London-based venture SmartUp is hoping to usher in a new wave of change in academia and to speed up business schools’ adoption of new technology to enhance learning.
The business is developing apps which it thinks can disrupt business education by enabling anyone to learn, anywhere and on demand. It is the latest manifestation of online and distance learning, and an example of how smartphones and tablets could soon revolutionize the MBA classroom.
SmartUp’s apps will enable users to quickly grasp the key points of academic texts and apply the learning to simulations of business challenges in real time – all from a mobile device.
This type of learning – known as “gamification”, in this instance the concept of applying game design thinking to business – is widely used by marketing groups to enhance customer engagement, and the concept is already taught at some business schools.
SmartUp was founded by the entrepreneurs and investors behind companies including restaurant chain Pizza Express and Skyscanner, the UK-based flight search engine, according to its website. It has raised $1 million in funding from private equity investors and seasoned start-up founders.
Focused on educating entrepreneurs, it is an example of the wave of tech hardware making its way into the business classroom.
Sydney’s AGSM, part of UNSW Business School, this week announced plans to roll out digital course material and allocate Apple iPads to new students in January 2015, part of “ongoing strategies to improve utility and functionality of learning”.
Professor Julie Cogin, deputy dean of the leading Australian business school, described the digital update as “possibly the biggest change to our program” in the school’s history.
She said: “The leaders studying in our programs are leaders in a digital world, and by facilitating learning [in] this way we are equipping them to deal with future trends in the workplace.”
The iPads will be used to store course materials, provide access to prescribed texts, and allow the utilisation of apps and collation of notes, as well as the ability to create e-portfolios and accessibility features for people with special needs.
The business school plans to make the digital content available to other members of AGSM later in 2015, it said in a statement.
Ashridge Business School, Georgia’s Robinson College of Business and Hult International Business School have all given students on some programs iPads that come preloaded with case studies and textbooks.
Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business has handed out iPads to students on MBA programs to assess the tech’s effect on learning.
The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business also ran a trial, using Amazon’s Kindle, but found that few students used it for studying.
MBA students have complained that e-reading devices lack the easy typing functionality – and graphics – of iPads.
But it presents a potentially lucrative area for hardware developers to move into. They have already achieved much success in higher education.
According to market research group IDC, Google shipped 715,500 low-cost laptops and 702,000 iPads into high schools in the third quarter of 2014.
In total more than four million PCs and tablets were sold to US high schools and colleges during that period, according to IDC.
Google recently launched an app – Primer – that uses gamification to teach entrepreneurs the fundamentals of marketing, which is free to download.
More than 75,000 educational apps are already available in the App Store and publishers can make their own textbooks for the iBooks store.
Business schools have been trying to keep pace with the digital revolution by adapting their methods of teaching to utilize virtual platforms.
This is a huge growth area for the education industry – it opens up wider audiences and can act as a funnel into the often more expensive campus-based programs.
The most widely used form of online content, Moocs – massive open online courses – is also gaining much ground at the world’s top business schools.
These are run by learning technology companies such as Coursera and FutureLearn, the latter funded by the Open University, an early pioneer of distance learning in the UK.
Michael O'Leary, professor of innovation at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, said that various faculty are using technology to enhance and extend students’ classroom experience.
But he added that the extent to which technology-enabled learning is being implemented varies widely across business schools. “Some see it as a threat and some as an opportunity.”
French institute HEC Paris last week announced plans to run four new Moocs on Coursera’s platform, to be launched in January 2015. These include courses on social entrepreneurship and corporate finance.
The business school’s first two Moocs, launched last year, attracted 66,000 participants.
However, the effort needed to set up and run a virtual learning area that is engaging is “enormous”, according to Dr Chris Dalton, area leader for personal development at Henley Business School.
He said that many schools underestimate the effort needed to develop virtual learning environments. “You can’t simply stick a camera in front of a lecturer and call it teaching online,” he added.
There are also concerns about the impact of digital technology on the education industry.
Prominent business school professors have publically spoken of the need for innovation in business education and warned of the potential threat that technology poses.
Chris at Henley said that faculty do not see virtual learning as a threat, but many not embrace it either. “It’s quite a different channel for learning, and some members will find this attractive, while others will prefer to operate in a more traditional space.”