Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 12am

Virtual Learning Environments Change Business School Experience: MBA News

Virtual Learning Environments Change Business School Experience: MBA News main image

Business schools have a history of experimenting around virtual learning environments with many utilizing online platforms such as Second Life starting around the turn of the century. Despite a decrease in business interest in the last decade, it seems that business schools are reengaging with the virtual learning environments concept.

San Diego’s Rady School of Management is developing its own virtual learning environment, VirBela, tailoring it exactly to Rady students’ needs by combining team simulations with an assessment engine that gathers data on team performance to speed up learning. “We want the whole design to inform learning…we are constantly iterating, trying and testing ideas out,” says Alex Howland, VirBela program manager, adding that this would be too expensive to do with other people’s software.

Besides Rady School of Management, other business schools like the MIT Sloan School of Management have also begun to recognize the advantages of similar virtual learning environments. Peter Hirst, executive director of executive education at MIT Sloan was impressed with the flexibility of AvayaLive Engage, which allows users to connect in real time:  “We were all very guarded initially…but the virtual participants engaged in a very significant way.”

This connectivity saved the Big Data class in October 2012, as most of the 120 students could not attend when Hurricane Sandy hit. It was here that MIT Sloan decided to put AvayaLive Engage to the test with great results.

Virtual learning environments as the basis for virtual schools

Eddie Obeng, professor at Henley Business School, has recently been developing the virtual learning environment ‘Qube’ as part of the Pentacle Virtual Business School. Pentacle, established in the early 90s and headquartered in the UK, with offices in France, the Netherlands, South Africa and Ireland, was founded on the principle that the world is changing faster than we can learn about the changes. In an attempt to counter this, Pentacle offers streamlined business education divorced from theory. The delivery of such education is closely tied in with the virtual learning nature of the school, so form and content are closely aligned.

But Obeng states that there are also practical reasons for engaging with the technology – “[the ability to] bring together five people, six times, from around the world for a fraction of the cost of flying them [to a business school for a week]”.

What has changed since the early 2000s? The answer lies in technology, as David Lomas of Pentacle points out: “Only recently the technology has started to catch up with the ambition that we had.” As this technology continues to gain pace, it’s likely that more and more business schools will enter the fray alongside Rady and MIT Sloan. Interest in MOOCs, for instance, is showing no sign of dwindling with prestigious schools such as Harvard leading the way.