How Technology Is Changing Business EducationPublished: May 09, 2001 in Knowledge@Emory
As technology firms cut personnel and dot-com businesses fold in record numbers, laid-off staffers are again eager to soup up their résumés. A plethora of e-commerce hopefuls, such as Pets.com and Garden.com, went belly up last year and this year has been little different. Technology stocks continue to fare poorly on Wall Street, with most falling short of analysts’ expectations. With predictions of a recession looming on the horizon, newly unemployed dot-commers and tech workers are flocking, as they traditionally have, to business schools to beef up their professional credentials.
Now, more than ever, business and management education must rely on information and communication technology to facilitate the learning experience for this new breed of student – who is used to being logged in and online. Maryam Alavi, a professor of decision and information analysis at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, believes that higher education, much like Corporate America, is being transformed under the tremendous effect of technology.
As the Internet and technology redefine the way Americans conduct business and personal affairs, it is hardly surprising that the country’s universities are turning to distance learning via the Internet and to linking with in-class computers to provide course content and supplement instruction. In a recent research paper titled, "Technology-Mediated Learning: A Benchmarking Study of Business and Management Education," Alavi and Brent Gallupe, a professor at the School of Business at Queen’s University, examine the successful components or "best practices" of technology-mediated learning (TML) at a sampling of post-secondary business and management education programs. The study was sponsorsed by AACSB and the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) in Houston, Texas.
"Technology-mediated learning (TML) is becoming the norm in post-secondary management education in North America and elsewhere," say Alavi and Gallupe. And, as the "physical boundaries of the classroom" are redefined, business schools "may even be considering technology-mediated educational programs as a differentiator and means of gaining competitive advantage."
In the paper, a panel of program administrators and TML experts initially selected 44 universities as potential study subjects. A screening questionnaire thinned out the pack of subjects to the final five programs. The authors ultimately provide research on the "best practices" of the TML programs at Duke University-Fuqua Business School, Ohio University-MBA Without Borders, UCLA-Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of Phoenix Online Campus, and Wake Forest University.
Alavi and Gallupe found that the schools’ approaches to TML were as varied as the nature of the institutions themselves. Alavi was somewhat surprised by the research finding that there was "no single, best way to approach technology and learning." For example, the University of Phoenix Online Campus operates exclusively through distance learning via the web. The UCLA and Wake Forest University programs rely, in contrast, on campus-based programs and technology such as computer labs and wired classrooms to complement coursework and student/faculty communication.
At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the Global Executive MBA program targets executives of international firms and combines short campus residencies with distance learning online. The daytime and weekend executive MBA programs at Duke University use technology primarily for "organizing course content and supporting learning activities and student collaboration outside the classroom." The Ohio University-MBA Without Boundaries program is a mix of classroom time and distance learning.
While some might expect highly-rated business schools to employ more innovative practices, the paper shows that a variety of business programs, from large to small, some highly rated and others not, were able to implement successful TML practices. Duke University and Wake Forest University are private institutions, while Ohio University and UCLA are public schools. The University of Phoenix Online Campus is a division of the University of Phoenix, with the school a wholly owned subsidiary of the publicly traded Apollo Group. Through subsidiary businesses, Phoenix-based Apollo Group provides higher education programs geared toward working individuals.
Despite the differences inherent in the five programs studied, Alavi and Gallupe found that all the participating organizations provided "extensive support to students participating in the TML programs." The authors also found that the five "successful TML programs have flourished in organizational cultures that encourage and value innovation." Results from the surveyed business programs show that all sought enhancement of brand image as a desired outcome of TML initiatives. Additionally, all five institutions undertook their technology-mediated learning programs to "support explicit organizational strategies."
Alavi and Gallupe describe their research as an effort to "avoid reinventing the wheel and to reduce the learning curve for other institutions of higher education that may be considering or initiating large-scale technology-mediated learning (TML) initiatives." It appears that academia could benefit from the authors’ conclusions. At the time of the study, four of the five research subjects did very little in-depth assessment of their own or other TML initiatives.
As the only for-profit program among the five schools selected, the University of Phoenix Online Campus established the most formalized review of its TML offerings. Since the University of Phoenix needs to account more directly for its bottom line, as a for-profit institution, a critical review of the program appeared to be a higher priority than for the non-profit schools.
It appears that the surveyed schools underestimated the time and cost involved in launching the new teaching initiatives. According to the paper, "none of the best-practices universities had quite anticipated the high level of resources and effort required for student support prior to undertaking their TML programs." Alavi admits, "When you are breaking new ground, and making fundamental changes in the design and delivery of services, it is difficult to predict costs."
It may also be difficult for faculty to shift gears to a new teaching method. Surprisingly, the authors note a lack of formalized incentives in place to encourage professors to adopt TML approaches. "Voluntary use may give the instructor a sense of freedom to experiment and adapt their traditional teaching techniques to the technology-mediated environment," the authors contend. For now, professors participating in these initiatives do so voluntarily, to "differentiate themselves from their colleagues," believes Alavi. Eventually, as technology-mediated learning becomes a given at most of the nation’s post-secondary business schools, university faculty will be forced to jump on the bandwagon.
The potential for technology-mediated learning appears to be vast. The implementation of these innovative teaching approaches, however, is extremely difficult to execute, and it requires creativity on the part of faculty and other university personnel. Questions also need to be answered regarding the cost-benefit ratios of these programs. One key factor that will determine the sustainability of these programs is whether the revenues obtained from fees of students who like to learn this way will equal or exceed the costs of delivering technology-mediated learning.
Alavi admits that as technology continues to evolve, universities will face additional costs updating equipment and applications, reeducating faculty, and supporting students along the way. As technology-mediated learning matures, allocating the appropriate resources and funding for these efforts will ultimately distinguish b-school programs from one another.