Monday, November 12, 2012

The Immersion MBA: Interview with Lake Forest Graduate School of Management Leadership, ID, Faculty, Students

Game-based learning that immerses students in a "deep" simulation, and brings a virtual world that tackles real-world problems and allows active role-play can result in accelerated learning, high confidence, and superior performance on real-world related tasks. Lake Forest Graduate School of Management has developed an Immersion MBA (iMBA) program that incorporates virtual worlds and virtual workplaces, for instruction via role-playing and practice. Welcome to a series of interviews with Lake Forest Graduate School of Management (LFGSM) leadership, instructional designers, faculty, and students.

Lake Forest Graduate School of Management Immersion MBA

Q1:  What is your name and your relationship to this program? 

Kathy Leck, Vice President - R & D and Innovation. My department is responsible for creating new programs for new audiences, expanding current programs and implementing process improvements and innovations for Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

Q2:  What were the institution's goals for the program? 

We wanted to expand our mission by providing practical, relevant learning to aspiring professionals in addition to experienced professionals, and to do so in a way that encompasses the methods for the next generation of learning. Lake Forest Graduate School of Management has been long known for providing practical business learning to experienced, mid-career professionals (with an average age of 38, and average years of work experience of 14 years), but the iMBA is the first program we’ve offered to serve a less experienced student population. We believe in the value of experience, so it was important to us that we find a way to deliver business education for this less experienced audience by giving them experience and do it in LFGSM fashion ― meaning that it will provide proven business concepts and skills, opportunity to build confidence using these skills, be taught by our business-leader faculty, and produce measurable results for the student and their organization. It is our belief that adult learners learn best by doing, so we developed the iMBA to be a program that immerses the students in a virtual workplace where they are required to act, react and interact in a way that's particularly engaging and "sticky." The virtual reality portion of the program is complemented by an application-oriented discussion community so students are more likely able to transfer the learning to their workplaces . iMBA students will graduate not just with an MBA degree, but with meaningful experience. Most traditional MBA programs that serve this same audience of less experienced professionals simply do not provide this kind of "practice field" for the students' business success.

Q3:  How long did it take to implement? Was it expensive?  How did you justify the investment?

The process to implement the iMBA took approximately 18 months. We used our Discovery Driven Growth process – based on the model by Rita McGrath from Columbia University -- to identify what the new project should be, what resources it would require, and whether that investment would bring the learning and growth we projected.

Q4:  What are some of the most exciting outcomes?

The compelling engagement the student has in the learning and the speed of acquiring the competency is most impressive. Through this most engaging type of learning, the students are demonstrating the  impact on their understanding and application of key business skills but also the enjoyment in the program.. The students have reported that the program format fits well into their busy lives and that it feels meaningful and relevant to their lives in a way that their traditional undergraduate learning did not. They say it is (in their words) rigorous, interesting, collaborative, exciting, and impactful on their jobs/careers. Each student uses different metaphors to explain the virtual reality experience; some have said it's like being an actor in a movie, or like going through practice for "the big game." One student recently told us that her work in the virtual reality company, Central Products, feels incredibly REAL to her; she said she feels like she's actually there to improve the company's performance and that her decisions make a real difference. They also say that having a discussion community that allows them to push their understanding and application of the learning to the next level is most impressive.

Q5:  What doors does this open for the future?

The iMBA Program opens many doors for us in terms of our ability to serve new market segments and to engage professionals in a learning experience that exceeds their expectations. It also allows us to consider other degree and non-degree educational programs for individuals and corporations with employee populations that are geographically dispersed, but that still value the “closeness” and relevance of this type of immersive, virtual reality learning. Scenario-based learning is the “secret sauce” to our iMBA program, and it’s an approach that we think could work equally well in other degree programs or in executive education experiences.


Q1: What is your name and your relation to e-learning?

John P. Cragin, Ph.D.
University professor with a split career that includes 20 years of global business management and 20 years teaching at the Graduate and undergraduate levels in the U.S. and abroad. I lead a tech firm that specializes in creating and producing high octane virtual-reality immersive simulation courseware for universities and corporations. As an example, we are in a close partnership with Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, one of the largest, most innovative part-time MBA programs serving working professionals in the Midwest.

Q2:  Please describe how avatars and virtual worlds can be used effectively for instructional purposes.

Today, serious questions are being raised about the cost-benefit of expensive traditional classroom and cheap online instruction. Much of today's outdated education technology results in learning that is far more horizontal than it is vertical. A mile wide and an inch deep, it does not deliver the knowledge, skills and insight needed in an increasingly competitive global economy. Virtual reality technology works on the principle that experience matters, giving us the opportunity to provide a higher ROI by making the learning curve much more vertical, and allowing students to do most of their learning by doing.

Q3: What are the advantages of using avatars and virtual worlds?

We have long known the power of story to increase the retention of information. Asked what they know about the Biblical exodus, almost every American will instantly recall a scene from the Ten Commandments. Likewise, the best and most remembered lessons have long been the ones wrapped in stories – parables, ancient myths, even urban legends. Great teachers have always used story because they know that vicarious learning is engaging and sticky. Great teachers also know that no amount of instruction can replace experience. Virtual reality simulation technology, when used in an environment like an MBA program, uses these same principles by letting learners apply their ideas and skills in a practical context, where they can practice, fail and practice again.

Q4: Describe the iMBA program you've been involved in and what makes it unique. 

The LFGSM Immersion MBA program (iMBA) uses virtual reality simulation courseware to create a learning experience that is modeled after a corporate executive development program combined with a robust discussion community that guides the student to apply the learning to their own workplace. The academics are rigorous but the knowledge, skills and insights are acquired while "working" in a company called Central Products - a virtual reality clone of the plant, personnel, products, customers and competitors of a real U.S. company of about 500 employees and $100 million in annual revenues from its worldwide operations. In the LFGSM iMBA, small teams of students rotate from one department to another with each new course. They "work" for about eight weeks each in Marketing, Accounting, Information Systems, Production, International Business etc. -- all under the supervision of LFGSM business-leader faculty members and coaches.

Q5: What are the major advantages of using this approach?
Engaged learners. This is nothing like the typical lecture or case study models that are particularly unattractive to adult learners.

Flexibility. With the course schedule parameters, adult students can work around travel, work and family priorities.

Better use of faculty. Instead of "teaching to the middle," faculty coaches can give specific, individualized attention to each student.

Cost reduction. By choosing a comprehensive package that included course development and the online delivery system, a dashboard for faculty and administrative oversight of the learning, and technical support, LFGSM eliminated over $100,000 in development costs (and passed this along to students through affordable tuition) and at least a year of lost time while creating a program that is uniquely Lake Forest.
Leading the way with innovation. Learning technologies will continue to improve and schools like LFGSM will continue to lead the way.

 Q6: How do you assure that learning goals are met?

LFGSM established learning outcomes for its iMBA program and for each course within the program. These become the objectives against which actual results are measured. LFGSM’s virtual reality MBA program provides real-time data on every student in every course. The discussion community surrounding the virtual reality allows students to learn ways to transfer learning to their work place. For example the discussion community includes having real world projects that they work on together applying the practice they obtained in the virtual reality. That includes easy-to-use dashboard-style data on progress, performance and student satisfaction in very module of every course. LFGSM includes three kinds of assessments. Students, faculty and administrators receive immediate feedback on every student's scores on objective assessments. Responses to open-ended subjective questions are included in the dashboard and scrutinized by faculty who provide continuous specific feedback to each student. Students are evaluated on their contributions to weekly Discussion Topics, career e-Portfolio and surveyed periodically to identify ways to improve their experience.

Q7:  What kinds of assessment are you using?
See Q6
Q8:  What are some of the pitfalls?  What must be avoided?

Online teaching in a virtual reality context is not the same as classroom instruction. Faculty have to learn again to be coaches and collaborators in the learning process. Adult learners with family, work and travel responsibilities are not the same as full-time students.  They often bring a wealth of their own experience to the MBA. They almost always bring ambition and demands for a collaborative relationship with their teammates and faculty. Most students have no experience with virtual reality simulation technology (unless they happen to be gamers). They have to unlearn some of the tricks they used to survive in a traditional class or in other online classes. It is important to orient students well. LFGSM begins the program with a three-week, low pressure course on the History of Management Thought.

Q9:  What would you like to do next?
These are very exciting times. There are no limits to what is possible with the technologies we have available today. Along with others, I think the time is coming when people around the world will have access to truly engaging, high-value education at lower and lower prices. Our firm would like to help accelerate that dream.


Q1:  What is your name and your relation to e-learning? 

Jeanne Craig - iMBA marketing faculty - 10 year e-learning teaching experience

Q2:  Please describe your role and experience with the program.

 I taught the first cohort of iMBA students, and will start the next cohort next week. I have 3 years experience teaching while using avatars.

Q3:  What were some of the unexpected things you encountered while using avatars and virtual worlds?

I was surprised how involved I became with the scenarios involving the avatars.  The situations were very realistic and thus enticing. The information taught is applicable to real-life situations so it is applicable immediately in the business situations of the students.  As faculty, I was able to relate the learning to daily events in marketing.

Q4:  Describe the benefits

 Immediate application to business situations. The flexibility in time commitment.  The iMBA program is rigorous, but it can be done on my schedule. The faculty is available and involved with the students even in the online environment.

Q5:  Were there a few things that gave you a sense of real-world connections? what were they? 
 I answered this in the other questions.


Q1: What is your name and your relation to e-learning?

 Kyle Thomas, current student of LFGSM iMBA program

Q2: Please describe your role and experience with the program.

My role as a student is a unique experience in that I fill the role of an avatar/employee at a virtual PE piping company called Central Products. I am gaining experience and education in a realistic, corporate world.

Q3: What were some of the unexpected things you encountered while using avatars and virtual worlds?

Honestly, I was surprised my how realistic it was. There are certainly moments where the experience reflects "real world" scenarios that I didn't expect to come across, making the program that more unique.

Q4: Describe the benefits – 

There are numerous benefits to this experience. I can gain the education and the experience at the same time, something that is desired during these times, but often impossible to find. I can cover the readings or the calculations from anywhere at anytime, so I can fit it into my schedule, when I want. Most importantly, many people put their life on hold to go back to school, but I was able to stay with my current facility, in the career that I love. So I gain this MBA education, experience the virtual world, and still get to have a positive impact on my current position.

Q5: Were there a few things that gave you a sense of real-world connections? what were they? 

Yes, I work for a very small company, where I work with clients who have spinal cord injuries. This education has impacted this medical facility on an almost daily basis. I can impact my professional world with aspects from the virtual world in an unbelievable manner, whether were covering Human Resources topics or even financial ratios.

Q6: What would you like to do next?

I would like to stay in the Health industry and hopefully open my own adaptive exercise facilities for those dealing with spinal cord injuries.


Q1:  What is your name and your relation to e-learning?

 I am Achyuta Nosum. Currently, I am enrolled in the iMBA program at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

Q2:  Please describe your role and experience with the program.

 I feel like I am an intern in a real company and there to actually improve the company's performance.

Q3:  What were some of the unexpected things you encountered while using avatars and virtual worlds?

 I found the handheld device quite new and interesting as it tells the student on their immediate tasks and readings to complete. I did not really expect the avatars to actually communicate like we do in the real world. For instance: one of the avatars was singing and having a regular conversation with another avatar. This is something we can all relate to in our daily lives.  

Q4:  Describe the benefits – 

A major advantage being in this program is the flexibility. I can pace my modules according to my work schedule. It is assuring to know that the faculty is available at any time you need assistance. In my opinion, faculty is the pillar for this program ― they will make sure all the resources and help are being offered.

Q5:  Were there a few things that gave you a sense of real-world connections? what were they? 

I often thought that leadership means responsibility but, after interacting with the faculty at Lake Forest, I have gained an understanding that a leader could have an impressive title but a leader can’t really be successful if she or he lacks the ability to inspire others to follow.

Q6:  What would you like to do next?

For now, I would like to focus on learning business theories and its application in the real world. I am positive and confident that I will be successful in utilizing the iMBA program to build and expand life-long networking relationships.

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