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Business Schools Fight To Keep Pace With Digital Innovation

Business schools are utilizing digital learning solutions in the battle for cyberspace. But some may have been too slow to innovate.

Mon Jun 8 2015

The digital race in education powered by disruptive tech has raised questions over whether business schools are adapting quickly enough to change.

As traditional universities scramble to adapt to emerging online threats, many are utilizing digital learning solutions in the battle for cyberspace. Babson College, Stanford and Harvard have all deployed new tech tools.

But some business schools have been slow to sail on the winds of change. The Silicon Valley tech groups that are shaking up the market have garnered millions of students, who are learning on platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and FutureLearn.

As these companies compete with the traditional education model, people are questioning whether universities can keep pace with digital innovation.

Mike Feerick, chief executive officer of distance learning provider ALISON, says that universities’ products are “past” their “sell-by date”.

“Education and business education providers are becoming unnecessary middlemen — soon to be squeezed out except where the learning is time sensitive and new, or that the knowledge is exceptionally high-level,” he says.

Already some highly-ranked schools have closed their campus programs. In November for example, Wake Forest business school said it would no longer enrol students into its daytime, two-year MBA program and will instead focus on its flexible MBA programs.

“A lot of innovation is happening in other organizations and business schools need to keep up,” says Dr Richard McBain, head of post-experience postgraduate programs at the UK’s Henley Business School.

Many schools such as HEC Paris, Kellogg and IE have successfully rolled out Moocs, or massive open online courses, which have reached vast new global audiences.

Yet these elite institutions may be late to the digital party. For the most part, business schools have not kept pace with innovation, says William Lamb, dean of the graduate school at Babson College.

But he adds: “As more faculty from the younger generation join the faculty ranks, though, this will begin to change rapidly.”

Some academics have been opposed to online learning, fearing such methods will erode the value of classroom interaction. Henley’s Richard says one challenge schools face is replicating the cohort experience online.

However, schools say professors have generally embraced online delivery models.  

“Going online for us as faculty gives us two great opportunities,” Geoff Garrett, dean of leading US business school Wharton, says — to offer education across the world, and to innovate in terms of best pedagogical practices.

By understanding these trends and approaches to learning, business schools can start to develop and build courses which meet the needs of future markets, says Derek Amoako, marketing executive at London’s Cass Business School.

Many schools have “flipped” their MBA programs online. And Blended campus and online learning is increasingly popular. “Without question, blended learning is an essential adaptation for business schools,” Susan Cates, executive director of MBA@UNC, the online MBA of Kenan-Flagler Business School, says.

Nancy Moss, director of communications at edX, a non-profit Mooc platform founded by Harvard University and MIT, agrees that business education needs to become more flexible in its delivery.

But she adds that edX must work with its university members to improve education and to conduct research on how students learn.

Other online learning companies are positive in their assessment of traditional universities. Julia Stiglitz, business development lead at Coursera, says: “Our mission at Coursera is to provide universal access to quality education — which we could not do without our partnerships with universities.”

Yet no one organization has yet developed an ideal delivery model across all of business education, says Kenan-Flagler’s Susan.

What most organizations agree, though, is that education must adapt to stay relevant. As Jean-François Fiorina, associate dean of Grenoble École de Management, says: “The teaching methods of tomorrow are being tested today.”