INSEAD Interview 

GO-Live: Learning that empowers faculty and participants

Peter Zemsky

Peter Zemsky is Deputy Dean of INSEAD and Dean of Innovation. We sat down with him to talk about how INSEAD is responding to the needs of learners and organisations in today’s context of huge uncertainty.


Peter, with the pandemic and the great uncertainty facing businesses and leaders in 2021, is now the right time to be thinking about education?

We are operating in a context of massive disruption and high levels of uncertainty and change, which creates incredible challenges for organisations today and those who are looking to lead them. I believe that learning is critical right now; it is the foundation for creating the agility that organisations need to thrive in these disrupted times. The key – and the challenge – is to deliver the right learning to the right person at the right time in this context. 

How is INSEAD going about rising to this challenge?

We have a very long-standing commitment to innovating in management education to meet evolving needs. INSEAD has always been a pioneer in creating customised programmes and business simulations tailored to companies’ particular objectives. More recently we have been leading innovation in tech-enabled education; bringing virtual and asynchronous learning to address company-specific needs and supporting large-scale organisational transformation. Today we are just as excited about the emerging possibilities in synchronous, or live virtual learning, and how to leverage innovation in the design and delivery of our programmes. 

Synchronous virtual learning implies live interaction between faculty and participants in real time, which is inherently challenging. How does INSEAD deliver this kind of learning experience?

We’re guided by two essential principles here. The first is that the learning itself must be learner-centric. That means giving the learner control over things like which camera angle they choose during live sessions, and full access to live chat and Q&A functionality. This is absolutely key in ensuring that learners are active, empowered and engaged, just as they would be if there were on campus and face-to-face with peers and faculty. 

The other principle is about empowering faculty; giving them the space to teach, to move around, to interact with participants in a realistic setting – to create the magic of the classroom in a live, virtual context. And that is contingent on using the right, enhanced technology, so that they too feel immersed and engaged in the moment. 

How does the live, virtual learning experience differ from face-to-face?

As with any kind of digital technology, live virtual learning brings certain benefits and challenges. You don’t enjoy that serendipity of bumping into people in the coffee bar, but at the same time, there are real gains in efficiency. You can move people in and out of breakout groups and plenary discussion with great speed and agility for instance. Virtual learning has a lot to offer, and it’s our commitment as a school and as faculty to adapt our teaching to get the very best from it. The virtual world is here to stay – we very much see this as part of the long-term evolution of executive education. The future is blended. And we are focused on working with faculty and leaders to construct the best programmes and learning experiences leveraging face-to-face, recorded asynchronous and now virtual live delivery too. 

You have a long-standing fascination with the transformative impact of technology and how organisations need to learn to adapt to it, and to use it to adapt. Are you seeing this at INSEAD?

Since the 1990s when I got my PhD from Stanford to today, I have been deeply interested in the way technology can drive change: how innovation shifts entire sectors and industries and how that impacts the value propositions and the organisational capabilities that firms and organisations need to develop. Within INSEAD, as part of the leadership team for the last 10 years, I’ve been part of helping this organisation adapt to the changes that have impacted management education. And for us there have been many changes. I have seen INSEAD consolidate its position as the leading international business school with roots in Europe, and expand in Asia where we now conduct some 40% of our activities. We concurrently fully leverage our campus and faculty in Singapore, in Abu Dhabi and now also in San Francisco where we have opened a vibrant learning hub. 

When Covid-19 hit, like many other schools, we saw huge impact in our open enrolment and company-specific programmes. But these are areas where INSEAD has been particularly pioneering in innovation. We were early adopters in the world of live virtual education, so we were very successful in scaling up our capabilities to meet the disruption and to offer firms the many advantages that the online environment brings – from saving in travel costs to delivering world-class learning experiences at scale. And these are benefits that will endure long after Covid, I believe. 



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