The future of advanced learning will be FLEXAble with the help of AI

Another digital revolution is under way at Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business (MIP) with the arrival of the first release of FLEXA, an innovative, personalized continuous-learning platform and a digital mentor for students. MIP is using Microsoft AI services to power this platform that delivers personalized education recommendations to the next generation of executives and business decision makers.
Imagine a world in which learning was invented, for the first time, within today’s digital media environment. There would be no history of print influencing how courses were planned or textbooks were sold, no centuries of structure shaping how universities were designed. In such a thought experiment, we might reimagine how classes look, how long they last, and how they structure the information and interactions shared by professor and students. Instead, we might see the standard quarter or semester structure replaced by longer, more adaptive learning strategies that happen daily, weekly, or monthly, as determined by the needs of the student and the requirements of their chosen career.

A new learning model would also need to leverage a powerful content engine and artificial intelligence (AI) capable of adapting and assisting each individual student. Such is the dream of FLEXA, an approach to learning being pioneered at Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business (MIP) in Milan, Italy.

Customized and personal

Planning for FLEXA began in 2016 when Federico Frattini, professor at MIP and director of the MBA and Executive MBA programs, began thinking about the next wave of digital technologies that could advance executive learning. In doing so, he realized that some unanswered questions remained about how to most effectively use digital technology in education. First, Frattini notes, there is an “opportunity to personalize the journey for our students undergoing long programs like an MBA, Executive MBA, or a specialist Master’s degree. Beyond in-program personalization, digital technology also offers the possibility for providing continuous learning over time for our alumni community, and that’s something shared by many other schools.” FLEXA offers students many features, including networking opportunities and exposure to companies registered on the platform that can promote talent acquisition initiatives. “FLEXA is a great tool for becoming more cognizant with the needs of our students,” says Frattini.

The crux of FLEXA begins, Frattini explains, with “a diagnostic tool that evaluates the student’s hard, soft, and digital skills, then uses Microsoft AI services to create personalized learning pathways that can be very short one-day paths or longer six-month paths. It can suggest physical and digital content customized to the experiences of each student, alumnus, or prospective students, designed to close their skills gaps.”

It works like this: Students sign in to the system using their MIP accounts, whereupon they take the assessment of their various skills—hard, soft, and digital. “The hard skills section,” Frattini says, “is a self-assessment based on the experience they have gained in their career or studies, covering a number of dimensions of competencies that are relevant for tomorrow’s jobs. Then they will take tests for the soft skills and digital skills. They will be asked to indicate where they expect to be in their career in three years’ time. So, in terms of financial expectations, they will be working on the kind of role they would like to take on.”

From there, students can access their dashboard where they can find their skills profile and see their strengths and their gaps, all depending on the career aspirations they have previously identified. Students determine how much time they’d like to spend to deepen their knowledge surrounding those areas, and FLEXA leads them along the path to filling their skills gap efficiently. Frattini explains, “Imagine having a personal mentor supporting you day-by-day along your career path. Imagine that this mentor were to recommend the right content in order for you to keep up-to-date and be able to close the gap between your current skills and those needed to achieve your career goals. This is FLEXA.”

Working with Microsoft

This is where Microsoft AI comes in. For any given combination of hard, soft, and digital skills, and for the specific aspirations of any individual student, there is a wealth of content that could be useful. Some of these items can be read in 10 minutes, some in 20, and some require more time. The AI can recognize and categorize the content appropriately and make recommendations accordingly. FLEXA might recommend attending an advanced marketing course at MIP, then follow with recommendations for three specific book chapters because they touch on a particular skills gap. These recommendations evolve over time. Frattini notes that, “FLEXA takes into account the feedback of other users on the platform that are using the same content. It also considers how relevant the content is to a student based on other profiles similar to that student’s in terms of overall career aspirations.”

For such an ambitious goal, the cooperation and technology of Microsoft were critical. Frattini is clear that, “there was no other partner with whom we could have done a project like this. The vision, the passion, the support of Microsoft Italy—the relationship was very positive, and fun.”

The possibilities with such a system are incredibly exciting. It can be integrated into curriculum goals. Frattini offers an example: “Say I’m a professor interested in the applications of blockchain. I can launch a challenge on FLEXA, whereby I ask three teams of five people to prepare a video sharing their experience and knowledge about how to use blockchain in the food sector. The three teams are created on FLEXA. They take part in the game and the team producing the best video will be selected by the faculty. We have the video included in FLEXA’s datalink and it can be sent to other users.”

At the same time, given the assessment tool, FLEXA provides a granularity of information regarding the actual needs of students, and those needs can be communicated to faculty in order for them to optimize course and lesson plans to best benefit their students.

Into the future

The FLEXA pilot launched in the last quarter of 2018, and already the team at MIP has ideas about how to evolve its operations and develop future iterations of the platform. Reimagining how to serve students in a digital age takes time, after all, and a willingness to innovate and take risks, and to use new technology to rethink old methods. The ingenuity on display by the MIP team and the power of Microsoft AI makes FLEXA a project to watch, as these sorts of experiments may very well define the next decade of curriculum planning and educational excellence.

Artificial Intelligence Brings Personalized Learning Experiences For MBA Students

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is perhaps the biggest game-changer of recent times. Its influence and impact are far-reaching; rapidly spreading into a varied array of industries.

Business schools are no different. Last year, Italy’s MIP Politecnico di Milano released FLEXA in partnership with Microsoft, an AI-powered platform which provides a personalized learning experience for MBA students.

Speaking to BusinessBecause in October 2018, Raffaello Balocco, director of the Full-Time MBA at MIP said FLEXA will dominate learning experiences at MIP this year.

FLEXA helps to identify courses, tutorials and digital materials to help bridge skills gaps for students and save them time sifting through material to find relevant resources. FLEXA also increases exposure to recruiters who can identify possible employees through the evidence-based learning visible on the platform.

New ways of learning

Luca Polzot is an MBA student who graduated from MIP in 2014, immediately jumping into a job at Microsoft working as an account executive in education.

Originally an engineer, he pursued an MBA to switch from an operations role into a front office position at a leading technology company. The MIP MBA was pivotal in helping him gain his job at the IT giant.

“I got the chance to meet Microsoft at the end of my MBA as part of a company visit and was scouted for their talent acquisition program,” he says.

Luca wanted to work in IT and tech because he recognized early on that this was the sector that was going to infiltrate and revolutionize every aspect of business. He wanted to be at the forefront. Working with FLEXA ensures exactly that.

Although he’s now moved on to focus on financial services, Luca worked for four years as an account executive for education at Microsoft, responsible for the company’s relationships with universities and business schools like MIP.

“Technology’s presence in education adds value to the content and an additional layer of interaction to be capitalized upon,” Luca explains.

FLEXA

Current main features of FLEXA include:

  • An initial assessment of the user’s skillset to determine their strengths and weaknesses, and thus how to tailor their learning.
  • A personalized learning pathway which takes into account this assessment, the amount of time at a student’s disposal, and their interests, to provide the most useful resources.
  • Personalized daily workouts and topical exercises which aim to bolster the main learning content.
  • Personalized content searches which allow students to pinpoint relevant material simply and quickly.

FLEXA also supports networking online, helping students maintain connections with both faculty and alumni, meaning the business school’s digital community is a true reflection of the school’s cohort, past, present and future. “It provides lifelong learning and is valuable no matter your connection to MIP,” Luca says.

Taking the lead

Luca was initially drawn to MIP because of the school’s core focus on digital innovation—the MBA program itself was created in partnership with companies like Microsoft and IBM. As part of the Full-Time MBA, a core module Basics in Digital is taught entirely online.

Luca believes that the whole education sector needs to keep up with advances in AI and similar tech in order to provide the best for their students. This is particularly key for business schools.

“Businesses are using and integrating the latest tech and so business education has to in order to be a valuable resource,” he says. “I expect new ideas from MBAs no matter their role, when they join Microsoft,” he continues.

“Graduating from a school that prioritizes exposure to new technology provides MBAs with a head-start to this way of thinking.”

 

Originally published on 

How AI empowers new generations of business minds with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed

Every week I interview entrepreneurs and experts from around the world to share their big idea about new forms of value creation and the potential we can unlock when technology augments the unique strengths of people to deliver remarkable impact.

Transforming from Graduation to Employability
I got inspired by the big idea behind FLEXA: hence I invited Professor of Strategic Management and Innovation,  Federico Frattini to my podcast. We explore the changes in the market place, and how this is putting more and more pressure on the education system and the students they serve. The goal should not be just to successfully graduate, but to actually be employable after you graduate. This changes the requirement 180 degrees on how students, employers and university’s communicate and collaborate together.

The thing that triggered me most from my interview with Federico
“The basic idea is to give our students exactly the knowledge they need to achieve their career goals faster and to make them more employable.”

Why did this trigger me? What’s the bigger value here?
It’s again a very strong example what happens when we start innovation with outcome in mind, rather than output. It might seem obvious, but it’s a 180 degree turn in how ‘the business’ of Education works. By applying intelligent technologies to the learning process any university can make the shift from delivering graduated students to students that can actually directly start to make an impact and be self-sustainable in society.

Beyond that linking effort to tangible results will, from my perspective, add more meaning, and as such lower the number of drop outs, and help students to accelerate their education process, which is a win-win for everybody.

The concept is more widely applicable though. It reminds me of my podcast with Tom Pennings, CEO of Onsophic, who’s solution ties corporate learning to business outcomes and performance management. FLEXA however, addresses the challenges at the very start of the process – the student – and with that creates a positive ripple effect that impacts everyone.

What’s the more significant question/opportunity that raises?
The example above is just the first step in accelerating a large-scale transformation in Education. Matching curriculum with aspirations is one side of the coin. Imagine what happens when employers start to engage in the process? That way you have the perfect platform to match demand and supply – and as such critical information to perfectly tune curriculum development. It’s turning curriculum process from top-down (education system led) to bottom-up (market led).

If you know what employers really search for, and what knowledge students need to achieve career targets, it means that for the first time the education system can start to anticipate and follow the shifting demands in the real business world, resulting in new ways to close the rapidly growing skills gap as well s the gap between students and placement.

Taking that one step further – as Federico rightly quoted: “potentially this service can be offered without any degree, to strengthen the digital heart and soft skills of any person in the planet, whether they are students or not of our school, I think that this gives you an idea of potential societal impact.”

To help accelerate this development, just think about how your companies’ HR, recruiters, headhunters or other players in the HR industry could benefit from this platform. Share your views here.

 

Listen to the big idea behind FLEXA,  and why it has the potential to transform the way Education works and creates impact.

 

 

Edtech moves up the learning curve

Education technology – or the use of information and communications technology to facilitate, enrich and in some cases replace traditional forms of learning – is a hot topic with educators and investors alike.

As massive open online courses (MOOC) continue to sprout up, in many cases attracting students who may not otherwise have the possibility to study, educators also debate the extent technology can be used to improve the learning experience and the best way to do that in the traditional classroom setting.

Investors have also targeted so-called edtech, or edutech, opportunities. According to data from the Hack Education site, which tracks developments in the sector, a total of $3.48 billion was invested around the world last year in edtech while the business also saw four mergers, four IPOs and 86 acquisitions. Metaari, a Seattle-based research firm, placed the value of global “learning technology” investments last year at a whopping $9.5 billion, although its definition of just what falls into the edtech basket is far broader than most of  its peers.

While people may disagree on just what edtech is and thus, the extent of the edtech investment boom, there appears to be more agreement on where the funds are going. Topping the list is the United States, while investments in China and India are rising dramatically as investors seek to tap into the vast user bases in both countries and an appetite for new investments in education. While edtech progress in Europe, underpinned by the UK and Scandinavian countries, has been generally slower, there are a growing number of initiatives throughout the Old Continent. In edtech hotspots around the world, schools are increasingly playing a direct role in shaping educational platforms from elementary to university level.

And while there may be much talk of edtech today, it’s hardly a new phenomenon. MIT professor Seymour Papert talked about the benefits of edtech half a century ago. “With computers, there is a substantially bigger chance that you can lead the child with less effort into something he really likes doing,” Papert said in a 1970 interview with Computer Decision. “The intersection with the set of fun things with the set of educational things is sufficiently big so that you should be able to keep every student internally motivated.”

To be sure, technology and edtech have both advanced by leaps and bounds over the decades – go back to the ‘80s and edtech largely meant bulky personal computers, floppy discs and rudimentary programmes – although helping to keep students motivated is still one of the major aims of edtech today.

As edtech proponents look to the use of cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence (AI) is already carving out an important role in the edtech space, a trend that is expected to continue in the future. Its most common use today is in personalised learning programmes, with data collected on the individual allowing for a customised approach based on factors such as the speed of a student’s learning, method of study, goals and personal interests. Along with this comes personalised feedback, allowing for adjustments when learning is not progressing as planned.

Among those that have invested heavily in personalised learning is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which cites the potential for a massive reduction in dropout rates. Edtech also offers an upside to star students, who may progress at a faster pace. High-profile initiatives also include the new FLEXA digital platform created by Microsoft and MIP – the Graduate School of Business of Politecnico di Milano – which provides students and other users with tailor-made digital contents to improve the learning process and help close the gap between their expertise and desired career goals. This is done while enabling collaborative learning and skill building with other platform users and facilitating connections with mentors and job recruiters.