Financial educators innovate in their pivot to online learning

This story first published in Globe and Mail on January 14, 2020, by Helen Burnett-Nichols.

Much like the sudden, necessary shift to provide financial advice virtually, the pandemic has required post-secondary institutions that educate prospective financial planners to move online this academic year.

But rather than simply making existing content available online, they have introduced digital innovation into their courses, which has allowed students to continue working toward obtaining their financial planning designations and take advantage of educational and networking opportunities not previously available.

Chris Gresat, Program Head, Finance and Financial Planning, at the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s School of Business and Media in Vancouver, says that students and faculty were left shell-shocked at the start of the pandemic. But after a brief period during which Mr. Gresat and his department took to regroup, they saw an opportunity to enhance the school’s remote learning offerings.

“The financial services industry is relying on us to produce talent – the next wave of financial planners, advisors, associates – and the students are still [enrolling in the program], so we didn’t have a choice. We had to innovate rapidly,” he says.

The program, which is being offered virtually this year, is structured as a combination of live and recorded lectures as well as group work via Zoom. However, assuming it might be more difficult to get students to engage remotely, Mr. Gresat says he decided the virtual program needed to offer more to keep them motivated. The solution was to bring the industry into the online classroom.

While guest speakers would previously come to the campus at the end of the school year, Mr. Gresat says the new format is ideal for bringing in recent alumni to speak to classes via Zoom every two weeks to educate and encourage students.

The school also brought the recruitment process online for second-year students, with financial services firms holding meet-and-greet sessions with classes every Friday from April through August of last year. This connection to the industry via technology, he says, resulted in careers launching even during the early months of the pandemic in April and May.

Although students miss being able to establish face-to-face connections on campus, Mr. Gresat says they’re likely getting more value from the new format. Enrolment remained strong last semester, he says, with a growth in demand for both the full-time and evening programs.

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