The Secrets Of Kellogg’s Hybrid Learning Success

At Northwestern Kellogg, the experiences of the one-year MBA and MMM programs over the summer have informed the school’s approach to dealing with coronavirus in the full-time two-year MBA this fall. Courtesy photo

In March and April, as the world slipped into a pandemic pause, higher education did a lot of grasping around in the dark, trying to figure out how to maintain standards while winging it with remote instruction. That included business schools, which mostly followed their universities’ lead, with mixed results. By May and June, schools around the world were finding their coronavirus equilibrium, making the most of the elite educational minds at their disposal and putting short- and long-term strategies into action.

As summer got underway with no end to coronavirus in sight, some of those schools got to test their plans. The schools with summertime laboratories, so to speak, are the schools best prepared for a fall — and who knows how many semesters more — conducted under the pall of the ongoing pandemic.

By this measure, perhaps no business school is better prepared than Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which by the onset of MBA classes in its two-year program last month had already been putting its hybrid learning strategies into action for several weeks. Kellogg launched its version of a hybrid format — classrooms that have both faculty and students present, but also some remote learners — back in July when it welcomed students from the one-year MBA and dual-degree MMM programs to campus. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive feedback it has received so far, not only are the “roomies and zoomies” happy, but those charged with teaching them consider the experience a big success, as well.

“I think in a lot of ways we were working on the 12th-century model of education,” Mike Mazzeo, Kellogg’s senior associate dean of curriculum and teaching, tells Poets&Quants. “It’s a solid thousand-year model, so I’m not saying there’s anything bad about it, but I didn’t need a lot of help as a faculty member — I could just go into the classroom and teach my class. But in this hybrid environment, the extent to which you need cooperation and collaboration among the facilities team and the IT team and the registration team — it’s a production.

“There was so much collaboration, both among the faculty and staff, but also with the students, and connecting what they needed and how we pivoted. There was a lot of learning there as well, and then turning around and sharing it. We built a strong relationship with these incoming 1Y and MMM students because we wanted to hear from them. We ended up surveying them on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. The way we brought it all together is just very consistent with the values of Kellogg and what we prioritize. And comparing the course ratings from summer quarter 2020 with summer quarter 2019, summer quarter 2020 was higher, so the students are learning and appreciating and valuing the experience.”


Mohan Sawhney, associate dean of digital innovation at Northwestern Kellogg

Mohan Sawhney, Kellogg’s associate dean of digital innovation, was teaching three MBA classes and an executive course (as well as a handful of online courses) when Covid-19 struck in the spring. There were only three weeks left in the quarter.

With the decision to pivot to online, Sawhney — like his colleagues across the Kellogg School — had to figure out how to redesign his courses. He decided to work from the ground up, breaking down the content into 15-minute segments and adding interactive exercises.

“We can’t simply bring old thinking to a new medium and just start lecturing for 90 minutes online,” Sawhney tells P&Q. “How do you teach a case? Normally when you teach a case, you discuss it for 80 minutes and then debrief it. But you can’t really do that remotely, not effectively, so I divided all my case discussions into, like, five-act plays, where you set up a question, you have a discussion, you do a partial reveal, and then you move on to the next section and so on. So that took a fair bit of effort. The hiccups there, obviously, were that Zoom was unstable, and we didn’t have all of the hardware and software figured out.”

Innovation was required, Sawhney says.

“One thing we did that was very innovative and it really helped us was, we appointed virtual course moderators who help work with individual faculty on managing all the administrative aspects of their course: the hand raising, the interaction, the participation. And that was very valuable. So that was the summer. And we learned also the value of good cameras and high-quality video. I have a full home studio at home with real lighting, DSLR camera, I have a condenser mic — the whole deal.”


With the spring quarter coming to an end, Dean Francescsa Cornelli reached out to Sawhney and asked him to help reposition the school in the pandemic era — to use the opportunity as a springboard for long-term innovation. Thus began Kellogg’s next pivot.

“It would be a real waste if we just responded to the crisis,” Sawhney says. “We needed to put in place capabilities to put in hybrid — but not only hybrid, because hybrid learning, frankly, is a stopgap until we can get back in the classroom. What is important long-term is blended learning, a combination of asynchronous content with synchronous content, thinking about other sorts of experiences you can create. So she wanted somebody to really kind of take that long-term view, sort of keep your eye on the ball in the short run but also put in place innovation for the long run. That was my charter three months ago. And then we began a pivot in the summer — a second pivot.”

Kellogg’s second pivot: putting in place the hybrid teaching format using its summer quarter as a test pilot, with a goal to scale up completely for the fall. “So we call them roomies and zoomies, and you create an experience that is equitable, that is inclusive,” Sawhney says. “And that was one of the core design principles, not to let the people who are virtual feel like they’re second-rate citizens.”

Sawhney headed up a task force that worked closely with Mazzeo’s team and Cornelli’s administration to design a playbook for the faculty that captures best practices, learnings, sample videos, and much more. Faculty now have a full guidebook to refer to that is replenished on a daily basis, and new innovations are constantly being considered and tested. “We’re looking at a whole bunch of experiments,” Sawhney says.

“We interviewed the faculty who had taught, and we continued to capture and gather those experiences. When the bidding started, two numbers I’m really proud of is that 70% of our faculty volunteered to go into the classroom to teach, and 60% of all the classes being taught in the fall will have an in-person component. That’s, I think, fairly heartening, and so far so good.

“And then what we’re going to do in the fall now is, it’s about scaling up this model that we tested in the summer and go full pulse, full scale. And then winter and beyond — it’s about incorporating blended learning and other sorts of innovations that will outlive the pandemic. So we are never going back to the way that we were. That’s our journey.”

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