Watch: The Future of Supply Chain Education

Nick Vyas, academic director of the Master of Science in Global Supply Chain Management program at the USC Marshall School of Business, tells how higher education in supply chain has been affected by the pandemic, both in terms of subject matter and how it’s taught.

Change was afoot in supply chain higher education even before the pandemic struck, Vyas says. Distance learning was already in well established, in answer to the globalization of both supply chain and the student body. In such a world, “not everyone can afford to be in a physical classroom,” Vyas says. “We had to adapt.”

While early efforts were a success, it proved challenging to scale the virtual learning model — that is, until the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, when educators had no choice but to teach remotely. The technique quickly became accepted as a mainstream medium for delivering lessons.

The shift required a new mindset by instructors and students alike, but it was more than a question of simply porting traditional lessons to the digital world. “Virtual is not just turning on your laptop and watching a three-hour lecture,” Vyas says. “You have to be really innovative in how you engage students.” Faculty needs to employ multiple tools for encouraging interaction, including virtual breakout rooms and discussion boards.

Seen from that perspective, remote learning can prepare a student for a job in supply chain as effectively as the in-person method, Vyas believes. “The whole notion of the ‘brick-and-mortar’ educational model needs to be challenged in the way we did with the retail model,” he says. Regardless of how the subject is taught, educational institutions must take into account the progress of globalization, faster cycles of change, digitization, and the need to optimize every stage of supply chains.