Wharton Dean: virtual worlds are the future of MBA education

Occasionally the Dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania sits down with the full-time MBA students for a boxed lunch and answers questions for an hour. Typically questions involve boring stuff: curriculum, teaching. That sorta thing.

Today, however, I nearly choked on my chicken salad sandwich when I heard Harker state the following (paraphrased, because I wasn't paying full attention when he said it; I wasn't expecting to have to take down a quote):

Wharton's committed to teaching students to be good learners. Right now, almost every business school is teaching students using the case method, with a mix of lectures and simulations. I think that the next big teaching innovation will come from the area of virtual worlds. Think Sim City or The Sims in a business environment.

To hear the head of this typically conservative organization endorse virtual worlds made me feel good. Not because I envisioned clicking for credit, but because I know first-hand the power of virtual environments for teaching some really important lessons. I learned more about organizational behavior and management (and my own deficiencies in both) through my year-long experience running a 90-person hardcore Everquest raid guild than I learned during any day job.

The only thing virtual about immersive, massively-multiplayer experiences is the fact that you can't touch real objects. Everything else is present--especially the group dynamics and interpersonal relationships.

Coupled with a recent exam experience, Harker's offhand comment makes me think that maybe stodgy old educational institutions like Wharton are waking up to the potential of  interactive experiences to teach us how to be better people in the real world. Than again, maybe Wharton's actually living up to their own marketing hype. The school did invent modern business education, after all (2006 marks Wharton's 125th anniversary). It'd be nice if she were the first institution to really embrace virtual world experiences in the classroom.

I know that other schools have dabbled in this area, but so far nobody's built a curriculum around the idea that virtual experiences are a viable experiential teaching tool fit to replace or at least supercede the case method.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.