Web-Based Systems Change the MBA Landscape
HISTORY OF DISTANCE LEARNING by Sarah Murray - As communication systems become cheaper and more accessible, new interactive technologies hold great potential.
"Learning is not compulsory, but neither is survival," wrote William Edwards Deming, the American who was instrumental in rebuilding Japan's manufacturing industry after the second world war.
Learning has long been seen as a competitive weapon in the corporate armory and - in an increasingly global marketplace - educators want to deliver that learning quickly and cheaply, without barriers of time and geography.
Enter distance learning. The concept, however, is far from new. In 1837, the English phonographer Isaac Pitman started teaching by correspondence in the UK.
Then, in 1850, the University of London began to offer distance courses to the inhabitants of British colonies such as India and Australia. In the US, William Rainey Harper in 1892 set up the first university distance learning programme, operated by mail, at the University of Chicago.
Technology soon began to play a part in the process and television was an important tool. In 1950, the Ford Foundation started delivering educational programmes by television. In 1968, Stanford University launched a TV network. Television was also the medium through which the UK's Open University taught its students when it was established in 1969.
The Open University has demonstrated how widely distance learning can spread education, now catering to more than 200,000 learners a year. With about 30,000 students at any given time, the Open University Business School has enabled more than 150,000 managers to study 370,000 courses at certificate, diploma and MBA level since the school was established in 1983.
However, it has been the internet that has wrought the most dramatic changes over the distance learning landscape. The internet's open standards allow anyone to access web-based content - at any time and from any location. Since e-mail technology emerged in 1971, students and professors have been able to communicate with each other more quickly, easily and cheaply than ever before.
Not surprisingly, it was a technology institution - the New Jersey Institute of Technology - that offered the first online undergraduate courses. By the 1990s, US institutions such as California Virtual University and Jones International University were springing up offering purely online courses.
Other technologies such as interactive video-conferencing, CD-Roms and DVDs have helped transform the learning experience. Business schools have not been slow to embrace the technology, investing heavily in their e-learning capabilities.
The growth of international executive MBAs has relied heavily on the internet. In programmes, such as the Emba Global, a partnership between London Business School and Columbia in New York; and Trium, an alliance of three schools - New York University's Stern School of Business, London School of Economics and HEC Paris, Graduate Business School - much of the learning takes place remotely over the web.
Online learning is still in its infancy. However, a number of lessons have already been learned. When e-learning started grabbing the attention of corporate educa tors, most saw it as an efficient way of replacing class-based training, saving money and time. Courses that would once have been given in a classroom were put online, often simply by posting text from books on the web.
Much talk focused on the possibilities that broadband and streaming (allowing moving images and sound to be broadcast over the internet) would create.
Today, educators are realising that online learning is not about ever more sophisticated technology but how that technology is used. Traditional class formats are being broken down online. "Learning objects" - short bite-sized pieces of training, perhaps no longer than five minutes - are being widely used in corporate training programmes.
Technologies are emerging that do not take up large amounts of bandwidth, making them cheaper and more accessible. An amusing application from San Francisco-based Pulse Entertainment has great potential for teaching "soft skills" such as management, sales and leadership. Once they have been created - by turning a digital photograph into a three dimensional animated image of the person, animal or thing in the photo - Veepers can be manipulated to do and say anything.
As educators realise that the human side of teaching remains as important as it was in the pre-internet era, interactive technologies hold the most potential for distance learning designers.
Web-conferencing tools, for example, not only enable large numbers of students to participate in a class or lecture. They also have features allowing the professor to poll the audience and feature the result in the same session, or to organise virtual break-out rooms - based on user names and passwords.
Here, different groups can solve a problem on their own and reconvene with the class to discuss the results. Instructors can even roam virtually throughout the break-outs to monitor progress. But above all, the fact that face-to-face training remains a fundamental part of the educational process is now broadly recognised, with most institutions embracing the "blended learning" model - a mixture of online and offline teaching.
Many executive MBAs who make heavy use of the web now require students to execute projects relating to the real-life challenges they face in their jobs.
For even the most zealous e-learning proponent might agree that at least some truth remains in the view of Lord Chesterfield, the 18th century British politician, that "knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world - and not in a closet".
「華人戴明學院」是戴明哲學的學習共同體 ，致力於淵博型智識系統的研究、推廣和運用。 The purpose of this blog is to advance the ideas and ideals of W. Edwards Deming.
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