Time and again, we hear employers across industries saying that academic qualifications alone do not generate employees ready for the workplace. More than ever today, there is a need for educational solutions that balance theoretical and practical learning. This is for one simple reason: in this era of high and growing youth unemployment, it is the only system that noticeably increases the immediate employability of students.

Amidst Covid-19 and the rise of online teaching, there is, however, a risk that education providers fall back on theory, that is easy to teach remotely, and forget about the importance of practical skills. At EHL, we have a 125-year heritage of dual education where theoretical principles are systematically coupled with practical skills. We believe that the current strides being made in the digitalization of education represent a not-to-be missed opportunity to enhance experiential learning, not diminish it.

Why dual education is – more than ever – the answer to enhanced employability

Dual education, also known as experiential learning, is not a new idea. It is deeply ingrained in the Swiss education system where it has been acclaimed internationally thanks to the nation’s very low youth unemployment rate (currently around 3% while the EU averages 17%). The dual training system has been analyzed by governments across the globe and has even been embedded in the vision of the European Commission. Many now understand that the benefits of practical learning respond to economic needs, providing learners with real work responsibilities and applied learning opportunities which can make them more immediately employable.

Experiential learning promotes social and professional mobility: students progress at their own pace from course to certificate to degree regardless of their background or the opportunities that they had access to from a young age. It opens doors and facilitates more equal access to greater careers. As an example, EHL, on its Passugg Campus in eastern Switzerland, provides options for young students to get a Swiss Professional Degree in just three semesters through an accelerated, dual education program, enabling them to get access to a university degree even if they do not have a high school diploma.

Not only for a first job – but also for lifelong learning

Another unique advantage for students and employers of a dual education system is its possible application to lifelong learning.

Nobody today will think that the learning completed by the age of 21 is all the learning that one will ever need to do. Today’s world is about continually upgrading skills to meet the ever-evolving needs of the day.

Experiential learning allows just that: it enables educational institutions to roll out expertise they gain in the development of curriculums (eg. Bachelor programs) to lifelong learning systems which allow professionals to always stay in touch with the new realities of the field. The industry feeds the system which in turn feeds educators with the content they need to help life learners to stay relevant. And employable.

A timely response to faster industry changes

The main driver of experiential learning programs is therefore the quality of their links to industry. Practical learning educators need to continuously innovate in the way they gather and apply insights from the field. Employers need to be on board at every stage of the development of educational content and contribute to regular updates to the curriculum, to meet the industry’s changing needs.

That’s the heart of the challenge: if education programs are providing students with hands-on skills, those skills must be relevant for tomorrow’s workplace, not yesterday’s. Preparing students for fast-paced change in the real world means constant, fast-paced changes to the education syllabus. Programs must be constantly updated and adapted as new tools and business models emerge and new capabilities are required – which is no easy feat. In the four-year bachelor program we provide at EHL, there is no room for us to stand still. We need mechanisms that allow for faster adaptation of the syllabus during the course, in order for students to remain at maximum employability at the end of the program. We are in continual contact with employers and our faculty reviews and adapts curriculums twice a year to ensure our teaching meets ever-changing student and employer needs.

Here too, experiential learning is part of the answer. Intrinsically, it allows for fast feedback from the market as students, through hands-on learning during internships or industry related business projects with real-life “clients”, return to school with updated practices. Capturing this knowledge and reintegrating it in the syllabus is one of the keys to smart dual education practices. Educators today need to apply new technologies and disruptive business models in order to continuously remain industry relevant.

The challenges facing vocational education – and opportunities it presents in the digital world

This constant exchange between theory and practice that is at the heart of experiential learning is put to the test as educators around the world accelerate their move to remote learning technologies. If theoretical learning is comparatively easy to teach remotely, practical learning is harder: the danger is to see education systems suffer from a return to more academic-only curriculums.

At EHL, we believe that this trend towards digitalization is actually an opportunity for experiential learning to expand its reach and to become more widely available to students. As we make strides in the development of new technologies, we already see immediate applications of how practical learning can benefit from a remote approach. More students can learn from more experts and professionals from all corners of the world. Practical classes can develop a whole new range of attractive solutions through VR and AI. Digital, practical learning has never been so much fun – and the benefit of the dual approach is enhanced.

EHL’s recipe for success: the continuous investment in the future of experiential learning

At EHL, as we continue our expansion in digital education, we also continuously invest in systems and initiatives that enhance and streamline our exchange with the industry, which we believe is at the heart of our continuous success. Our International Advisory Board of professionals keeps us up to date with real time, real life advice. Our regular guest speakers and practical workshops provide us with constant feedback. EHL Alliance, a group of corporations that can easily get access to a selection of our services are an important channel of information. And of course, our students’ internships provide them – and therefore us – with the necessary feedback from the field that further feeds our understanding of the international hospitality industry.

But most importantly, it’s the Student Business Projects (SBPs) that have become, today, the true heart of our experiential learning system, in a way that will continue to grow in the coming years. At the end of their bachelor program, the students are asked to deliver work on a real-life case, which provides them with invaluable insights on the current challenges within the industry. At this stage in their learning process – having already applied theory in real life during their internships – they absorb learning in a much more profound and lasting way. Today, twenty years after the creation of the SBP programme, students are regularly hired by the clients for which they have provided this service, which is another great example of immediate employability thanks to experiential learning.

For more than a century, the dual approach to education has proven to be a very strong asset in the success of the Swiss economy – and it will become even more important in years to come, as industry needs continue to evolve faster, in much shorter cycles. As a pioneer in the field with its feet well planted in Switzerland, EHL is proud to remain at the forefront of education innovation worldwide, servicing an ever more agile global hospitality industry through the lasting power and efficiency of experiential learning.

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Written by

CEO, EHL Group

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