Peter Hirst: From an education standpoint, the input doesn’t look that dissimilar from a cost base. The other approach is the MOOCs. Often, they are free and are low-cost courses. We’re beginning to see some executive education versions of those. As I go around and talk to my peers in other schools and in schools developing those larger scale offerings, at the moment it’s still quite early days. They are still seeing significant investment of time and effort to produce really high-quality versions of those massive courses.
Sramana Mitra: What you’re saying is that, even when you’re delivering executive courses online, they are roughly in the same ballpark cost structure-wise. Does that mean that everything is instructor-led courses except their online instructor-led courses?
Peter Hirst: It’s partly that. We are able to make more use of some recorded materials and other kinds of multimedia content as part of those deliveries. Sometimes, those may be viewed asynchronously by the participants. We are actually testing another hypothesis. It’s a much richer learning experience for people, even when they’re watching a video, to know that they’re doing that simultaneously in a social setting. In fact, there’s some research that has come out of MIT and other places that supports that. The social consumption of content is a much more engaging experience. From a learning perspective, experiences that are more engaging are much more likely to embed that knowledge deeply.
Sramana Mitra: How does that work? So you assign a particular video to be viewed at a certain time by all your students?
Peter Hirst: We’ve been developing programs for delivery in virtual worlds where the participants log in through a web browser. They materialize in a virtual classroom as an avatar, which they can customize a little bit to look like themselves. We would have 20 to 50 students logged in to that system as avatars. It’s like a 3-D virtual world. They can move their avatars around and interact with each other. It provides a very realistic sense of being present. We’ve got quite a lot of evidence to demonstrate that.
What we then do is, in that virtual space, we play a video on what essentially is a virtual video screen in that virtual classroom. As avatars, people are standing around together watching that 10 to 15 minute video presentation done by one of our faculty members. Typically, what would then happen is one of our faculty members themselves or one or more facilitators, who are also in the room as avatars, would lead a discussion or group work where the participating people actually work collaboratively in a very analogous way to what you would imagine as a breakout room or a table talk discussion.