The uberisation of executive education

Publication date: 13 January 2019
Article type: Blogs and Articles

The sharing economy has the potential to disrupt and revolutionise industries in every sector of the business world


The sharing economy has the potential to disrupt the executive education sector. Clementine Boyer-Duroselle speaks to two experts in the sharing economy to find out more. 

Uber has already rocked the transportation industry – it is the largest taxi firm on the planet and owns no taxis, after all. And, in the hospitality sector, Airbnb has disrupted the way in which people find accommodation. It’s the biggest hospitality firm in the world and, you’ve guessed it, it doesn’t own any premises. Transport and hospitality are two of the world’s oldest and most traditional business fields and yet they have not experienced change to this extent in their histories. 

Uber and Airbnb are just two organisations using collaborative consumption – or peer economics – that have made shockwaves in businesses far outside their own spheres. It could be argued that they are changing consumer behaviour fundamentally. 

In various areas, people – often members of the public – are generating revenue through ‘sharing’ their homes, their cars, their bicycles, even their ideas, with people they don’t know. 

Collaboration is very much in vogue. 

With that in mind, it follows that the business education sector could feel the impact of the sharing economy – so is the MBA about to be uberised?

In 2017, an article entitled ‘The Sharing Economy Comes to Campus’ in The Chronicle of Higher Education, highlighted the ‘untapped potential’ of the sharing economy for universities and Business Schools, citing MOOCs, freelance teaching contracts and essay mills as initiatives that have taken off without the aid of sharing economy platforms. So how, with the use of these emerging platforms, can sharing economy dynamics uberise other aspects of the Business School landscape?   

I spoke to two experts in the field of management education and the sharing economy to discuss how these worlds are colliding in Business Schools across the world. 

The growth of the sharing economy

‘The sharing economy’s rise is something that has surprised a lot of people, says Pinar Ozcan, Professor of Strategy at Warwick Business School. ‘As a result, at Warwick Business School, we have looked at the growth of the sharing economy in the UK over the past three years and have conducted two surveys into this in 2016 and again in 2017. 

‘Within 18 months, we saw that participation in the sharing economy in the UK increased by 60%. It’s not just participation in platforms such as Uber and Airbnb that is increasing, companies founding platforms are increasing quite a bit too. 

‘Overall, I think the growth of the sharing economy is promising and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to come to a stop.’ 

She adds: ‘The main motivation that people have to use platforms within the sharing economy is to save money, but closely following that is the sharing economy’s convenience and availability. For example, it’s a lot easier to get an Uber than to wait for a taxi. 

‘People also use the sharing economy for social and environmental reasons – ridesharing for example. If you were to drive between two cities, it’s a lot more environmentally friendly to do it with another person. Those are the top reasons why people use the sharing economy; financial, convenience environmental and social.’

The sharing economy and business education

According to Riccardo Mangiaracina, International Flex EMBA Director at the MIP Politecnico di Milano's School of Management, the sharing economy can play a role in business education because of the multiple sources of content that students can access and the opportunities to find this content on the internet. 

The flex EMBA at MIP Politecnico di Milano is for students to complete online and doesn’t require participants to physically be in Milan but, nevertheless, Mangiaracina explains that ‘students need guidance to access content and articles’. He adds that while ‘we can really find everything on the internet’ the issue is that sometimes students can’t find content that’s of relevance to them. 

Mangiaracina believes that sharing economy and the sharing of content is beneficial for students and it can be an opportunity that, if well exploited, can offer a lot of favourable outcomes. 

‘First of all, a student needs content of very high quality, and second, he or she needs the content to be tailored to his or her needs,’ he says. ‘It’s not always easy.’ 

Because of the sharing economy model, MIP Politecnico di Milano is changing the way it teaches students in class ‘thanks to the new opportunities we have’ according to Mangiaracina. 

The School is involving students in the very development of the education process because, as Mangiaracina says: ‘We believe that students can learn a lot from each other. They can learn from the experience of other colleagues, and that’s something that’s very important.’ 

The digital landscape and the possibility to share personal experience has helped change the way students are learning as well, according to Mangiaracina. He is of the belief that in terms of learning strategy ‘there is no one way better than another, but each technique is very complementary.

‘There is a strong traction between professors and students because students cannot just read or watch content over the internet on their own, they need interaction in order to grow, and they need Q&A sessions to ask questions on the content.’

Online education versus sharing economy

Warwick’s Ozcan explains: ‘We have to make a distinction between the online education sector and the sharing economy education sector. In a sense, both go hand in hand and many Schools and individuals are now turning to online education because it’s much more convenient.’ 

The sharing economy could create new opportunities for faculty as well as students, with professors being enabled to deliver modules to students outside their own Business School more easily, using sharing platforms.

Ozcan goes on to say that online education is also ‘potentially better’ than traditional classroom based teaching for learning purposes, because there are many more options for teaching including technologies to view competitions, create quizzes, and ‘do a lot of things that would just take too long in the classroom’. 

‘Using the sharing economy for education very much depends of whether sharing platforms are able to get people who have the credentials and who are famous online,’ she says. ‘Being a Business School professor myself, if a sharing platform were to ask me to teach online I would hesitate because I work full time at the university and my employment at the university would be affected by teaching on a sharing platform.’ 

The growth of executive education and the sharing economy

In saying that, Ozcan believes that the growth of executive education in the sharing economy could be problematic compared to the growth of online executive education for the simple reason that Business Schools and large institutions would be required to sponsor sharing platforms in order to make them legitimate and for Schools to find the right people to teach on their programmes. 

However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to happen. 

She says: ‘If you think about executive education in the sharing economy, it would be an extension of skills-sharing, and that’s something that’s happening right now. But compared to learning a language such as Spanish online, learning leadership skills online needs quite a different level of expertise from your instructor. 

‘Online education will change the ways that we teach and the way students learn. To an extent, the sharing economy will also change that but it will depend very much on whether sharing economy platforms allow us to learn and to build skills in different ways.’

Ozcan cites the example of an entrepreneur having specific learning requirements such as start-up finance and business models, and it is possible that on a sharing platform they could take part in a mentorship programmes to learn these skills. 

The MIP Politecnico di Milano is delivering content over the internet and is interacting with students online as well, but according to Mangiaracina when discussing his flex EMBA programme: ‘The key thing is that students do not access content they find alone on a website, but in the structured programmes which are designed specifically for our students’. 

The dangers of the sharing economy

But, given the unprecedented impact the sharing economy has had on hospitality and transport, will the traditional Business School model be under threat by this disruptive – and growing – trend? 
Ozcan explains: ‘Business Schools should be concerned about online education. They need to be aware of the sharing economy and integrate these business models into their teaching strategies because a lot of students are going to start businesses in this this sector. This means it needs to be part of the curriculum.’

And commenting on the attitudes of her students toward the sharing economy, she adds: ‘I talk about the dangers of sharing economy during my classes and the main reasons why people don’t share. People don’t share because they are not sure about things such as taxes and whether what they are doing is legal, so uncertainty is a big factor. 

‘Some people also think that it’s strange to share with strangers. However, it’s important to talk about these things because people need to put pressure on governments to update its regulations to make sure everything is clear for both users and providers of the sharing economy.’

Sustainability and the future of the sharing economy

Given the furore around the sharing economy, is this something that will become the new normal in business, or is it something that will ebb away or be stifled by regulation? 

Essentially, the sustainability of the sharing economy depends on regulations. In the US, for instance, different states have different rules on what they allow Uber and Airbnb to do and this has an impact on the business model and sustainability thereof. In Europe there are also various responses to the sharing economy across different cities. 

Ozcan explains: ‘The sustainability of the sharing economy will largely depend on what those regulations are. For example, Airbnb has been recently been pressured by governments to disclose the tax identification codes of the hosts that are making money its platform, and they’ve been collaborating so the governments now know who is making money using Airbnb. 

‘These kind of regulations are necessary but there is still a lot of unresolved issues such as employment, social security and insurance. The sustainability of the sharing economy model largely depends on resolving these uncertainties.’ 

But she adds: ‘The sharing economy decreases the unemployment rate, allows people to work whenever they want, and it helps people share their skills. A lot of students are very interested in understanding the sharing economy and potentially working in that sector, either by starting a company or by somehow being involved in the sector. 

The role of the sharing economy in Business Schools

According to Mangiaracina, the sharing economy is supporting the business education sector on two ways. He says: ‘One situation is the content given to students being recorded by professors, top-thinkers, doers. 

‘The other situation would be the case where students share experiences and knowledge with each other. In our case, we are trying to implement that, because we want students to share their own experiences and through this sharing, they are learning from each other.’ 

And Ozcan concluded: ‘The sharing economy is becoming a topic in Business Schools and in undergraduate programmes. I myself spend an entire week teaching about the sharing economy in an MBA course that’s both face-to-face and online. It is seen as an interesting topic to study but it doesn’t really change the dynamic of the classroom. 

‘I don’t think the sharing economy is going to be the only business model in the future but we see a lot of traditional sectors integrating sharing economy business models into their platforms. 

‘This will also continue to increase participation in the sharing economy which is good news. Also, an increase in participation means laws and regulations will have to be clear about what’s allowed and what’s not. 

‘The sharing economy and participation in it will not go away but I don’t think it’s going to revolutionise the way in which we work.’