Will the Internet Revolutionize Business Education and Research?

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Revolutions, whether the overthrow of governments or breakthroughs in technology, are usually visible. The knowledge revolution, though propelled by the twin engines of computer technology and communication technology, is a revolution of minds and ideas rather than of mass and energy. It is nearly invisible and easy to ignore, particularly by those who stand on the seemingly safe shoreline of tradition. This knowledge revolution threatens universities’ advantage in knowledge creation and dissemination. Davis and Botkin paint a bleak picture of the role of schools:

Business, more than government, is instituting the changes in education that are required for the emerging knowledge-based economy. School systems, public and private, are lagging behind the transformation in learning that is evolving outside them, in the private sector at both work and play, with people of all ages. Over the next few decades, the private sector will eclipse the public sector as our predominant educational institution.1

Private-sector intrusion is a real risk for business schools. Cable operators and telecommunications companies are aggressively developing virtual classrooms, often without university involvement.2 Publishers and software houses are developing multimedia products that will substitute for, rather than complement, traditional classroom education. The business school’s own faculty, working independently or as consultants for other entities, represent another serious threat.3 Already there is both an audio- and videotape market for high-profile lecturers, and one can imagine well-known professors marketing and delivering personalized courses from their homes, with or without an institutional affiliation. The new electronic infrastructure also allows the best-known institutions to establish a local electronic presence in new markets.

We now find centers for innovation in management education outside the business school. Bankers Trust is revolutionizing its training environment through collaborative technologies such as Lotus Notes that eliminate formalized training programs. Materials are on-line in the form of self-serve offerings and just-in-time education from office desk-tops. Motorola University uses personal, computer-based virtual reality (VR) technology to teach employees to run assembly lines. Preliminary studies show that the employees assigned to VR training learn faster and make fewer mistakes than those assigned to traditional training, at considerably lower cost.4 Sometimes the innovations are in partnership with faculty or centers at a university. Andersen Consulting is working with Roger Schank, the director of Northwestern University’s Institute for the Learning Sciences, on computer simulations that teach interpersonal and selling skills.



1. S. Davis and J. Botkin, “The Coming of Knowledge-Based Business,” Harvard Business Review, volume 72, September–October 1994, p. 170.

2. For example, Jones International Ltd. has a Mind Extension University cable that reaches more than 26 million households in the United States with degree programs from thirty universities (e.g., an MBA from Colorado State University). Bell Atlantic has also announced plans to build virtual campuses with universities. See:

“Bell Atlantic Awarded Multimillion Dollar Contract to Build ‘Virtual Campus’,” PR Newswire, Financial News, 25 October 1994.

3. “Media: A College Campus as Close as the Couch,” Business Weekly, June 1994, p. 2.

4. N. Adams, “Lessons from the Virtual World,” Training, June 1995, pp. 45–48.

5. S.S. Rao, “The Simulator Classroom,” Financial World, 17 January 1995, pp. 56–58.

6. B.S. Watson, “The New Training Edge,” Management Review, May 1995, pp. 49–51.

7. J.C. Linder and H.J. Smith, “The Complex Case of Management Education,” Harvard Business Review, volume 70, September–October 1992, pp. 16–33.

8. An effective learning environment depends on the student’s experience, ability, effort, and learning style as well as the instructional goals, instructor skills, and the particular pedagogy and learning technology. See:

D.E. Leidner and S.L. Jarvenpaa, “The Use of Information Technology to Enhance Management School Education: A Theoretical View,” MIS Quarterly, volume 19, September 1995, pp. 265–291.

Our focus here is on educational alternatives for master’s and executive-level audiences — adult learners. While there is no universally superior mode of learning, mature, motivated adult students learn best when they are in control of their learning and can reconstruct the material in their own terms and in the context of their own interests. See: J.W. Apps, Mastering the Teaching of Adults (Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing, 1991).

Some learning models also stress the importance of learning in the context in which it will be used. See:

M. O’Loughlin, “Rethinking Science Education: Beyond Piagetian Constructivism toward a Sociocultural Model of Teaching and Learning,” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, volume 29, October 1992, pp. 791–820.

An active, experience-based learning mode associated with the Internet fits well with adult learning. See:

A.D. Yakimovicz and K.L. Murphy, “Constructivism and Collaboration on the Internet: Case Study of a Graduate Class Experience, Computers and Education, volume 24, number 3, 1995, pp. 203–209.

9. C. Anderson, “The Accidental Superhighway: A Survey of the Internet,” The Economist, 1 July 1995, p. S3.

10. “Enter the Intranet,” The Economist, 13 January 1996, p. 66.

11. Commercial Sites Index, Open Markets Inc. <http://www.directory.net/>;

RJE Communications Inc., “Directory of Banks,” 12 February 1996 <http://www.bankweb.com/bankweb.html>;

Internet Solutions, “Internet Statistics: Extimated,” 12 February 1996, 6:11:40 (Pacific time) <http://www.netree.com/netbin/internetstats>.

12. N. Gross, “Internet Lite: Who Needs a PC?” Business Week, 13 November 1995, pp. 52, 54.

13. A. Reinhardt, “New Ways to Learn,” Byte, March 1995, pp. 50–71.

14. Roadmap is an Internet tutorial delivered by daily e-mail messages in three different five-week offerings in summer and fall 1994. It was developed by Patrick Crispen, at the time a senior at the University of Alabama. It is available at <http://www/brandonu.ca/~ennsnr/Resources/ Roadmap/Welcome.html>.

15. G. Stix, “The Speed of Write,” Scientific American, December 1994, pp. 106–111.

16. P.J.H. Schoemaker, “Scenario Planning: A Tool for Strategic Thinking,” Sloan Management Review, volume 36, Winter 1995, pp. 25–40.

17. M. Scardamalia and C. Bereiter, “Technologies for Knowledge-Building Discourse,” Communications of the ACM, volume 36, 5 May 1993, pp. 37–41.

18. Reinhardt (1995).

Several universities already offer virtual classroom courses via Internet-based e-mail and computer conferencing supplemented with video-conferencing. A few are experimenting with Lotus Notes-based collaborative learning environments. Schools with virtual classroom courses for business or information systems courses include New York University, Pennsylvania State University, Drexel University, Mount Allison University in Canada, and Open University in the United Kingdom. The University of Phoenix offers a complete business program interactively on line.

19. Leidner and Jarvenpaa (1995).

20. A. Laszlo and K. Castro, “Technology and Values: Interactive Learning Environments for Future Generations,” Educational Technology, March–April 1995, pp. 7–13.

21. Davis and Botkin (1994), p. 170.

22. Reinhardt (1995).

23. U.M. Apte and R.O. Mason, “Global Disaggregation of Information-Intensive Services,” Management Science, volume 41, July 1995, pp. 1250–1262.

24. K. Knoll and S.L. Jarvenpaa, “Learning to Work in Distributed Global Teams,” Proceedings of Hawaii International Conference, volume 4, 3–6 January 1995, pp. 92–101.

25. Although the information processing rate is higher with visuals, the retention rate is lower than with audio.

26. D. Barker, “Seven New Ways to Learn,” Byte, March 1995, pp. 54–55.

27. A.B. Whinston, “Reengineering Education, Journal of Information Systems Education, Fall 1994, pp. 126–133.

28. “Carnegie-Mellon, Visa Plan to Offer Payment System for Data from Internet,” Wall Street Journal, 15 February 1995, p. B6.

29. One journal in the information systems field, MIS Quarterly, has already started to implement such capability. See: <http://www.misq.org/>.

B. Ives, “MISQ Central: Creating a New Intellectual Infrastructure,” MIS Quarterly, volume 18, September 1994, pp. xxxv–xxxix.

30. <http://www.isworld.org/isworld/future.html>.

31. Listservs are electronic mailing lists permitting individuals to send messages to hundreds or even thousands of others with shared interests.

32. B. Ives and R. Zmud, “ISWorld Net: Scholarly Infrastructure for Information Systems,” MIS Quarterly, volume 18, December 1994, pp. liv–lvi.

33. <http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~bgac313/index.html>. See:

Knoll and Jarvenpaa (1995).

34. B. Ives, “Cycle-Time Reduction for Disseminating Scholarly Research,” MIS Quarterly, volume 17, June 1993, pp. xxi–xxiv.

35. Essentially true for interdisciplinary work and research on international business as well.

36. Some explain that this is because teachers resort to the same traditional teaching methods in high-tech environments as they do in traditional classes. See, for example:

D.E. Leidner and S.L. Jarvenpaa, “The Information Age Confronts Education: Case Studies on Electronic Classrooms,” Information Systems Research, volume 4, March 1993, pp. 24–54; and

Leidner and Jarvenpaa (1995).

Others criticize early applications of technology as based on limited or faulty assumptions of learning. See:

E.J. Ullmer, “Media and Learning: Are There Two Kinds of Truth?,” Educational Technology Research & Development, volume 42, number 1, 1994, pp. 21–32.

37. Some feel that the new technology-based models make assumptions that may be unrealistic: that is, they may require curious students with lots of initiative and good social skills who can learn in interactive collaborative settings. See:

Reinhardt (1995).

High-ability students are known to benefit more from pull-based learning than low-ability students. See:

R.C. Bovy, “Successful Instructional Methods: Cognitive Information Processing Approach,” Educational Communication & Technology Journal, Winter 1981, pp. 203–217.

Research at the New Jersey Institute of Technology found that the virtual classroom was a more effective learning environment for mature, motivated students, but not for less motivated, less mature students. Students found the virtual classroom setting as convenient but also more demanding than the traditional classroom, because they had to take an active role in the learning process. The highest level of learning occurred in classes where both the traditional and virtual modes were used. See:

S.R. Hiltz, “Collaborative Learning in a Virtual Classroom: Highlights of Findings,” Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, 26–28 September 1988; and

S.R. Hiltz, “Collaborative Learning: The Virtual Classroom Approach,” Technology Horizon Education Journal, June 1990, pp. 59–65.

38. W. Spitzer and K. Wedding, “LabNet: An Intentional Electronic Community for Professional Development,” Computers and Education, volume 24, number 3, 1995, pp. 247–255.

39. These economies of scale and scope are likely to be similar to what publishing houses have faced as the industry has moved into the electronic era. McGraw-Hill has been successful with its Primus electronic print-on-demand system for custom textbooks because it had enough material under its control to build a large database to support a program. Smaller college publishers cannot respond with similar offerings. For example, Elsevier eventually left the college text market after it determined it did not have sufficient critical mass to go into custom publishing. See:

K. Hunter, “Issues and Experiments in Electronic Publishing and Dissemination,” Information Technology and Libraries, June 1994, pp. 127–132.

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