily life. It’s a tough task, choosing which type of master to follow, with pros and cons for each program. Personally, the international context and networking were essential to me. With the quality level of classes being comparable, moving over to a digital platform just better matched my needs for flexibility and for maintaining long distance relations with my new friends.

16 September 2020

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