Tapping Tech's Potential

Educators gather to discuss the implications of online technologies in emerging markets, and the daunting—but necessary—task of using them to their fullest potential.
Tapping Tech's Potential

ON APRIL 6, the symposium “Tapping the Potential of Technology” convened more than 50 educators and executives at INSEAD’s Singapore campus to discuss how technology might transform educational delivery in emerging markets. The symposium was sponsored by the Global Business School Network, a consortium dedicated to helping business schools in emerging markets develop faculty, design programs, and build capacity.

As panelists described their experiences with and predictions for the potential of online technologies in emerging markets, one question prevailed: How will schools bring educational opportunities to those who need them most?

"A GRAND EXPERIMENT"

Educators from several schools described their programs’ approaches to online course delivery:

Graduate School of Management at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, described Cornell’s partnership with Queen’s School of Business in Canada. The Cornell-Queen’s Executive MBA program connects students in 27 different cities across Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. in a single a learning experience. Students meet face to face with professors on either the Cornell or Queen’s campus for one-third of the program. Then, they return to their home cities to work together in small groups. Faculty teach students from studios in Canada or New York, not only lecturing but also asking questions directly to individual students or teams. Faculty can see student teams on individual screens; students meet in tech-enabled rooms where cameras move to the person who is speaking.

This approach has important strategic implications for the school. “We’re using this model to expand to more markets in Latin America,” Dutta said. “We’re engaged in a grand experiment to see how technology can infuse through everything we do.”

Tomas Hult, director of the International Business Center at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business in East Lansing, talked about the college’s partnership with Tampa-based Bisk Education, which specializes in helping schools design online learning modules for working adults. Since August 2012, the college and Bisk have worked together to develop 19 two-credit courses featuring recorded lectures of no more than 18 minutes each. Bisk assesses each market to help the college determine where demand is greatest and forecast possible enrollments. Hult explained that the school spent US$1.3 million to develop these courses; today, the courses are accessed by executives around the world and generate about $500,000 in monthly revenue.

Walter Baets, director of the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in South Africa, described the “GSB Solution Space,” an online innovation hub that uses cases and tutors to help “students work with real people to find real solutions to real problems.” Baets said that he hopes that this model might one day be franchised to other schools to help meet Africa’s need for business education.

Baets pointed out that, with mobile phones so widely used in African countries, business schools everywhere could reach larger student groups using mobile technology. The problem, Baets noted, is that the communications infrastructure in emerging markets can be unstable, often breaking connections, which slows the pace of progress.

"SHOULD 100 MILLION GO WITHOUT?"

As emerging markets grow and new providers—with new approaches—appear, business schools will need to work more closely with businesses, said Sandeep Sander, CEO of the human asset solutions company SanderMan Ste. Ltd. of Singapore. “I think ‘co-innovation’ is a very important word,” he said. “Our clients have discovered that every time they do something ‘co,’ their chances of success increase.”

Attendees also heard Rajen Makhijani, an associate partner with Dalberg, a global strategy consulting firm based in Singapore and Mumbai that focuses on base-of-the-pyramid innovations. If business schools used available technologies more purposefully to expose their students to concerns in emerging markets, he suggested, students could better see beyond the typical career paths in the financial, nonprofit, or startup sectors, to consider careers that better serve the bottom of the pyramid.

“Should we give a fantastic learning experience to 500 and let 100 million go without?” Mukhijani asked. “Or can we provide experiences to those 500 so that they go out and provide something similar to the 100 million?”

"THE FORGOTTEN MIDDLE"

Near the end of the day, participants broke into small groups to discuss technological challenges that their schools faced. They referenced the lack of time, funds, and coherent business strategies for online programs; the lack of standardization across platforms and providers; the copyright issues surrounding ownership of online content; and the threat online education poses to faculty’s current job descriptions and compensation models.

Dutta stressed the importance of involving professors in developing new models of faculty governance. “You haven’t taken e-learning seriously if you haven’t thought through these issues and gotten faculty buy-in to the program. E-learning represents a fundamental shift in faculty management,” Dutta said.

Baets of UCT raised the point that business schools offer programs that primarily serve two ends of the market: introductory programs for undergraduates and advanced programs for seasoned executives at large firms. That leaves a third group—which he calls the “forgotten middle”—without many options. This “middle” consists of nonexecutives, many of whom work for small, local companies of two to 50 people. These small companies form the basis of emerging economies, Baets argued. To serve this group, he added, schools must offer more skill-building programs that fall between basic and degreed education.

Tunji Adegbesan, a founder and the CEO of Gidi Mobile Ltd. in Nigeria, described his product, gidimo, as “Africa’s first dedicated mobile learning platform.” As one way to reach that forgotten middle, gidimo incorporates e-learning modules, from college and certification prep platform gigiPrep to discussion forum gidiChat. The goal, said Adegbesan, is to bring mobile learning and personal growth to young Africans under 30.

“How are we going to create 100 million jobs in Africa in the next five years?” Adegbesan asked. “Technology can help people achieve their life goals. The mobile learning we’re building doesn’t replace traditional learning, but it’s more than many already have.”

"WHAT SHOULD WE KEEP?"

Many speakers at the symposium expressed a similar sentiment throughout the day: If business schools want to expand their programs into emerging markets, they need to adopt new business, faculty development, and curricular models.

“I don’t think we have a clue where we as business schools add value. Where do we need a faculty member in front of a class? What should we keep in the school and what can we deliver virtually?” Baets asked. “We still do a lot in the classroom that we shouldn’t be doing.” He and other attendees agreed that business schools need to rethink traditional course delivery before they can take greatest advantage of information technology, both on their campuses and in markets around the world.