During this time of year, we spend hours searching for that special gift for that special someone. We carefully wrap it up and place it under the tree. Everyone is hoping that the biggest, brightest, most beautiful gift might be for them. What if I were to tell you that this gift was for everyone, not a shared gift to fight over, but a gift to be used now and later, to be used once in a while or frequently, a gift that will continue to grow and expand the more it is employed. Can you guess what that gift could be? Lifelong learning.
The evolution of learning
You’re probably thinking that lifelong learning is not new. In fact, it has existed since the time of Aristotle and Socrates, where all known facts were meant to be questioned, where nothing was taken at face value. Over the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have begun to question all that we knew as certain. We have challenged our way of living, working, and, for the sake of this article, learning.
Here at EHL, we have a strong and preciously guarded tradition of preparing hospitality professionals for the real world since 1893. What began as more practical courses evolved throughout the decades to hospitality management education. We have embraced the times and needs of the profession as the years have passed. Yet, even in our hospitality management education, we remained quite traditional. Face-to-face courses and practical workshops were the dishes of the day, at least until the pandemic obliged us to close our physical doors and open the window to emergency remote learning.
Over a weekend, we went from what we knew into the unknown, i.e., distant learning, without skipping a beat. Faculty members scrambled to put their courses online; students adapted to this new mode of learning. Though we managed to make this switch without too many bruises, we took away some valuable lessons for the future. In fact, the pandemic has offered us opportunities to move forward, quicker than any strategic plan would have predicted, into the potential of digitalization and, subsequently, a more significant offer for hospitality management education. So, how are we doing this? Here are four steps that summarize our initiative:
1. Open your eyes
We needed to embrace the challenges and opportunities of moving online with our eyes wide open. The pandemic situation may have been out of our control, but we were determined not to let it distract us from the core goal of giving quality courses. No previous experience and no time to benchmark was not going to deter us from the challenge. Thus, we implemented technological tools to help us along the way. New terms such as Webex, Teams, Camtasia, Zoom, padlets, podcasts, and more became common jargon. We accepted that merely speaking into a camera for 2 hours would not suffice for authentic student engagement and holistic learning, so we tried different teaching methods. What we had once thought ‘had to be taught this way’ was replaced with ‘maybe this way would work better.’ Most importantly, we were encouraged by the top-most management to try new things.
2. Open your mouth
The encouragement to try new things did not come without risk. Many faculty members were concerned that these innovative practices were not tested; there was no benchmark to compare them to nor a study confirming that they would work. Would the students learn? Would they be effective? To address these concerns, faculty members were encouraged to share their troubles with others. Drop-in sessions on different topics were created to allow the faculty members to share best practices and, more importantly, voice their worries and hesitations. These sessions created a ‘safe’ place to speak with others and be heard. A problem shared is a problem halved, as the wise old adage claims.
3. Open your heart
And within these sessions, emotions were shared as well. The emotional element of the virtual world and its toll on both the faculty and students are often overlooked. In the race to move the program online, many participants were struggling to stay afloat. Countless hours were spent creating material, and the days ran into each other. When a rhythm finally started to flow, the faculty members and students had time to realize just how stressed and tired they were. Too many hours in front of the screen, missing colleagues and friends, and uncertainty regarding internships and jobs replaced the initial excitement of going online. To combat these fears, virtual job fairs were created, social e-peros (a virtual apero), and timely communication were crucial. We ensured that the students and faculty’s concerns were heard and responded to; no one was left behind.
4. Open your mind
In September, many initial concerns subsided, and the faculty were ready to go back to normal, except it was a new ‘normal,’ affectionately referred to as the ‘new abnormal.’ Due to the health constraints, courses were planned in a new model with half of the students on campus, half online. Yet again, the faculty members were faced with a new challenge in their teaching. Another learning curve began. It was not traditional nor emergency online; instead, it was a completely new model called HyFlex. But, this time, the faculty members were armed with more innovative technology and a toolbox of experiences they had had in the spring. With open eyes, mouths, hearts, and minds, the faculty members embraced this new challenge and, most importantly, began to see the potential for continuing on this path for the future. Imagine offering access to the Hospitality Management program to more students, physically and online, synchronously, and asynchronously. Imagine offering more choice in how education is completed: Short modules for specific competencies, individual courses to hone particular skills, full degree programs that go beyond typical online classes. The possibilities are endless. For this reason, a new term could be donned: ‘PerFlex,’ a personalized, flexible education for all. Now THAT is a lifelong learning strategy to be reckoned with!
So, go to that tree and open that beautiful gift I mentioned at the start of this article. After all, it was meant for you. What you will find inside is precious; it is the gift of lifelong education. It is the gift that continues to give eternally. The more you learn, the bigger it gets. Then, pass along this gift to others. It is not an exclusive gift; instead, it was meant to be shared. When shared, it is not divided; it is multiplied. Sharing our learning and the opportunity to learn is the greatest gift of all.