Creating impact during the Covid crisis: the power of Cranfield Digital

By David Deegan

For many years Cranfield Executive Development has been renowned for its capability to deliver blended learning: a mixture of face-to-face and digital learning experiences.

Enhancing digital capability

Mark Threlfall, Director of CED had already been steadily enhancing the digital capability within the School of Management. He was determined to ensure that CED could add increasing value to the delivery of their suite of Open and Customised Programmes. Mark says “We have been living in a digital age, the world of Business 4.0, for many years now. At Cranfield I want to ensure we face that technological transformation by bringing digitally-based, online learning to all of our clients, learners and students.”

Some time ago Mark created a Learning Innovation Team, headed up by Executive Development Director Graham Bell. Graham’s team had been consistently transforming Mark’s vision into reality by scanning the horizon for the most appropriate technology, using it to craft a range of engaging online learning experiences, and upskilling those who need to use it. Graham’s view is that “Digital technology needs to be used to support and add value to the learning experience, not used just because it is ‘new’ or ‘different’. Sometimes, digital learning can be showy, unusual and therefore memorable – but my question is always ‘Has it had positive impact on the individual’s learning?’ My team help faculty get the most out of software in a way that is memorable and engaging, but more importantly, effective and impactful.”

Because of the existing expertise and the passionate vision for top-class digital learning, when Covid-19 forced lockdown and the cessation of face-to-face learning at Cranfield, the Learning Innovation Team were able to move swiftly to support the transition to fully online learning.

Extra training sessions for faculty were instantly made available, ensuring that they knew how to use digital capabilities to recreate the interactive experiences that characterise face-to-face learning. Professor Richard Kwiatkowski said “We were fortunate that our colleagues at CED in the Learning Innovation Team were already well versed in distance and blended learning so we could use their expertise to swiftly translate the Cranfield digital experience that corporate clients had enjoyed, and deliver this to our Masters students. Our faculty recognise that this mode of learning is part of the ‘new normal’, so they embrace it wholeheartedly."

Professor David Oglethorpe, Dean of Cranfield School of Management commented that “The Learning Innovation Team are an amazing group of colleagues. They have done such a lot for us, and in an incredibly short space of time.”

But the Learning Innovation Team did not stop there. Cranfield’s strengths come from both its faculty and its long-standing partnerships with Associates. Free digital training was offered to the whole of the Cranfield Associate Network. One of the Associates, Clare Amos told us “My colleague, David Harman and I had been delivering a high-profile Cranfield leadership programme to a group of graduates in Qatar. Before Covid-19 this had been a blended solution. Graduates are digital natives and therefore a demanding audience with very high expectations when it comes to online learning! But the training we received enabled us to quickly redesign the programme to a fully online experience, and I am pleased to report 100% enthusiastic engagement from our graduates.”


Supporting our wider community

And the team went even further. Graham said “Cranfield University has a strong sense of community. This lockdown affects absolutely everyone. So via our personal networks we offered free Zoom training sessions to the wider community, and the response was fantastic.”

Carolyn Palot-Watts is an active community member in the village of Earls Barton in Northamptonshire; heading up their recent successful campaign to save the local library, and chairing the annual Literary Festival. She told us “As a result of the training I was confident enough to set up my own Zoom account, and I now run several meetings a week. Thanks to Cranfield, our community work continues unhindered!”

Father Terry Carr who is the Parish Priest of the Catholic Church in Prestatyn, was devastated to have to close the church when lockdown commenced, and so were his parishioners. But thanks to the support from Cranfield he now celebrates Mass online from inside the church, to an ever-growing congregation. He says “Parishioners can now not only see me inside the church and feel that they are here with me, but they can also see each other. They are delighted that they can now celebrate Mass together via the internet. Many of them were feeling lost and isolated following the lockdown and the subsequent closure of the church. They constantly tell me how grateful they are to be able to worship together, and to see and connect with the friends they had been missing so dreadfully.”

Business 4.0 and online learning are here to stay, but the digital age has brought an even more critical capability – that of connection in a crisis. Mark Threlfall shared, “Reading expressions of gratitude from people like Father Carr is both touching and humbling. I am glad that our foresight in developing digital capability in CED has enabled us to have such a wide-reaching impact on so many.”


Preparing people


About the Author

David Deegan is an Executive Development Director and Director of Practice Development at Cranfield Executive Development. With over 22 years’ international experience in talent, learning and development across a range of industry sectors up to Board level, he is responsible for the design and delivery of customised executive development interventions delivered in the UK and internationally. View full profile.

Tags: digital transformation, article