Business Schools Explore Teaching in the Metaverse

Business Schools Explore Teaching in the Metaverse

Neoma's virtual campus
Neoma students are represented by 3D avatars in the online world © Neoma

From a desk under three giant screens, Professor Alain Goudey gives courses on digital transformation to students from all over the world in an amphitheater that can potentially accommodate hundreds of people. All of this, however, is in the virtual realm – a realm that offers a glimpse of a potential future for business education.

His employer, Neoma Business School in France, is one of many forward-thinking European institutions embarking on the metaverse – an immersive digital world where students are represented by 3D avatars. This is because of its potential to make learning more interactive, but also because of the business opportunities. Management consultancy McKinsey estimates the metaverse will generate up to $5 billion in value by 2030.

“It’s very important that business schools be at the forefront of training future managers for the metaverse,” says Goudey, professor of marketing and associate dean for digital at Neoma. “He will shape the world of tomorrow.”

Although the metaverse is hailed by some as the next generation of the internet, business schools disagree on an exact definition. They also don’t agree how – or even if – it will work in practice.

At Neoma, students experience the metaverse as avatars in a virtual campus. The school has also developed several virtual reality case studies that immerse students in real business dilemmas, allowing them to apply theory to practice. “Immersion enhances the power of role-playing and simulation,” says Professor Goudey. “It’s amazing how much of an impact this has on pedagogy.”

Alain Goudey from Neoma

Professor Alain Goudey from Neoma

He says Neoma hopes to integrate virtual reality into the virtual campus to improve the learning experience for remote participants.

The potential of the metaverse has been thrust into the public psyche over the past year by tech companies like Meta (formerly Facebook) rushing to create virtual worlds filled with avatars. Today, some of these tech giants are working with business schools to enhance the educational experience with immersive technologies.

Polimi Graduate School of Management in Milan intends to organize seminars with Microsoft during which participants of the International Flex Executive MBA will learn about potential business opportunities in the metaverse.

Additionally, Polimi plans for EMBA participants to try out VR headsets and experience various scenarios, enabled by Fadpro, an edtech start-up partly owned by the school. These will include virtual trips to companies, allowing students to gain first-hand work experience without having to physically travel to the location.

Looking ahead, Polimi Dean Federico Frattini thinks the Metaverse could work well for teaching “soft skills” such as leadership and teamwork. Indeed, it can allow students to pick up non-verbal behaviors – gestures, posture – more easily than during a videoconference. “It’s a context in which reproducing a physical environment through technology can improve learning outcomes,” says Frattini.

Investment in sophisticated interactive learning tools has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has pushed business schools into the virtual realm.

“In our sector, there has been a certain reluctance to adopt new technologies for fear that they are not good enough,” explains Barbara Stöttinger, dean of the WU Executive Academy in Vienna. “What the pandemic has done is open our minds. It showed us the possibilities and how quickly we can innovate.

Management students attend a presentation on the virtual amphitheater of Neoma Business School © Neoma

This year, WU has partnered with Tomorrow’s Education, an edtech start-up, to launch its Professional Masters in Sustainability, Entrepreneurship and Technology. The program is delivered entirely on the school’s virtual campus, accessible through an online application. “We have to think about the next generation growing up in the metaverse,” Stöttinger says. “Finally, it will be essential for us to be there. This investment makes us sustainable.

Institutions see the metaverse as a way for students to interact more meaningfully, but also as a platform to create business opportunities.

At Essca School of Management in France, students in the MSc International Business 4.0 program create their own avatar in Second Life, the long-established 3D online world, and spend time observing the behavior of other avatars. Each student then identifies a potential business opportunity for a luxury brand in the metaverse, such as selling digital goods, and creates a virtual prototype.

“We need to prepare our students to be ready for the future,” says Essca Online Campus Manager Orsolya Sadik-Rozsnyai, noting that luxury houses are exploring business opportunities around virtual goods and non-fungible tokens.

For business schools, she says, the challenge is to avoid using technology for technology’s sake. “The Metaverse could be the next iteration of the internet, but until we find the right use cases, it will remain a fantasy,” she says.

Despite the exciting possibilities of the metaverse, business schools are still far from realizing its full potential, says David Lefevre, professor of digital innovation practice at Imperial College Business School in London. “It’s a fantastically appealing idea of ​​an alternate universe that we inhabit, but the metaverse at the moment is more of an aspiration,” he says.

The main challenges are to ensure interoperability, which would allow students to move freely between different virtual worlds. High power consumption is also a concern. “The resources required to operate the virtual environment, whether in the cloud or on-premises, are considerable,” says Tamim Elbasha, associate dean of learning and quality development at Audencia Business School in France.

Neoma's virtual campus

Professor Goudey and his colleagues meet in avatar form

Roselva Tunstall, director of the edtech laboratory at ESMT Berlin, raises further doubts. “Digital accessibility is a challenge,” she says, pointing out that virtual reality can be expensive and can also cause motion sickness. Faculty and staff would also need training to deliver lessons using these tools, she adds.

Other schools cite privacy and data protection issues as barriers to integrating business education into the metaverse. Either way, Tunstall says it’s unlikely to supplant traditional teaching methods. “The Metaverse is not meant to replace, it is meant to enhance.”

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