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January 06, 2006

Instructional Technology Innovation for Business Education

Business Week has done a quick rundown this week of how B-Schools Promote Better Learning Through Technology.  They surveyed 27 top B-Schools about how technology is affecting teaching and learning at the school.  Topics range from Wikis to Blogs to Podcasts, as well as some interesting technology hybrids (such as audio-annotated Excel spreadsheet tutorials) and classroom technology.  HBS isn't among those schools profiled, but some of our work in these areas is detailed on the HBS IT Website.

One point raised by the article is a most important fact about education - business education is fundamentally a social process. 

Will these technologies eventually make face-to-face classroom meetings obsolete? Not a chance, say B-school faculty members. Instead, implementing these new technologies is a way for them to free up time in the classroom for activities like business games, simulations, debates, and discussions.

In his recent book, In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, John Thackara echoes this theme, and talks about HBS' approach to Instructional Technology as a means to enhance the interpersonal experience of learning rather than to replace it.  Here's a snippet.

Simulations, databases, statistical and industry analyses, are intensively used learning 'objects' among
Harvard's MBA students and researchers. Online cases, audiovisual material, and computer-based exercises are useful extras, and "online is a microcosm of the new working environment graduates will encounter when they leave". "The goal", says Bouthillier, "is the emergence of Harvard Business School as an integrated enterprise that organises and connects information, and people, in a dynamic and continuous way".

Business schools like Harvard's are working hard to add value to – not substitute – a central function of universities: connectivity among a community of scholars and peers. Their approach uses the internet to bring people together – not the opposite, as with pure distance education. Learning at all levels, as John Seely Brown has observed, “relies ultimately on personal interaction and, in particular, on a range of implicit and peripheral forms of communication that technology is still very far from being able to handle”

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