Earlier in November, we had the pleasure of connecting with Goran Calic, Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Information Systems at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business, to debrief on his first project experience with Riipen. Goran’s research focuses on understanding why certain individuals and organizations are more creative and innovative than others. His work on creativity in organizations was awarded the 2015 Max Henri Boisot Award, and this interest in innovation extends to his classroom. He spoke to us about the importance of experiential learning, his preference for a pragmatic, real-world approach to teaching and his commitment to helping learners develop skills that will set them apart in the business world.
“What the internet has done extremely well is increase access to education. The challenge for the modern educator in today’s society is relevancy. Educators, especially the ones teaching at the postgraduate level, can no longer get by reading out of a textbook and assigning unrealistic case studies. The real question becomes how do you provide a meaningful and relevant learning experience your students can’t get anywhere else (e.g. online, through a lecture, in a text, through a simulated lab). The best way I’ve found to create value for learners that far surpasses the cost and provides them with a competitive advantage is by bundling applied hands-on education with a real-world learning experience. The moment a client comes into the classroom (which is critical for making this work), the students are no longer responsible for just their own grade, but for delivering an interesting and thoughtful solution to that individual. There is more intrinsic motivation and they feel like they’re engaging in meaningful problem-solving and application of a framework – and it also makes me more responsible as an educator because I’m held accountable by ensuring my students can apply these frameworks in any real situation, not just a simulated environment where the variables are always controlled.”
Goran was introduced to Riipen through Nicole Wagner, another forward-thinking educator leveraging Riipen at DeGroote. Goran piloted Riipen for the first time in the Spring of 2018 with his MBA-level Strategic Management Consultancy course. Roughly 80 students participated; two-thirds were matched with Freedom 55 Financial and the remaining third with CBI Health Group. Students worked in groups of 4-5 to develop solutions to the questions clients posed. Final deliverables were evaluated by faculty judges and the top solutions were presented to the clients.
The focus was on Millennial client communication, engagement and process outside the typical “brick and mortar” service experience.
Students were tasked with providing sound recommendations supported by research, to questions such as; “Are our current offerings meaningful to this demographic?”, “How can we improve our current Client Service model and interactions?”, “Can you outline modes of communication to inform and services to motivate this audience (before an initial client meeting)?” and “What role should technology and social media play in improving the client experience?”.
Solutions ranged from unique social marketing campaigns, tactical use of technology to speed up and personalize user interactions and internal restructuring of advisor incentive programs to name a few. The Freedom team was impressed with the findings.
“This was a great engagement with the students and Professor Calic. We enjoyed every minute being involved with the teams and learned a lot. Some of the ideas will help us shape up our product, systems, client engagements and candidate experiences to better attract top talent and be more competitive.” – Najeem Nijaty, Director, Regional Recruiting at Freedom 55 Financial
Freedom chose a select group of students and invited them out for a final meet and greet dinner – we are happy to report that one student was eventually offered a full-time position in their Toronto offices.
As the largest community healthcare services provider in Canada, and one growing rapidly year over year, their focus was on gaining insight into increasing turnover in one of their key roles – the Personal Support Worker (PSW). With demand increasing and student enrollment numbers decreasing for this profession, students were tasked with questions such as; “How can we increase the amount of PSW’s at CBI and in the market in general?”, “How could our onboarding and training process be improved to attract the limited talent coming into the market?”, “How could we develop incentive programs to support PSW trainees while they are in school?” and “How could we engage employees in a way that will set them up for success and ensure retention and career satisfaction?”.
Once again, solutions were as diverse as the students recommending them. CBI received ideas around improving HR relations and work-life balance programs, enhanced work environments, improved language support for immigrant workers and international marketing to attract overseas talent. One team even went so far as to conduct extensive interviews with competitors, leveraging the use of LinkedIn healthcare offices and providing insights that blew the CBI team away such as market segment statistics and insights into competitor initiatives.
Goran will be launching his second MBA course on Riipen in the Spring of 2019 and will be making minor adjustments to his approach thanks to the learnings from his pilot. For newcomers to Riipen and experiential learning, Goran offers some advice to help avoid some of the pitfalls he had to overcome.
Set expectation early
Because this is a condensed course, the actual project timeline for students is a quick and intensive two-weeks.
“One thing I didn’t account for when starting this was the initial friction students experience around establishing first connections, information collection and general project setup with the client. Next time I’m going to inform the students 1-month before kick-off to allow for a smoother uptake and more time focused on critical thinking and execution during the project completion window.”
Setting student expectations early, and providing clear instructions for coordinating project logistics and communication touch points before the engagement starts, greatly reduces friction when it comes time to execute. It also gives students time to process the reality that this is not going to be a typical classroom experience.
Invest in the relationship
While most educators, including Goran, tend to agree that Riipen helps streamline the experiential learning process, it goes without saying that there is still additional time involved on the part of the educator to ensure these types of initiatives run smoothly.
We get it. Educators are busy, especially if their primary focus is research. That said, a little bit of investment up front will reduce several hours of management and problem solving down the road.
“Getting your clients early and taking the time to have a vetting call only helps enhance the experience for everyone involved. Don’t leave it open ended based on their application alone. Ensure the client’s needs match the constructs of your course and the abilities of your students. It’s also an absolute must (at least for my course), that the clients come into class at least twice. Once for an intro and Q&A (this helps create buy-in from the students) and also at the end for presentations.”
We live in a digital age. While it can be tempting to cut corners with communications by substituting intro calls for emails and in-person meetings for virtual interaction, we advise against it if possible. Try to structure more critical calls/in-person touch points at the beginning and end of the engagement to help establish and maintain the relationship, and then fill in the gaps with email and video conferencing as necessary. Goran also encourages the use of Riipen’s in-app chat system which organizes all student and client communication in one place. This helps ensure everyone receives messages (instead of them getting buried in email threads), eliminates redundant questions through chat history and creates a paper trail of accountability for future troubleshooting if anything goes off course.
It’s easy to get excited about the prospect of bringing in all sorts of organizations and businesses into the classroom. But be wary that an increase in stakeholders also increases the margin for error.
“Start small with industry partners and scale up as you hone in your experiential learning offering. If done correctly, Riipen requires a relatively low-level time commitment managing students and clients (which is important for me being a research faculty member). Don’t take on more than you can handle the first time around as it could hinder the experience.”
Goran will be adding one additional industry partner to the roster for his upcoming course and expects it to run just as smoothly now that he has a clear understanding of the setup process. He has received proposals from Woodpecker, The Poirier Group and Mednovation Health Technologies & MD Consultants, but is still accepting applications.
Experiential learning can be a wonderful endeavour if done correctly. Great structure and process. Great clients. Great challenges being put forward. Great learning experiences to be had.
If you’re an educator considering using Riipen or launching an experiential learning initiative on your own, consider Goran’s advice. Experiential learning can be made much easier with a well-structured plan and approach that empowers students and clients to self-manage. And after all, that’s the point.
We would like to extend our thanks to Goran Calic, for his generosity in sharing his experience with us, and to the DeGroote School of Business and McMaster University, for their continued support.