Predicting the future of business education

accapr —  4 December 2014 — Leave a comment

Predicting the future is a dangerous business – just think Sinclair C5 and you’ll understand straight away.  Yet, the newly published ‘See the Future’ report from ACCA and EFMD, gives some pretty good clues about where business education is heading.

It’s perhaps no surprise that technology is going to play a big part.  It’s not just about the MOOCs that have become the subject of so many conversations in the past two years.  Technology has been changing business education since the Open University started broadcasting on late night television in the 1970s.

Indeed, the Open University have been pioneers of technology on many occasions in the past 40 years.  Several years ago, the Open University became one of the first adopters of iTunes U, the Apple platform for disseminating educational content free of charge.  Today, the Open University has had more than 60 million downloads from the service out of more than one billion worldwide, and tops the rankings of most downloaded with Stanford University from the USA.  More recently, the Open University was the driving force behind futurelearn, the UK MOOC platform.

More than anything else, technology is enabling lifestyle learning, the opportunity for students to learn any time, anywhere.  A prospective university student can be up to speed on a subject before they arrive at university, a current student can download the best professors from anywhere in the world as part of their studies and the alumnus can get updates on their specialisation while working, continuing their professional development to suit their individual needs.  The future is flexible and personal.

Such a future poses challenges for business schools, some of which are already manifest.  Recruiting high quality faculty has been difficult for some time and may only become harder and/or more expensive in coming years.  Some business schools have adapted some of their delivery by moving to a fly in, fly out model, with faculty not on the payroll, but booked to deliver certain programmes at certain times before leaving again.  Increasingly technology means that the cost to the business school may be reduced further with faculty logging in to teach and then logging out, avoiding the costs of flying.

What does this mean in practice?  Imagine the first year of an undergraduate accounting degree.  The high cost of faculty, perhaps more interested in research than teaching, means that the classroom experience has had to change.  To give students a richer experience, a business school might partner with an employer to provide their qualified staff to act as facilitators in a digital classroom where students are ‘taught’ with a MOOC delivered by some of the best global accountancy professors, located at universities elsewhere in the world.

The technological transformation of business education won’t stop at traditional class room degrees.  Employers seeking to grow productivity are already using technology to deliver learning in the workplace.  According to the study ‘By 2020, employers believe 57% of training and development will be delivered online in their organisations’.

Again cost is an element of this transition.  Rather than sending staff away for professional development, employers can run programmes in the workplace, without staff having to leave their desks in some cases.  Perhaps more important are the impact on the individual and the flexibility of delivery.  For an individual, lessons learnt can be applied as soon as a course is over, there is no delay returning to the office.  For the employer, programmes can be quickly constructed with the choice of many different providers available online.

All of this technological involvement in education begs the question, but is it as good as face-to-face learning?  Had you asked the question, ten years ago, the answer might well have been no.  The experience was clunky and often involved little more than watching videos of slide presentations online.

Today the experience is much improved.  Not always perfect, but definitely better.  Interaction with instructors and other students is much more common as providers add social tools to their learning technology.  How will it be in ten years time?  Better still and, perhaps more importantly, there will be a generation of learners who think digital is normal.

Cheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, commented a few years back “If you want to know what people like us will do tomorrow, you look at what teenagers are doing today”.  My 10 year-old daughter still has a few years until she becomes a teenager, but I see already she has no fear of technology, it is part of much of her life and will increasingly be so.  For her not to do some of her learning online or with a range of digital tools would seem odd to her, for her not to learn with the best providers wherever they are in the world wherever she is in the world would seem strange and for her not to learn from her peers and from the knowledge and experience of all those around her not just academics would be a missed opportunity.  This is my prediction for her future and for the future of business education.

Andrew Crisp is a Director and co-founder of CarringtonCrisp and author of the See the Future report.

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