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BusinessDay: Executive education in the smart-technology era

Technology and the disruption it delivers will create external forces that leaders will have little or no control over, presenting a unique challenge for them.

By Johan Steyn, 23 November 2021

The smart technology era is a revolution characterised by the blending of the physical, digital and biological worlds. Artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, genetic engineering, and quantum computing is spurring on the creation of products and services that are rapidly becoming more important in today's world.

All businesses, regardless of their size or sector, are affected by this revolution. Technology and the disruption it delivers will create external forces that leaders will have little or no control over, presenting a unique challenge for them.

In his recent book, “Democratizing Artificial Intelligence to Benefit Everyone,” local AI entrepreneur and academic Jacques Ludik writes: “Given the accelerating pace of smart technology-driven automation and its impact on people’s required skills and knowledge in the dynamic job market, there is a growing need for an always accessible type of continuous learning that covers life-wide and lifelong learning.”

Executive education providers are adapting to the realities of a new world. A shift in perspective is required from focusing on the growth of individual participants or a single company to focusing on industrywide development in collaboration with multiple stakeholders. A new design, complete with cutting-edge technology and more lucrative revenue models, will allow them to reinvent how business education and training will be provided in the future.

Business leadership students may benefit from a platform with a recommendation engine that delivers relevant content for them, much like the entertainment model of streaming service Netflix. For participants to embark on their own personalised learning experiences in the future, a subscription-based service, uniquely customised to individual needs, will characterise the future of business education.

In an article by Mohan Sawhney in a Harvard Business publication, “Reimagining Executive Education: What Program Delivery Should Look Like Post-Pandemic.” it is proposed that several trends will transform business education. Firstly, a channel-agnostic or omnichannel approach is needed, where students can access relevant content in-person or online on the platforms of their choice.

Providers of executive education will increasingly partner with global technology and consulting firms in creating customised learning programmes relevant to current market demands and technology trends.

High-volume commercial educational platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning, will increase their share in the low-cost mass market, while business schools need to offer unique content for executives willing to attend in-person training based on a community-centric experience.

Harvard Business School has pioneered a hybrid classroom experience where holographic projectors provide an immersive experience as if instructors were in the same room as students, utilising speaker-tracking cameras and directional microphones.

They also created “geographic pods” where a limited number of students gather in-person at a location close to their homes. Content is live-streamed to their location while they can enjoy the benefit of breakout sessions and face-to-face collaborative learning and networking.

The new technology provides a unique opportunity for business schools. The ability to create and deliver relevant content has entered a hybrid world, where instructional design, learning facilities and teaching equipment must be adapted to future needs.

A new breed of instructors is needed with relevant domain experience, technological know-how and who has a great screen presence. The future model and approach of business schools need more thinking and one is left to wonder if the current breed of instructors and training delivery models is not already outdated.

• Steyn is the chair of the special interest group on artificial intelligence and robotics with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals of SA.


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