The transformation of the value chain for schools and universities, in particular in the area of management education, has accelerated in recent years (obviously partly due to the Covid-19 hurricane). This acceleration has made the context extremely dynamic, intensely competitive with the arrival of new entrants, and highly permeable to new learning technologies, with a proliferation of online programs.
One concrete outcome is an unbundling of services, with various actors outside of universities and business schools playing their part. In this context, education should be conceived and redesigned as an ecosystem, one that is solidly grounded on the combination of a digitally-enriched learning experience and a community of learners.
Thanks to the complementarity of two platforms - a knowledge platform and a technology platform – online programs offer learners the chance to acquire, develop and reinforce new skill sets and competences, all the while with high levels interactivity. Specifically, vertical interaction is guided by the educator, who chooses various tools and learning objects requiring different levels of involvement. Horizontal interaction comes about thanks to students sharing their knowledge and experiences. And with many more students participating in online learning compared to any physical classroom, this learning process becomes truly community based.
But the key question is how to configure such an ecosystem. For educational institutions, there are two points of vulnerability. Basing courses exclusively on internally-developed content increases the risk of obsolescence, considering the current speed with which new knowledge is developed and disseminated. Yet on the other hand, outsourcing services to an excess means risking losing the lead in technological development.
We’re faced with an unavoidable strategic decision: to take on the role of orchestrator of online learning ecosystems, or to become a party – albeit a unique and specialized party – to ecosystems designed by other players. With the first option, some factors may prove to be decisive: scouting an edtech start-up that ensures a leap ahead in services associated with the online learning experience; establishing a strong partnership with tech-based platforms to access a broad community of students; and integrating new technologies into educational and operational processes. As for the second option, the development of unique, distinctive knowledge, along with solid brand reputation management, can combine to become a major attraction for educational platforms.
Either choice involves pros and cons, but certain aspects make the role of orchestrator a particularly challenging one. First and foremost, internalizing the digital transformation of the line experience makes it possible to better inform the expectations of learners, as evidenced by the results achieved in industries such as gaming, advertising and publishing. Second, many edtech start-ups have more expertise with respect to internal decision-makers at business schools with regard to designing learning experiences that are born digital. This makes them good partners, as the schools proactively take on the role of orchestrators. What’s more, several different elements are converging in an ecosystem approach, such as admissions, designing lifelong learning paths, testing and certification, skill analysis and mapping, placement and career advising.
Seeing the vastly different actors involved, the ecosystem needs to function like a form of “collective intelligence” that encourages the co-creation of processes, and new products and services. The great flexibility of the role of ecosystem orchestrator can certainly implicate some risk, such as excessive dependence on external partners, or the complexity of reconciling teaching and research, or even the ramifications on the very identity of the educational institution. But we are faced with a challenge, and we have no choice but to meet it.