Soapbox

November 24, 2013 11:38 pm

When innovation is great for traditionalists

The business school experience is superior to an online programme

Reading habits are reported to be changing: newspapers will soon be a relic of a bygone era and books are heading for the scrap heap because people no longer read them.

Great news for those who do indeed continue to read books and newspapers. Reading sharpens communication skills and teaches individuals to gather and analyse information. Precious assets, made even more precious by the fact that so many people have decided to stop accumulating them. Those who continue to read enjoy sudden and wonderful competitive advantages . . . When the many abandon tried-and tested positives, the few who stick with the tradition can gain enormously. Innovation, in other words, can lead to great advantages for traditionalists.

Something similar applies to the world of education. Tradition is being challenged by technological innovation. If Facebook, Twitter and the iPad are the emerging forces that, by offering multiple fresh uses for our time, drive us away from traditional habits such as reading lengthy books and articles then Moocs (Massive open online courses) and other online programmes are widely expected to do the same. They too are reported to be turning tradition on its head by severely disrupting traditional brick-and-mortars educational offerings. The growth of Moocs appears to be unstoppable. The gospel of online education is spreading like wildfire through the land, its prophets zealously announcing the inevitable coming of the new age and the consequent decline of the old order.

This is music to the ears of those still clinging to the physical campus. A mass migration from the lecture hall to the internet can yield untold benefits for those who remain within the university gates.

Imagine a universe where Moocs mania has taken such a stranglehold that bright young things who would otherwise have attended a physical school become convinced that spending two years and $100,000 on a full-time MBA is a waste of time and a Neanderthal option when compared with following a clutch of free internet courses. Surely, these young things say to themselves, ‘Moocs are so cool that everyone will understand our choice and will in fact commend us for being so visionary’.

Now imagine you are one of those rare birds still eager to experience the real thing and enrol at a business school. How do you respond to the news that many of your would-be peers are opting to stay off campus? ‘Less competition!’ That´s right, highly qualified people who may have competed against you for that McKinsey or JPMorgan summer internship have now taken themselves out of the game (no formal MBA hiring processes for the Moocs crowd, sorry). Because you actually attended lectures, completed assignments and worked in groups, the chances are you have mastered the material much better than your online brethren. Because you have actually physically interacted for one or two years with smart people from all over the globe, you are instantly perceived as a global citizen, employable anywhere. Those individuals sporadically looking at a screen in their pyjamas cannot make the same claims.

If you actually attend campus full-time, seeing many of your would-be classmates heading for the online option can give you immense joy as, for now at least, the learning, networking and job search opportunities continue to be better the traditional way. This still holds true, in my opinion, even as, for the first time, truly top notch schools begin to offer ONLINE MBAs with similar admission standards to their CAMPUS OFFERINGS. If you can muster the time and money actually to sit in a classroom you would still have a starting advantage over those who may in other times have been competing with you for that physical seat.

We are in the midst of an alleged online education revolution. Individuals are being unequivocally told that this is the future, if not in fact the present. Some are even rabidly talking about the end (yes, the end) of bricks-and-mortars as the long and expensive MBA goes the way of the hard-bound book and the newspaper.

In other words what a great time to pack your bags and head for that supposedly archaic and supposedly doomed entity known as business school.

Pablo Triana works at Esade Business School.

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