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Online Learning Brings Disruption And Opportunity For B-Schools In 2015

Disruptors have reaped havoc on traditional degrees, but business schools can find new opportunity in online education in 2015.

“Disruption” is a buzzword that education executives have been quick to adopt. But the past year has seen disruptors reap havoc on traditional degrees globally, mirroring business trends.

Business schools are forecasting more digital disruption of their postgraduate programs in 2015, as technology enables innovation to breed in academia and traditional learning methods to be challenged.

Several deans and administrators contacted by BusinessBecause say that they are having to ramp up their online learning offerings, to deal with the increased competition that the web has unleashed.

“Online teaching will undoubtedly become more prevalent in the future,” said Bernard Garrette, associate dean of the HEC Paris MBA.

Online learning has been around for some time, but the connectivity and interaction that was once lacking has been enabled by new technology. The world’s highest-ranking business schools are now confident enough to expand their digital presence.

“Business education will keep on transitioning to more experiential learning,” said Roy Chason, assistant director of China Europe International Business School in Shanghai.

Disruption is typically destructive, and critics have warned that tech represents a threat to bricks-and-mortar degrees. But it also presents opportunity – many universities are finding a value in reaching mass global audiences through Moocs, or massive open online courses.

“The advantages are numerous,” said Bernard at HEC Paris. Moocs are an effective marketing tool that opens the proverbial doors to students, many of whom may lack the means to enrol in traditional degrees, he said. “Many schools have been using them to create a complementary, well-rounded educational experience.”

Moocs demonstrate business schools’ willingness to use innovative educational platforms, he added. “[They] really are just the tip of the iceberg… The real strategic issue business schools face is how to merge online resources with face-to-face teaching,” he said.

Yet the pace of change has caught some institutions cold. Several MBA programs were shut down in 2014, with business schools pivoting to online-only delivery methods.

Jean-François Fiorina, associate dean of Grenoble Ecole de Management, said that business education is “facing a revolution”. “From Moocs to Serious Games, the teaching methods of tomorrow are being tested today,” he said.

Grenoble and HEC Paris have been pioneers in this area, but others have a more cautious assessment of digital learning.

“We will increasingly see the irruption of new players with lower cost structures,” said Ivan Bofarull, director of the global intelligence office at ESADE Business School.

These competitors have slowly edged into the business education arena. Coursera and rival edX, both learning technology groups, have expanded into the fee-paying market. This pitches them against executive education, high-revenue-generating packages sold by schools to corporations and government organizations.

This will push traditional players to choose between reassessing their value propositions and getting into “troubled waters”, said Ivan. “Some of these new players will deliver appealing value propositions in the elite segment of business education.”

This may include FutureLearn or 2U, another online learning provider, which has evolved to have university partners enrolling over 10,000 students into online courses, and in 2014 floated its shares on the Nasdaq, with shares up 7% since its debut.

Chip Paucek, chief executive of 2U, wrote in the Financial Times this week that students are looking to online education as a “viable option” and that digital delivery will continue to expand in the future.

“The digital technology available today permits us to end the distinction between on-campus and online degrees,” he said, adding: “My prediction is that by 2020 this desegregation will be complete across the board. At every school, there will no longer be online or on-campus students. Just students.”

The next phase of the learning revolution, however, is tipped to be in personalized education. A number of educational service providers are developing new software to enhance classroom experiences; a number of business schools are trialling iPads and other devices for their MBAs; and large tech companies are selling thousands of tablets and PCs to universities each year.

“The teaching methods of tomorrow will be built on a myriad of innovative tools,” said Jean-François at Grenoble.

But Bernard added that it is “undeniable” that there are some elements of the business school experience which are “irreplaceable”. “The future of business education goes far beyond the classroom or the laptop – it is an experience,” he said.

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