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Professional Development in BC: The Pivot Toward Success

BCBusiness + BC Universities In the world today, leaders and leadership training are in highest demand among professionals and postsecondary education seekers, and there's never been a more convenient time to upskill. GUSTAVSON SCHOOL OF BUSINESS"Professionals are looking for shorter, more accessible training and courses that can fit into a work week, with...


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Credit: University Canada West

In the world today, leaders and leadership training are in highest demand among professionals and postsecondary education seekers, and there’s never been a more convenient time to upskill.

“Professionals are looking for shorter, more accessible training and courses that can fit into a work week, with postcoursework to re-enforce the learning,” says Eddie Isted, Account Executive for Executive Programs at the Gustavson School of Business at University of Victoria. “There has been a continuing trend of organizations looking for training in resilience, emotional intelligence, unconscious bias and diversity training, as well as coaching.”

The pandemic quickly changed many things at the Gustavson School of Business, impacting course delivery, course content, and administration.

“While pre-pandemic we provided some professional development options virtually, the bulk of our programs and courses were delivered in person,” says Isted. “Given uncertainty around public health orders, we quickly postponed a few courses and reconfigured others for online delivery.

Faculty relied more on the “flipped classroom” blended learning model where participants interacted with new material prior to class, allowing for more interactive and engaging group activities during delivery.

“We even reimagined graduation,” Isted says. “No longer could we celebrate together in a meeting space with cheese, wine and certificates, but that didn’t mean we weren’t going to celebrate our students.”

The school had food, drinks, certificates, cupcakes, balloons and more surprises hand delivered to students in far-flung locations during closing modules to recreate that same hands-on touch University of Victoria always strives for.

“With everything else our students were going through in these challenging times, our evaluations (and the live reactions) showed these celebrations were appreciated even more than anything we’d done in person in the past,” Isted says.

There are several important takeaways the Gustavson School of Business will take into the post-pandemic realm. The team quickly realized that high-quality training and the administration surrounding its successful delivery can be easily provided virtually and through remote work.

“Likewise, we now have individual participants from all over the world registering for our open-enrolment programs, which once drew mainly from BC, which provides a richness in diversity within our virtual live sessions.”

The pandemic has highlighted University Canada West’s reliance on technology and the role it plays in our everyday lives. Throughout the past two years, the school has continued to expand its micro-credential offerings, giving students and working professionals opportunities to upgrade their skills or explore a new career path.

UCW’s micro-credentials are focused on technology, business and innovation, covering topics like blockchain technology, e-commerce, data analytics and digital marketing.

“What we have noticed is a trend toward micro-credentials and short courses that allow professionals to upskill or gain new relevant skills that will help them be flexible and advance in their careers,” says Cyndi McLeod, chair of the board of governors at UCW. “Students are looking for degrees that teach applied and soft skills that set them up for success in today’s fast-changing digital economy.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, UCW had to pivot quickly and move everything online. Its team started intensively training faculty and provided students with support and training to ensure everybody had the skills and the ability to continue their education.

UCW also increased student supports and hired more staff to assist students, while increasing the number of ways it supports students.

“For instance, we offered virtual drop-ins and one-on-one and group meetings online,” says McLeod. “We will continue to offer these services beyond COVID.”

Enrollment in Simon Fraser University’s Continuing Studies rose during the pandemic, a trend likely attributed to professionals using the opportunity to take a step back and re evaluate their careers. While some were looking to upgrade existing skills or learn new ones, others were transitioning to a different field or a new career altogether.

SFU Continuing Studies transitioned smoothly to online learning, since flexible education is already its mission and before the pandemic, it was offering 31% of courses online.

“We were able to move the rest of our programming quickly and smoothly, thanks to our extensive experience in the online learning environment,” says Dean of Lifelong Learning at Simon Fraser University, Julia Denholm. “In 2020/2021, we delivered all of our more than 600 course sections remotely and reached learners far beyond our borders.”

In addition to self-paced online courses, SFU Continuing Studies introduced virtual classes that provided live interaction between learners and instructors via videoconference. This was an important component of ensuring students could carry on with their studies safely and without further disruption throughout the pandemic.

“We celebrated the 50th anniversary of SFU Continuing Studies this year,” Denholm says. “In reflecting on our history, we were reminded that even in the 1970s, long before the internet, we offered correspondence courses as an alternative way to deliver learning to our students.”

During the pandemic, students valued the convenience of online learning, and SFU Continuing Studies is now committed to keeping more of its programming virtual even with campuses reopened.

“We want to be sure our students can continue their learning and reach their career goals, no matter where they are or what life throws in the way,” Denholm says. 

In addition, the pandemic and other world events have recently brought to light a number of social inequities that Denholm says have inspired SFU Continuing Studies students. “As a result, we’re seeing growing interest in leadership and community building programs, which help leaders at all levels navigate an increasingly complex world and create positive change in their organizations and communities,” she says. “People want to make a real difference, and that’s exciting to see.”

Quest University was the first university in BC to make the decision to move to remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with most other institutions following the next day. Over a long weekend, students travelled back home to 40 different countries and continued their studies the next week.

“Our courses are all seminar style, with small interactive classes, discussion, projects, labs, and field trips,” says Jeff Warren, VP Academic at Quest. “Students also take one course at a time in an intensive 3.5 week ‘block’ of time. While so much changed when we pivoted online, other things did not change. Our faculty worked to maintain excellent learning experiences and learning communities.”

For some classes, that meant keeping community through meeting at the same time online. For other classes spread across time zones, community was created other ways.

“At the time we moved remote, we had a class of students on a ship in Antarctica that ended up not being allowed to enter an Argentinian port,” Warren says. “The class was quarantined together on the ship for a couple of weeks before finding a way to return home. Knowing they’d be missing their graduation, they threw an impromptu ceremony for the graduating students. This story is just one example of the creativity of our faculty and staff to create high impact learning experiences no matter what the circumstances.”

In September, Quest returned to in person classes, and the pandemic has prompted faculty and staff to deepen the school’s constant process of evaluating its learning methods and services.

As an institution for innovative teaching and learning, Quest University constantly evaluates and iterates to create the best learning experience possible for all students, whether studying in their first year of postsecondary or coming to the school as a mature student.

“In a nutshell, continuous innovation is in Quest’s DNA,” Warren says. “While the pandemic was more significant upheaval than usual, our faculty and staff were able to respond extremely well because of the way Quest continues to iteratively innovate.” ?

Learn more:

Gustavson School of Business | University of Victoria

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University Canada West

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SFU Continuing Studies

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Quest University

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