Preparing for Third-Wave Innovation

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Wednesday, May 4, 2022
By Victoria Perez
Image by iStock/piranka
How can business schools become pioneers of digital technologies? AACSB’s Innovation Committee tackles the question in recent Firestarter discussions.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has enabled schools to offer students and faculty greater flexibility in where and when education can be delivered.
  • Advancements in data analytics and artificial intelligence will help schools discover previously unknown data patterns and make evidence-based decisions.
  • When institutions align their visions and cultures with innovation, they can view the cost of new technologies not as expenses, but as investments in the future.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most academic institutions made a mad dash to pivot their courses to virtual delivery. The last two years have presented business schools with opportunities to achieve significant technological advancement.

But what comes next? At their February 2022 meeting, members of AACSB’s Innovation Committee (IC) discussed the role technology will continue to play in the learner’s experience. Chaired by McRae C. Banks, dean of the Bryan School of Business and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the IC engaged in two Firestarter conversations led by representatives from schools leading innovation in this area.

The speakers included Sarah Grant, associate director of the EdTech Lab at Imperial College Business School in the United Kingdom, and Alain Goudey, director of digital transformation at NEOMA Business School in France. Grant and Goudey previewed the innovations their organizations are using to deliver education in virtual formats and explained how their schools arrived where they are in their respective innovation cycles.

Both speakers also shared what they believe the future has in store for business education. They offered their suggestions about how schools can prepare to be pioneers of Web 3.0—the third wave of technological innovation. 

‘A New Era of Learning’

“COVID-19,” Grant began, “represents a momentary period within a decades-long innovation cycle initiated by the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies.” Web 2.0, which emerged around 2005, includes popular content-sharing platforms such as YouTube, meeting platforms such as Macromedia Breeze Live, and programming languages such as AJAX. These technologies enabled greater flexibility in where and when education could be taught and consumed, and they made it possible for schools to share information on a much broader scale. They also democratized the production and dissemination of video content by creating interactive social media.

Web 2.0 allowed schools to develop common features of digital education, such as interactive learning materials, video lectures, asynchronous communication tools, and video conferencing. Many schools are still focusing primarily on leveraging Web 2.0 technologies and making incremental improvements to educational delivery. But “if we want to be pioneering,” Grant emphasized, “we need to be preparing for Web 3.0.” 

Future cycles of innovation, Grant noted, “will be initiated by the emerging mathematical and computing-based technologies” that will enable “a move toward a new era of digital education systems supported by AI.”

“If we want to be pioneering, we need to be preparing for Web 3.0.” —Sarah Grant

As part of this new era, Imperial College Business School has begun gathering data points on its students from the moment they first engage with the school to the time they become alumni. The school’s leadership has assembled a team to pool data from throughout the university into one system within a single platform.

Using this new platform, the school will be able to make better evidence-based decisions, which will in turn empower faculty to measure more precisely the impact their interventions have on educational design. The school is calling this new approach “precision education.”   

Goudey of NEOMA reinforced the point that business schools must stop using “yesterday's logic” to solve today’s challenges. When considering how NEOMA Business School will prepare to address a post-COVID-19 world, Goudey said that the pandemic illuminated the possible paths to teaching virtually, revealing both the usefulness and the limitations of this format.

“We need to find a balance between the online and on-campus learning experience,” he said. “The idea is to create, of course, the best mix to have a great learning experience for all our students at the school.” He added that NEOMA's approach to immersive technologies supports its faculty’s pedagogical delivery and adoption of new technologies.

In 2016, NEOMA began its journey using immersive technology when it introduced virtual reality case studies in its programs. This introduction led the school to launch its “fourth campus” in 2020. NEOMA will continue to operate this virtual campus post-COVID. With more than 85 offices, classrooms, auditoriums, and areas of learning (equal to 10,000 square meters, or about 107,600 square feet, of physical space), the virtual campus provides immersive experiences that “create a sense of unity in terms of time, place, and action” for the entire NEOMA community. 

Investing in the Future

Not surprisingly, it has required considerable investment to bring these innovations to fruition. The schools adopted multiple strategies to find the necessary funding.

At Imperial College, for example, technological investment is embedded in the school’s strategy. Furthermore, online offerings available through its Edtech Lab contribute to revenue generation for the school. And as the school has increased its expertise in digital technologies, it has achieved greater efficiencies that have offset some of the costs.

The school currently is leveraging digital delivery to repurpose content for different audiences. “We were able to reuse a lot of that content when we created our executive MBA,” says Grant. “We created a number of undergraduate modules for other departments, and we created a series of primers or professional courses that we were able to then deliver out at scale.”

A school can address potential funding challenges by aligning the entire institution’s vision and culture with innovation.

In addition, both schools have deans with backgrounds in innovation education, which has greatly shaped their schools’ respective strategic priorities. Goudey stressed that a school can address the potential funding challenges by aligning the entire institution’s vision and culture with innovation. Such alignment, he added, helps shift the community’s thinking so that everyone views these costs not as expenses, but as “investments for the future.”

Abundant Opportunities Ahead

Goudey and Grant next shared what innovations are on the horizon for their respective organizations. For instance, Imperial College Business School is applying data analytics to artificial intelligence. The school’s increased digitization of its student data will support the use of mathematical modeling, Grant said. Such modeling will help educators discover previously unknown data patterns and shed new light on the workings of the overall educational system.

“Precision education may be the pathway to the development of AI tutors," Grant pointed out. She shared examples of existing AI tutorial tools—such as Noodle Factory in Singapore—that are already making headway in assisting users with their homework.

NEOMA Business School, said Goudey, will continue to enhance virtual and immersive learning experiences through its virtual campus. There, students can enjoy all aspects of studying in a university setting, from education to campus life activities, no matter where they are in the world. Based NEOMA’s experiences, Goudey advised other schools to follow three steps to adopt digital technologies most effectively.

 Although the future might still be uncertain, the speakers and IC members came to a common conclusion: Digital technologies present academic institutions with abundant opportunities to enhance the learner experience. Business school leaders will need to think strategically about where to invest their resources to accomplish their own innovation goals.

AACSB further explores the future of business education—including how business schools can leverage digital transformation successfully—in its new report, Five Forces Driving the Future of Business Education.

Victoria Perez
Research and Thought Leadership Manager, AACSB International
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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