Will the Internet Revolutionize Business Education and Research?

  • Blake Ives and Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa
  • April 15, 1996

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.