There is a scene late in the movie Her where the main character Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is nervously questioning Samantha, his AI-based operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. By then, Theodore had fallen in love with Samantha, who was designed to learn about and serve him, claimed to love him too.
In the scene, Theodore was anxious and concerned, doubtful about their relationship. Was Samantha also having intimate conversations with other people? Was she also in love with them? Theodore had to ask.
Being sensitive to Theodore’s feelings, Samantha was hesitant to answer. Finally, she admits to having similar conversations with other people. How many? 8,316, at that moment. Worse, breaking Theodore’s heart, she admits to being in love with 641 of them. You can watch the minute-and-a-half scene here.
I know, it’s science fiction. But still, it was a meaningful moment for me, and shaped my view of the future of management education. I thought to myself, “If technology can scale empathy and love, then surely education would have no limits.” I could envision management education that’s not only accessible to everyone, but is also individualized, inspirational, and immersive.
Nearly a decade has passed since I first watched Her. Since then, I moved from AACSB to lead the Global Business School Network (GBSN). Conversations about education technology at AACSB often revolved around whether it will disrupt the industry. It was easy to believe that we wouldn’t need as many business schools, or teachers for that matter, in the future.
However, as I moved to GBSN, I was more excited about how advances in education technology can support our mission “to improve access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world.” We were built on the belief that access to management education is essential to international development. Technology, I thought, will be the key. I quickly learned about some of the challenges.
Of course, my enthusiasm has been partially curbed by the realities of the digital divide. Access to the Internet, especially broadband, is hardly universal. According to the Internet Communications Union (ITU), “an estimated 37 per cent of the world’s population – or 2.9 billion people – have still never used the Internet” and “of the 2.9 billion still offline, an estimated 96 per cent live in developing countries.”
I also began to realize that my basic ideas about education technology were less relevant to the mission of GBSN. When considering the potential for education technology, it was easy for me to think of education as a product. It is about curating the best content, packaging it, and delivering it to customers. The key is that once a digital product is created, the marginal cost of adding another user is very small or zero. I also understood the basics of network models in which subscriber benefits grew as the number of users increased. Economics was the dominant driver in my edtech thinking.
Our international development work at GBSN caused me to think differently. Sure, our mission is about access to education; educating, empowering, and enabling individuals in emerging economies, but our mission is also about helping their communities grow and thrive. I sometimes say that at GBSN our programs need to prioritize the development of places as much as the people.
The reality is that business and the practice of management and entrepreneurship remain largely contextual. Conditions (e.g., economic, regulatory, cultural, technological) vary enormously across geographies. Of course, a substantial part of the content (i.e., theories, models, techniques, etc.) in business education can be universally or globally beneficial without much adaptation. But the application of that content is fundamentally shaped by the context. As an example, imagine a course on starting a business. Although general concepts, such as the sources of value, might be useful anywhere, the way those concepts play out depend on economic and regulatory factors, access to talent, financing, and security, and numerous other local factors.
I have come to believe that unless we start locally, with the conviction that management education ought to positively impact community development. It will be difficult to realize the full potential of education technology. Education for development is not only about providing access to global content, but also about building the capacity to generate locally relevant ideas, experiences, and developing the tools and skills of local scholars to produce them. That is why we offer faculty development programs, run the Micro-Simulation Development Lab with Capsim, partner with Gnowbe to provide faculty scholarships for their micro-Learning Instructional design certification program, and build collaborative models that enable local institutions to create additional value around globally distributed digital content.
When the overarching objective is to build communities, the focus of education technology also shifts, connecting learners to share ideas and co-create knowledge—and building the social capital that drives innovation and development. That’s why we run the Africa Business Concept Challenge and Humanitarian Logistics Challenge—to bring together a global community to help learners generate local solutions. Another example is the GoTrade Fellowship Program which we created with Deutsche Post DHL to connect selected, post-graduate business students to SME leaders in developing countries.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m still excited about the potential for education technology to increase access, improve quality, and reduce costs. After all, the greatest challenge in education is to do things that work and are accessible. But as we move forward, I believe that the real gains and positive impacts for economic and social development will come from investments in local management education capacity, capabilities, and connections. In the end, EdTech shouldn’t put local schools out of business, it should strengthen them and enable them to make a bigger difference in the communities they serve.
Dan LeClair, CEO
Dan LeClair was named CEO of the Global Business School Network (GBSN) in February of 2019. Prior to GBSN, Dan was an Executive Vice President at AACSB International, an association and accrediting organization that serves some 1,600 business schools in more than 100 countries. His experience at AACSB includes two and half years as Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, seven years as Chief Operating Officer, and five years as Chief Knowledge Officer. A founding member of the Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM) initiative, Dan currently participates on its working board. He also serves in an advisory capacity to several organizations and startups in business and higher education. Before AACSB, Dan was a tenured associate professor and associate dean at The University of Tampa.
Dan played a lead role in creating a think-tank joint venture between the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and AACSB and has been recognized for pioneering efforts in the formation of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), where he served on the Steering Committee for many years. Dan has also participated in industry-level task forces for a wide range of organizations, including the Chartered Association of Business Schools, Graduate Management Admission Council, Executive MBA Council, and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.
Widely recognized as a thought leader in management education, Dan is the author of over 80 research reports, articles, and blogs, and has delivered more than 170 presentations in 30 countries. As a lead spokesperson for reform and innovation in management education, Dan has been frequently cited in a wide range of US and international newspapers, magazines, and professional publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, China Daily, Forbes, Fast Company, and The Economist. Dan earned a PhD from the University of Florida writing on game theory.