Log on to a brave new world of education

What is better: e-learning or books? Peter Brown looks at the varied ways of absorbing information

The way business school students learn is changing, and creating new dilemmas. What is more important – a textbook or a database? How up-to-date does information need to be, and how can it best be accessed and absorbed? These issues have been at the forefront of Helen Edwards' mind for the past year. Formerly head of information services at London Business School, she has been creating a library from scratch at a newly opened prize-winning campus.

The offer came last year from Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, founded in 2005 but already running full-time and executive MBA courses, with plenty of students thirsty for information. "I started by identifying between 150 and 200 key texts – classics like Peter Drucker, Geert Hofstede on cross-culture, Michael Porter. You have to have them. But I wanted to concentrate on new material, published from 2006 onwards – about 2,500 books."

That alone must make Skolkovo one of the most modern libraries of its type. But books, she says, are the least important part. What matters are internet sources and databases of journals – the Harvard Business Review, California Management Review, and so on – as well as business magazines such as Forbes and Fortune.

"The first thing you do is get in touch with the database vendors and set up subscriptions," Edwards says. But most good schools will have these. What's also important, she believes, is to match the library to the school.

"At Skolkovo, we're focusing on emerging markets – Russia, India and China. Market research is particularly important, so we need company and economic information on industry sizes or channels to market. We also have an interest in leadership and innovation."

For the student, the core MBA program is vital. At Skolkovo, the course comprises five projects, some of them abroad. "So they have to get quick information on industries and geography with which they may not be familiar," Edwards says. And for students on the move, she says, the Kindle is also useful.

That view seems to challenge a recent American experiment at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, in which the Kindle DX e-reader was tested as a means of delivering first-year courses. Students complained that highlighting texts was difficult and it took too long to move between pages, documents, charts and graphs.

Edwards says: "I can see why some students might find them clunky. But in Russia, getting information in Kindle format has advantages beyond the US. Buying ordinary books here is difficult. With a Kindle, you can get things instantly."

Kane Cuenant, a Canadian MBA student at Skolkovo, uses the library about once a week and pays tribute to the resourcefulness of the library managers. "They're quite masterful at deriving references to even the most obscure requests. Even if a book seems unavailable, they'll find it – and courier it to you," he says.

Edwards' next task is to set up a discovery layer, whereby all the databases can be searched at once. Then Skolkovo's own research will need to be incorporated into the library.

She is also busy socially networking. "Skolkovo has a Facebook site, and I contribute to it," says Edwards. "I do a round-up of new books and articles on the blog."

While Edwards blogs in Moscow, Clive Holtham, professor of information management at Cass Business School, City University London, likes to sit in a cafe in Watford, Hertfordshire, and check coursework on his phone.

"I've got a Nokia smartphone and I can download and read PDF documents on it perfectly," he says. "I can connect to Cass's virtual private network and answer queries at the same time."

Technology has changed dramatically since Holtham arrived at what was then the City University Business School, London, in 1988 and discovered the internet. Now the web is indispensable and every student downloads coursework onto a laptop.

Inside business schools other technology is also changing the way people learn. Among the items used are pods – electronic, digital lecterns, feeding two or three screens, with visualisers which project paper or three-dimensional objects (overhead projectors with their acetate sheets have long gone).

"It's all about moving away from the 'sage-on-a-stage' model," Holtham says. "The classroom is no longer a place where a lecture takes place, it's a place where a lecturer is engaging with people learning. I can give small groups of students an index card, ask for ideas, collect them up and put them on the visualiser for all to see and discuss." He agrees that matching technology to the school is important. "At Cass, we're very strong on finance, and there's a massive demand across most programmes to show formulae. We're constantly experimenting with new devices that will allow a lecturer to walk around the classroom writing on a tablet which connects to the pod."

Cass also uses wireless clickers. "I've got a group of 160 students. I want to get their feedback on a number of topics. I set up the questions, give them a clicker each and we can get the collective view instantly." Clickers can also be used less anonymously to set individual students multiple-choice tests.

Surprisingly, Holtham describes himself as a "massive enthusiast" for paper – but he's not necessarily talking about A4. He likes flip charts and dialogue sheets, more than a metre deep. "No computer screen can match that," he says.

Textbooks, he acknowledges, are still not generally available electronically, and so are much used. "But the dreams of e-learning have always been higher than people have achieved." How about Kindles and iPads? "The price will have to come down considerably before they're of much use," he believes.

The technology that has made the greatest difference, Holtham says, is web conferencing, which allows groups of people to share audio, video, whiteboards, PowerPoint, word-processing documents and a chat function.

"Our part-time MBAs have to work in virtual teams outside the classroom. In the past, we allocated them by geographical area and they had to meet each other. Now a lot of them meet using Adobe Connect. All you need is a Web browser."

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SEN IT Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: IT EBD Teacher job in Runco...

SEN Maths Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Maths EBD Teacher job in Run...

SEN Maths Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Maths EBD Teacher job in Run...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teachers required, vario...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game