Lessons from Sommet Education, a global leader in Hospitality Education, in COVID-19 point to an emerging revolution in distance education

Distance education is a method which has been used since the 1840s. At first, it involved correspondences via post and after the computer revolution in the 20th century, e-learning has almost emerged as a new way to education and personal growth it has evolved to online learning. And now with COVID-19 pandemic, it has become a necessity and a catalyzer of the digital transformation in the world of education.

Eric Wyttynck, CIO Sommet Education, Switzerland discusses his own case

As the Chief Information, Innovation and Digital Officer at Sommet Education, it is my responsibility to support our Chief Academic Officer and ensure our students can continue their academic programs despite the situation with the same level of excellence. Having closed temporary all our 9 campuses, we had to createquality content for our online learning. Since Mid-March, both of our institutions, Glion and Les Roches, have been able to record over 2000 videos of academic content, with 60 to 100 available each day, for students to access via Moodle, our Learning Management System. To keep a very tailor-made and personalized approach, online Q&A sessions for small groups exchanges have also been implemented several times a day to ensure students from all different time zone can participate. As we believe keeping classes interactive and participatory is essential to keep students engaged, we have also created virtual classes where the educator can share his screen and interact with students while sharing additional content.Video classes are shared either live and not live to help with time zone and avoid unplanned technical issues.

This method of teaching and learning which provides a high level of flexibility, requires a high level of autonomy and responsibility from students. Indeed, even if our institution provides them with full support to help them get the best learning, it is up to the students to make use of what is made available to them.We have been pleased to see a 80 to 85 percent rate of attendance with students connecting on average once per day or more. To ensure a continuously high-quality learning system, we have created a digital task force which includes myself, the Chief Academic Officer as well as many faculty members from both schools, to regularly review all academic issues and look for the best ways to share educational materials to students.

A great concernhas been raised regarding online education is about assessments. Many schools, which do not believe in online assessments due to the required level of trust needed, are still working on solutions to replace regular assessments and final exams. At both of our schools, Glion and Les Roches, many of our courses have continuous assessments throughout the semester.For written exams, we have implemented a system which allow us to verify the identity of the students taking the exam and ensure the integrity of the exam. The student is required to show his ID and his environment to a camera when starting the exam and, once it is over, the video is analysed by Artificial Intelligence which allows us to flag any suspicious behaviour.

To enable students to make the most out of their remote learning period, we have implemented small group sessions coached by experts in Revenue Management, Hotel Valuation and Spa Management. The complimentary courses are designed to meet the needs of the industry and they will allow students to obtain 4 professional certificates in addition to their academic degree. Moreover, we have also created an exceptional series: “Leading Hospitality Through Turbulent Times”, which give our students the opportunity to attend interactive sessions hosted by both of our faculties and featuring global leaders from hospitality, finance, luxury and other key sectors. From panel discussions and individual guest speakers, to webinars and Q&A sessions, students will be able to attend different courses every week to gain expert knowledge on how to lead hospitality during turbulent times, together with numerous great insights they can use to better prepare themselves for their future careers.

With new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), and Augmented Reality (AR), the number of possibilities to make online learning effective as well as entertaining is limitless. For instance, we are currently experimenting the use of virtual reality in virtual campus visits as an alternative to Open Days.

At Sommet Education, we made sure the systems which have been implemented in the past month can be used in the future to support the traditional educational method. Our vision of digital learning has been clearly expressed in our white paper on the Top Trends in Education for 2020. Digitalization has been foreseen as a trend shaping the education but now it has become a necessity with the crisis being a catalyzer of the digital transformation in the education world. To provide our students with the best tailormade experience, we make sure to embrace the best of both, the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ worlds.