eNEWSLINE - Business Education News from AACSB International

Dean's Corner: From Business Schools to Experience Schools: The Role of Technology as a Driver of This Pathway

November 2014

By Bruno Busacca
Dean, SDA Bocconi School of Management
Università Bocconi

Technology for learning has evolved exponentially in recent decades, bringing into being several predictions for the future, such as the following: the emergence of augmented reality learning, the massive use of mobile devices for learning, and the spread of games and simulations for every content area. According to a 2008 Cornell University study, by 2015, 90 percent of business schools will have designed training courses around technology-based learning experiences and simulations; further, a 2011 Gartner survey projects that 50 percent of companies will use them exclusively to train their employees.

Alongside this positive trend, researchers and practitioners are also recognizing that technology itself is not enough. The most relevant aspect in the discussion is the shift of the educational paradigm from a teacher/content-centric to a learner-centric approach. The learner‐centric model is not based on the knowledge transfer; instead it is based on creating environments and experiences that guide the learner to discover, gain knowledge, and solve problems through involvement and active participation. Thus the role of technology is to support this shift toward a learner-centric approach and to contribute to an active and effective learning process.

Although different literature on the subject discusses a variety experiences, the prevalent view seems to embrace the idea that technology is pervasive, and we all agree on that, so let’s explore how we can effectively use some of this technology for advancing our educational programs’ learning goals.

Here is the point. Although some evidence exists as to the effectiveness of the use of technology for educational purposes, we are far away from having a clear effectiveness model for that, and sometimes the discussion even seems to be controversial. Let’s look, for example, at the e-learning arena that has been discussed for a long time and that has become vastly spread with the massive online open course (MOOC) phenomenon.

During the last 12 months, millions of people have enrolled in a MOOC in some of the most prestigious universities worldwide, online, and for free. The University of London reported 9,000 students signing up within the first 24 hours at the end of 2012; MIT received 155,000 registrations worldwide for just one course, nearly 7,200 of whom passed it successfully, also in 2012. We at Bocconi University launched our first MOOCs in 2014 with more than 22,000 people enrolled for each.

Yet, eminent sociologists, such as Zygmunt Bauman, look at MOOCs suspiciously. In his essay “Education in Liquid Modernity,” Bauman asserts, “Loading oneself with information, absorbing and retaining information, struggling for a completeness and cohesion of the information stored—it all looks suspiciously like offering oneself as a dumping site for prospective waste, and thus like an outrageous waste of time.”

The key to the revolution in these cases has been technology.

However, in looking at the last 15 years of research and discussion about the wide topic of technology-enhanced education, one must ask, is there in the literature a reference model that can help business schools create and deliver such initiatives successfully?

Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School have recently contributed to this debate. The two authors present three possible pathways on how this technological phenomenon can impact the future of management education. Two of these pathways are oriented toward efficiency, while the other one is about the unbundling of the typical business school offering system.

Thus, it is clear that technology is influencing the learning process, allowing both the extensions of current learning environments and methods, and the creation of some new ones. Moreover, given the characteristics of the management learning model as described above, learners do expect to be part of an educational experience. And technology can significantly contribute toward this path to learning as an experience.

Accordingly, at SDA Bocconi we started with the reconceptualization of the interconnected relationships between technology and learning process and goals, which are driven by the following pillars:

Learning is a process that goes beyond the boundaries of the classroom. The concept of classroom is much wider than its physical boundaries; learning occurs not only during the course but also pre- and post-course. In order to succeed, managers need to be part of a continuous learning process.

Technology has the power to enlarge the scope of action and the magnitude of learning. So, also according to the previous pillar, we are successfully applying the use of some technology in all three phases of the learning process (pre, in-class, post). A preliminary study on a sample of our management education participants—including junior, middle, and top managers—shows that tech-based simulations are used 76 percent in class, 24 percent pre-class, and 19 percent post-class. According to our respondents, however, these numbers are expected to grow to 81 percent, 52 percent, and 38 percent, respectively, within a short time frame.

Institutions must monitor technological evolutions and understand through processes of learning by experimenting how these evolutions can have some impact on our management education programs.

Consistently with Terwiesch and Ulrich, technology can generate unbundling effects; that is, business schools will offer learning units that are smaller (i.e., pills) than the actual size (courses, programs). This can have relevant potential, if well designed and delivered, using all the benefits offered by technology (e.g., we can reach a new target of participants interested in specific units of learning).

The learning-centric educational paradigm requires highly customizable contents, which are eventually delivered in different space (online, in-class) and time (sync, async). The success of using technology-based innovation in the learning process depends not only on how the technology is used within the course but also on how the entire course has been designed. In particular, interaction processes between learners must be taken into consideration while designing the learning program. This allows learners to augment their educational experience.

To achieve a successful experience, programs should co-design the educational initiative together with clients, directly (working on a custom program) or indirectly (based on evidence from studies and research). This approach will enhance the program’s customization level, for custom-programs as well as for open-market programs, and facilitate acceptance of the learning methodologies (either tech-based or not).

Schools must constantly review learning processes as technology, learning and teaching styles, learners’ knowledge, and competencies continuously evolve.

As with any project, three critical factors for success involve commitment, sponsorship, and investments.

SDA Bocconi strongly believes in the value of innovation. Thus, focusing particularly on technology-based innovation, we have created a dedicated team, SDA Bocconi Learning Lab, that aims to foster this approach and facilitate the change process necessary to make it happen.

The evolution and use of technology are influencing the way business schools are designing and delivering programs. Switching from business schools to experience schools is the next frontier.

Bruno Busacca
Dean, SDA Bocconi School of Management
Università Bocconi