“Closed-door” seminars: Continuing education without in-person attendance is like Premier League football without spectators
Executive Education / 8 June 2020
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Senior Programme Manager Executive Education
Thomas Kohrs is head of Asset & Wealth Management in Executive Education at Frankfurt School. He is a qualified banker and focuses on the areas of securities and sales. He has more than 25 years of practical experience as a consultant, trainer and lecturer at Frankfurt School.

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Even as they cautiously emerge from lockdown, German businesses haven’t really coped with the full implications of shutdown. The last few weeks have been one long emotional rollercoaster, with much confusion surrounding events of all kinds – not to mention their consequences. In many cases, personal feelings appear diametrically opposed to business interests. While some clearly believe that life should return to normal as quickly as possible, others are trying to slow things down and asking the general public to be patient. Among the fastest to start up again have been Germany’s First and Second Soccer Leagues (Bundesliga). “Behind closed doors” has become their magical incantation, implying some sort of universal solution. But for Third League clubs and other sports associations such as handball, volleyball or basketball, the story is very different – behind closed doors simply isn’t practical. And whether the tests conducted by their professional peers have really been as significant as they claim is also open to debate.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. What I’m talking about are games without the background roar of spectators, without the staccato shouts of the players on the pitch. Games, in short, without the usual emotional content – the joy, the frustration, the anger at referees’ decisions. Are these games worth watching?

In-person attendance is an integral part of continuing education

Okay, so resuming Bundesliga matches is perhaps the best – maybe the only – way to finish off an annual tournament without simply picking a winner at random. The same applies to decisions on club promotion or relegation, or participation in international tournaments. But let’s be honest – have we really been missing these things over the past few months? Have we really mourned the absence of all that daily gossip about footballers’ lives, extramarital affairs, multi-million-euro transfers and other tabloid rumours?

Maybe not. But what I have been missing, what I feel really strongly about, are those roiling emotions on the pitch and in the stadium. That yearning for togetherness, for the group experience – for mass transcendence. Rejoicing in victory, comforting each other in defeat, working together to encourage the team and share in their achievement. To paraphrase a popular saying: “Shared joy doubles the joy; shared suffering halves the pain.”

And in much the same way as I’m missing my fellow supporters on the stands, I’m also missing the presence of students in our seminars. Let’s be clear: Frankfurt School managed to transform our Executive Education programmes into a comprehensive portfolio of online courses in an amazingly short time, adapting to the new, crisis-driven situation with impressive flexibility. And apps such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams have made it easier to work together – indeed, are making many things possible which would have seemed unfeasible just a short time ago.

Online formats offer new opportunities!

Let’s be clear: I was – I still am – thrilled to be working alongside lecturers, students and course participants who have rushed to familiarise themselves with the new content and shown enormous commitment in engaging with the new media. But as I’ve been able to observe for myself: While digitisation is initially easier and faster, it’s also more complicated and time-consuming. You can only address participants in virtual events individually, and while group chats and workspaces are possible, they take place at a technical (rather than a direct, personal) level. The context of group discussions, lecturers’ facial expressions and body language, the vigorous exchange of views – all these things feel very different online. And some things are missing completely, like the pleasure of sharing informal ideas during relaxed coffee breaks. Digital events remain two-dimensional, still lacking many of the key aspects of human interaction.

While digitisation is great – and companies are, at last, having to engage with it, make the necessary funding available, discover the resulting opportunities – digital seminars aren’t always a better alternative to in-person events. Of course it makes good sense to use digital solutions wherever they’re most appropriate. But let’s face it: Nothing can replace the live, full-colour experience – just as nothing can substitute for a thrilling, hard-fought soccer match featuring fast and furious exchanges near goalmouths, last-minute matchwinners and a roaring grandstand!