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The mobile revolution is here. People across the globe are increasingly connected and are digitally communicating with each other in ways that would have been impossible to imagine only a few years ago. As mobile connections become more ubiquitous, the value of deploying mobile technologies in learning seems to be both obvious and unavoidable.

But research carried out by Unicon, the International University Consortium for Executive Education and Ashridge Business School in the UK reveals that most business schools have yet to harness the opportunities offered by mobile technology. The research stresses that executive education must innovate if it is to continue to meet the needs of employers and senior executives.

While some examples of pioneering applications of mobile learning in business schools and universities do exist, few executive education providers have exploited the true potential of mobile devices for learning.

Currently, much mobile learning within business schools is technology, rather than user driven. Simply introducing a new technology such as handing out iPads is not enough. Institutions that supply devices to executives are possibly driven by the functionality of the technology, rather than having a clear strategy for use.

The real potential lies in focusing on user needs and pedagogy should be placed first as part of any wider strategy. Further, programme participants often have their own mobile devices and will increasingly expect to use these as part of their studies. Using a learner’s own device means they are already familiar with the technology, eliminating technological barriers and making learning more cost effective.

It is vital to recognise the importance of mobile learning and its impact on not only how participants learn, but also on how faculty teach. New modes of teaching reflect an increasing trust in the wisdom of crowds and a decline in reliance on the teacher as expert, which has driven more knowledge delivery out of the classroom.

The traditional campus-based model of executive education provision is changing in the new world of open educational resources and borderless learning services. Technology now allows learners to continue their studies at work or at home. Many executives are time-starved, over-worked yet under increasing pressure to make the best decisions in an increasingly competitive environment. Mobile learning allows individuals to connect to executive education at a time that suits them and in a way that can support current business challenges.

The escalating growth of portable technologies - smartphones, PDAs, hand-held computers and personal media players - is transforming the way we learn and the way that learning is delivered.

Mobile learning enables students to move from passive learners to engaged learners who are behaviourally and intellectually involved in their learning tasks. In contrast, being solely committed to traditional classrooms and face-to-face tutorials could curb the value of executive education.

A handful of executive education providers are embracing mobile learning and going beyond the techno-centric offer. For example, Cape Town University’s Graduate Business School designed a programme that sent participants out onto the streets on a treasure hunt, which took advantage of the array of mobile device functions: calling, messaging, answer phone, web browsing, apps and QR codes to provide clues, information and feedback. The objective was to experience marketing in context, and the learning experience was more meaningful than that provided by a book or PowerPoint presentation.

One of the main barriers to mobile learning is that many educators still view mobile devices as a distraction, or disruptive, and not as a learning resource. This resistance to change is likely to be futile.

Customer-driven disruptive innovations that create value have overturned the established structures of almost every other major industry. We have heard much about the “digital divide” between the have and the have-nots, but another significant divide is the “digital use divide”, or the “participation gap”.

Shifts in demand, the growth in emerging markets and new delivery technologies for executive learning mean that maintaining the status quo in methods of learning delivery is not an option. We do not know which of today’s business schools will still be flourishing in 15 years’ time. But we can predict with some confidence that those who respond creatively and boldly to these challenges will have better outcomes than those who overlook them.

Business schools should not wait for the industry to settle: they must innovate. The global nature of businesses and the growing capabilities of powerful mobile devices mean that adopting new technologies in learning is essential to continuing to attract clients in the demand-driven and competitive executive education market.

By taking advantage of the benefits of mobile learning a new form of executive education can be created. It is time to think beyond convention and make the most of this brave new world.

Dr Carina Paine Schofield, is a research fellow at Ashridge Business School. Going mobile in executive education: how mobile technologies are changing the executive learning landscape’ is written by Dr Carina Paine Schofield, Trudi West and Emily Taylor of Ashridge Business School and funded by Unicon.

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