Rethinking Online Learning

Author: Aissa Good, Associate Director, Center for Food and Agricultural Business

By now, we know it all too well and have heard it time and time again – the way we conduct both our personal and professional lives is much different than it was a year ago. Realistically, many of these new adaptations we have adopted are likely here to stay.

What is interesting, though, are the remarkable ways in which we have been able to suddenly flip our worlds upside down so effectively in order to continue meeting our basic needs. Consider the incredible number of organizations that moved to an online meeting platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams overnight in order to keep business moving forward. Or the astounding number of elderly who had never ordered anything online before, yet learned to shop for groceries via the Internet and select contactless delivery or pick-up.

In the face of adversity, we have to keep moving forward and finding new ways to meet our needs, and we have to keep improving our skills and abilities to ensure we and our businesses come out of this chaos worlds stronger than we were before. In the professional development realm, we’ve adapted our traditional in-person programs to interactive, online learning experiences that focus on providing participants with the same networking and valuable collaborative opportunities in a safe, travel-free way.

How has the Center of Food and Agricultural Business adapted from in-person programs on campus to interactive online learning?

The center has a strong track record of developing effective online learning through our MS-MBA Food and Agribusiness Management degree program. What was new for us in 2020 was bringing those online learning strategies and technologies over to our non-degree professional development programs. It has been a learning curve on both sides — for us and for the agribusiness leaders learning alongside us — to reimagine what are typically face-to-face, on-campus programs and transition them to interactive online workshops.

Networking and learning from others has always been an important benefit to professionals attending the ASTA Management Academy. How do you make an online program interactive?

Networking with industry peers and sharing experiences are absolutely a highlight of the ASTA Management Academy, in additional to all of our other professional development programs. In order to transition this valuable aspect to the online version of our programs, we really had to think creatively about how to generate opportunities for participants to learn from one another and share ideas about their business challenges. This has been accomplished in a few different ways. One approach that has been extremely successful is facilitated small group breakout discussions where faculty facilitators pop in and out of virtual breakout rooms to provide support and answer questions.

What have past participants said are key takeaways they’ve experienced from the ASTA Management Academy? How will these takeaways be maintained or enhanced in the online workshop this year?

Many participants share that the academy is a chance for them to think more strategically about their business. There’s no doubt that the ag and seed industries have experienced major changes over the last 5-10 years. We help participants in the academy make sense of these changes and aid them in making connections to functional areas of their business (operations, finance, sales and marketing and organizational leadership) that allow them to adapt and stay competitive in the market.  

Undoubtedly, online delivery has its challenges; however, it allows participants to remain in their territories and stay closer to their realities. This enhances the likelihood that those key takeaways from the program experience will be put in to action and integrated into their next conversations more quickly.

The ASTA Management Academy will take place online March 1-5, 2021 and provide seed industry professionals with an in-depth look at current issues facing the industry and ways they can apply business management concepts to tackle challenges and capitalize on opportunities. Previous attendees have returned to work able to better identify differentiators, optimize efficiency and rethink how their value is conveyed. The academy will be delivered through a combination of live sessions, small group work and pre-recorded learning videos for participants to view at their convenience.