The Strategist

IE University : liquid learning as a new educational model for the digital age

An interview with Nick van Dam

12/21/2021 - 10:29

Digital transformation is remaking the world. For many, this is experienced through an increasingly disrupted business environment. Experts tell us that rather than slowing down, change is only going to accelerate. This places immense pressure on the world of education to transform itself if it is to produce a workforce fit for the future.

Whether they call it digital, hybrid, or in the case of IE University, ‘liquid’ — higher education is experiencing a digital renaissance. With work and life changing, IE University’s Chief Learning Officer, Dr. Nick van Dam believes that, inevitably, the way we learn and educate must change too.

Nick van Dam is IE University’s Chief Learning Officer
Nick van Dam is IE University’s Chief Learning Officer

The digital age is well and truly here. So, how is this transformation presenting itself in higher education?

As you no doubt know, the pandemic accelerated technological trends by almost a decade. From digitization, automation, sustainability, to energy transition — the world is a different place. Clearly, learning and education must evolve as well. We at IE University  have already been engaged in online education for two decades, ever since our first International Executive MBA in 2001. But, there were $16 billion in venture capital invested in global education technologies in 2020 — 32 times the level seen in 2010. A great number many universities are attempting the shift to online education.
Liquid learning, however, is IE University’s unique, evidence-based education method, helping students and professionals to acquire expertise, develop skills, and cultivate the mindsets needed for the jobs of the future. We believe education should be liquid: this encapsulates the flexibility and the fluidity demanded of us by the times. 

Where do hybrid approaches factor into this, and how do they help to achieve better learning outcomes?

Our research has taught us that hybrid models are a delivery method, one crucial component among many. Multichannel learning must be used to optimize student experiences across different delivery methods. That could be on-site, online, synchronous, asynchronous, or all of these combined. 
Regardless of the delivery channel, it is crucial that learning is an active process, an applied process. Students learn best when they are collaborating; learning must be active and social for students to succeed. To point them towards current and future jobs, education must also be anchored in the context of real-world organizations, and society in general. As part of that, IE University stays closely in touch with many of the organizations that hire our students, ensuring that our bachelor and master programs are state of the art. We renew them annually.
Finally, personalization is key, as it enables the support of students’ unique needs, personal growth, and aspirations. We are extremely committed to these ideas. Our experience of 20 years in online education, and the recent launch of the IE Center for Liquid Learning  testifies to this commitment.

How is the IE University Center for Liquid Learning going to impact students and educators?

The objective of the IE University Center for Liquid Learning is to facilitate knowledge sharing, feature Liquid Learning experiences, and build community. The center portal grants access to profiles of faculty, learning scientist, and the academic leaders who are shaping the IE Liquid Learning method. Faculty from universities from around the world will gain insights on Liquid Learning through publications on our pedagogies, learning design, and research. 
Liquid Learning is enabled by sophisticated education technologies and tools that will be featured on the center page. We are also organizing free webinars and offering different education programs for faculty all around the world. 
We believe that the sharing of knowledge and best practices is part of our purpose, our role in society. The technology will, of course, continue to evolve. New concepts from the learning sciences provide fresh insights into emerging digital teaching methods, and these can always be used to advance the learning experience. Our commitment to new technology in combination with pedagogical science runs deep.

How are educators to assimilate all the innovative education technologies and platforms entering the market in the coming years?

Experimentation is key. IE University’s vision is to continue to advance its architecture of learning technologies, adopting a ‘plug and play’ approach. That will mean dynamically replacing existing platforms with new ones, whenever they support improved learning outcomes for our students.  

Technology is essential for digital transformation, but it is frequently an organization’s people that struggle with the changing context. How does this truth play out in the educational space?

Absolutely. As I mentioned, a benefit of our background in online teaching was that our people had far less catching up to do than most. But it is true, in education, everything comes back to the quality of faculty. Excellence is not an end state, it is a continuous pursuit.

The best educators, I believe, tap into two separate resources. The first is their own deep expertise, the sum of their research impact, the relevance of their ideas in leading journals and magazines, and their success as thought leaders in their domain. 
The second is their role as exceptional and dedicated teachers. Understanding how to design and deliver highly effective learning experiences, for different audiences, and knowing to how to integrate learning technologies inside and outside the classroom — requires a wealth of experience. 

Fusing these two aspects is the educator’s capacity to inspire students, to encourage intellectual curiosity while being an advisor and mentor. Achieving faculty excellence requires dedicated, ongoing faculty training. Educators need practice, while feedback from students and peer faculty members is essential.