On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Warren Kennard to discuss the launch of MBS Online and how to take the new tech tools presented by AI to make higher ed a compelling proposition for modern learners.
Welcome to Illumination by Modern Campus, the leading podcast focused on transformation and change in the higher education space. On today’s episode, we speak with Warren Kennard, who is Director of MBS Online at Melbourne Business School. Warren and podcast host Amrit Ahluwalia discuss the launch of MBS Online and how to take the new tech tools presented by AI to make higher ed a compelling proposition for modern learners.
Warren, welcome to the Illumination Podcast. I'm so glad we're gonna be chatting here today.
Warren Kennard (00:37):
I'm delighted to be here. I'm right. It's great to speak to you again,
And I'll, I'll tell you you are geographically the furthest guest that we've spoken to from, from the Continental North America. It used to be Jim Gazzard at the University of Cambridge. But you, we are recording live in the future. Where <laugh>, you're based in, in Melbourne, Australia. You've recently well not recently in the, in the last year, you've started as, as the director of, of M B S Online, which is the online division of, of the Melbourne business school. It's really the, the first foray the institution has taken into that space. I'm, so, I, you know, obviously you and I have worked together on a number of projects as well, so it's, it's fun to be able to do, to do this with you as well.
Warren Kennard (01:22):
Yeah, no, it's wonderful to be joining. I listen to your podcast regularly and it's good that we've, we've brought it right across to the other side of the globe, so very great <laugh> that I was among the first to be able to do that
Slowly, but truly. Well, let me ask you this, 'cause you've done some really cool and creative stuff in the post-secondary space. I'm not gonna sit here and, and read your cv, but you've been involved in numerous sort of on the consultancy side and within the institutional side, looking at sort of different models to execute higher education at scale. You actually ran a a crowdsourced program designed for professional development for higher ed professionals on Connect ed. You're now, again, you've, you've launched a, create another creative initiative within the Melbourne Business School of M B SS online. What is your view, your vision of the future of higher education? Like, where is our space going?
Warren Kennard (02:15):
Yeah, so I think as we were speaking about previously in our conversation pre starting to record the, the two letters are very prominent at the moment, and those being a and I and that is certainly grabbing hold of my attention and, and many others in the space and how we are going to adopt these tools for the future of, of the sector and the way in which we learn and can augment that experience for students. So to speak frankly, Amit you know, over the last, let's call it better part of eight months, I've been very invested in getting onto these tools and understanding their application within the context of the sector. My vision hasn't necessarily changed, per se. I think it's just the way in which we are going to be doing that is, is potentially going to be very different.
Warren Kennard (03:08):
So I have been banging the drum of the continuous and professional development space for, for many, many years now, understanding that the traditional undergrad or postgraduate experience is not fulfilling every aspect of the, the skills development that we need in our lives. And of course, we're living for a lot longer and are going to need to pivot into new careers always and constantly. And so I've been very fascinated in making sure that all constituents within the kind of workforce are well prepared for these future transitions. And the primary focus of that in terms of developing products and services has been in short courses, these last mile products that really provide top-up skills and or certification of skills. But I've also been working in bootcamps and career accelerator products that are looking to help people transition from one career to another. And now my preoccupation is really looking at the technology enablement as presented by AI in particular and how we can make that a more compelling proposition for students. So that's just, sorry, it's a quite a mouthful, but that's like stuff that I'm focused on.
In fairness, it wasn't a small question. <Laugh>. So, you know, obviously again, you, you've taken the helm of, of M B S online. It's largely a, an execution of, of your vision of what business education can look like. And, you know, the business education space is, is really where your career is, has, has floated in and out of. How are you bringing some of those elements of your vision of the future of higher ed into, how are you setting that in motion with, with the work that you're doing at M B SS online?
Warren Kennard (05:06):
Yeah, so bringing it back very specifically to Melbourne Business School, of course, this institution was established in the, in the fifties. And it's a coming together of business, the business community and the University of Melbourne. And it has a very proud reputation really delivering on two award programs in particular, which are, it's flagship M B A and a master's business analytics program. It has a legacy exec ed product as well that continues to flourish in face-to-face and custom solution products for large scale corporations. But there was always this burgeoning demand for the school to enter into a space that was more accessible and inclusive to a many more incumbents to experience the both the physical campus, but also the expertise that we have in, in faculty and research. And, and so it was a perfect confluence of agendas when I arrived on the scene to be able to help with that transition of the school into its modern and contemporary state.
Warren Kennard (06:13):
And so, setting up M B SS online we kind of conceived of the idea very early in 2022. We kind of got our skates on in the middle of 2022, and we launched the sub-brand in February of this year. And it's unfortunately rather cliche in its infancy now. It's presenting a online award program, which is our flagship online M B A. We have a series of short courses and a couple of career accelerators, these kind of ostensibly bootcamp programs that I spoke about. And we are introducing a series of shorter masterclasses as well. And so what you will hear in that is most likely very much of the same that that is ex that you would experience at, at many institutions. But what the unique flavor really is is that we have a different way of delivering that materials.
Warren Kennard (07:14):
And it is a, a culmination, not, not just of my own, but we've got a significant team with terrific expertise in how we can arrive at developing the programs, making sure that there intellectually stimulating, emotionally engaging, and making sure that we bring the expertise to bear within these programs that really deliver on true pedagogical outcomes and making also it possible for students to go and apply those learnings back into the work context. So some are very much the same but entering a space that is constantly evolving. And now the next kind of evolution, as I said, is to rapid augment the kind of offering that we have and to make that a more compelling proposition for many more incumbents across the globe.
Absolutely. And outta curiosity, as you think about, you know, obviously you guys are at time of recording a, a year and approximately a month into, into the launch of, of M B S online. What were some of the obstacles, the barriers that you got, you and the team ran into that other folks might encounter as, as they launch an online division with, from the auspices of a relatively traditional on-premise campus?
Warren Kennard (08:32):
Yes. So this was a, admittedly an eye-opener for me. If you look at my background and the things that you kind of shared earlier on my foray into more traditional enterprise from an educational setting point of view, has been fairly limited outside of kind of into a consulting capacity and where I've been privileged to work kind of educational post sorry, post-secondary education institutional brands. They've largely been skunk work operations or wholly owned subsidiaries that are able to move at a great deal of pace and, and have independence. This was an interesting dynamic because there were areas of independence and there were areas of tethering to the traditional school experience. And that of course caused a great deal of complexity. You're, you're changing hearts and minds internally and externally internally with faculty and, and individuals who have been with the school for many, many years who have very different ways of thinking about the educational landscape and what the brand represents and serves.
Warren Kennard (09:46):
And so I spend most of my time not doing the things I terribly enjoy, which is really getting stuck into building product Yeah. But spending a lot of time bringing people on site and, and kind of explaining to them what the vision for this particular outfit is. And so I suspect that this is nothing new. Of course, having consulted quite broadly across the globe, these, these are no different to any other institution. But of course, when you have a, a legacy brand, which is a premium offering within the region, and the leading business school within the, the APAC territory, this is of course a much heavier lift. So I think that is certainly one. I think the, the systems and processes when you need contemp when, when you're wanting to build contemporary product you certainly need contemporary infrastructure.
Warren Kennard (10:42):
And so we realize very soon that we would need to build by borrow steel all of those kind of technology and systems and operational capability from elsewhere. So we did partner fairly extensively to, to set the project up at the outset, but now we're in the process of making sure that we upskill and or support the school more generally to, to kind of build this capability internally. So certainly systems, processes, metrics and reporting and so on were, were critical for our success. And then I spoke about changing hearts and minds internally and externally, and that was perhaps fascinating for me as well, is that the external market, as you would be well aware globally, we are experiencing macro headwinds for higher education more generally. And there is a noise that I haven't experienced in the 20 years of being in this sector of just how difficult it is for students to make informed decisions to identify a product that's really going to satisfy their needs and help them in their career.
Warren Kennard (11:51):
So just sure that our audience is aware of just how our organization is pivoting and considering them as, as being an important stakeholder in our equation has been a much more onerous than what I had probably given it kudos to before. So those have been the major kind of challenges and all have been enjoyable because we've arrived at this point where we are very much aligned and I think we are starting to get a great deal of acceptance from our audience in particular, which is most important for me, of course that we have product market fit in many of our programs. And our positioning seems to be landing extremely well.
Absolutely. I'm, I'm curious, as you, obviously you discussed sort of operational gaps, cultural gaps, what's been the more challenging one to overcome?
Warren Kennard (12:50):
Well I paused for that because I really did want to think about that for a moment. It's evident that both are challenging, but I would, I would st I would say that the systems and processes would be the easier of the two to overcome, simply because one can outsource a great deal of that capability. And there are many capable and competent outfits that support the post-secondary education ecosystem, and you would be familiar with all of the players, but there's a plethora of O P X extensions to a school to support in, in all weird and wonderful ways. So I would imagine that provided you have a very good network of individuals and you understand the kinds of things and the questions that you need to ask to interrogate the, the technology and systems that, that people are providing, then I would say that that would be the easier of the two transitions. I think changing hearts and minds and the culture of an institution is fundamentally difficult. And, but as I said, it's it's a very, very necessary transition for our school in particular. But more generally of course we, we understand this to be more true on a, on a global scale.
Absolutely. When you think about, I guess, areas for growth, low hanging fruit, what have been some of the quick wins that you've been able to establish since launching M B S online that maybe you weren't anticipating?
Warren Kennard (14:26):
Well, it's a, it's a very good question. There was, there was nothing extraordinarily easy or low hanging fruit per se. I think that the, oh, well, maybe I will go to the partnership ecosystem that you, that I spoke about before that perhaps was a little bit of an easier lift than what I anticipated, simply because I think when you're working with people that you have worked with previously and that you understand the space very well, I think that gives you a, a lot more of a first mover advantage. So I, I think that if you were an institution that is looking to make wholesale change or to establish a online or innovation type unit, I would imagine that using the services of somebody that has those skills and expertise and those networks and has certainly done it before will be an extremely good idea to help propel that institution forward. So that was maybe something that I think the, the kind of as I spoke about that O P X community, I think because that has become so well established and there are so many players that have partnered in the past with all kinds of institution, and I think those have become a lot more lubricated in terms of those those relationships, and it's become a lot more seamless to plug all of those experiences into the traditional enterprise.
That makes a ton of sense. It is, it's interesting how folks seem to be buying in more and more to the idea of online programming to the idea of short form programming to the idea of micro-credentialing, not necessarily because of the value that they create, but more because of the, the recognized need to stay relevant or oriented to demand. I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing per se, but it is interesting to think about sort of the factors that might drive folks to be open to change or open to innovation as being, you know, we did a, an interview years ago with Michael Horn, who's an analyst, a pretty well respected thinker in, in, in the education space. And his perspective on this was that, you know, change can be driven by opportunity, but is almost always driven by threat. And it's, it's always an interesting window to think about some of the, the factors that might motivate someone to think meaningfully about how they might operate in a different way. So it's, it's, it's interesting to see how that, that plays out in practice on, on in so many levels.
Warren Kennard (17:08):
Hmm. Yeah. Well, look, I mean a lot of what you said resonates with me. If you know anything about my background, I was originally from South Africa and that market is very, very different to the Australian market. So something that you touched on I think about a lot is that traditionally speaking the fear of the next individual sitting alongside of you outperforming you and making sure that you're competitive within that space and, and certainly that if there's going to be any rounds of redundancies or the organization is gonna go through some form of restructure that you're always one up on, on your kind of competition. And that has largely led to many people seeking out these kind of top up skills and capabilities, not only to certify their current experience, but also to learn new skills and to augment their portfolio such that they are capable of doing more.
Warren Kennard (18:06):
And that is, that is a fascinating trend, which for the first time in, certainly in my experience, and this has been spoken about quite broadly, is that we haven't seen necessarily that same run on the bank to education in, in these times of trouble. And that is a combination of factors. I I would imagine that certainly the cost of living has, has skyrocketed. So do we have enough discretionary income to be able to invest in our capability uplift? And secondarily, of course, we've in the wake of a mental health crisis, we've got AI that and, and also people self-studying and, and really being more proactive on the front foot about how they acquire these skills. Not to mention the significant number of kind of non-traditional players that have ended the space over the last while. It, it is a really an interesting time for traditional enterprise or traditional higher education and how they're going to respond to those changes over time. So certainly what you, what you covered is certainly resonates with me, and it's, it's something that, that I spend a lot of time thinking about.
Absolutely. Well, Warren, I mean, that pretty much does it in terms of the, the items that, that I really wanted to, to discuss with you, with the exception of one thing, which is that we know Melbourne to be one of the great food cities in the world, <laugh>. So if someone needs to go to dinner in Melbourne, where are you sending them?
Warren Kennard (19:46):
Yeah, well, I have a, a favorite there, there is, as you said Melbourne is certainly one of the, it's the coffee destination of the world and, and certainly food and entertainment is, is in abundance. But there's a restaurant in the city called ji, which is absolutely my favorite. I've been on a couple of occasions, and it's extraordinarily fun vibe, very loud music, exquisite food. And you would be very disappointed if you do not get the opportunity to go there once in a lifetime. And so if you're visiting in the area you're welcome to, to pay and host me at a table. I will gladly come with you if, if you're ever in town. So that, that's my suggestion. I it,
Warren, it's been such a pleasure, man. I, I, you know, it's been so fun getting to know you and, and watching some of the really innovative work that you've brought to the ed tech space and to the, to the, the higher education leadership space and creating professional development opportunities and resources. And, you know, if, if you haven't seen the crowdsourced course structure that Warren built I I would absolutely recommend it. It was it's called again, it's connect all in all caps and then add as one word, connect, add. It is, it's, it's an exceptional resource. There's a fair number of names that you might recognize as, as leaders across the post-secondary space who are engaged with that project. Warren, it's always a pleasure. Thank you so much again for your time.
Warren Kennard (21:23):
Thank you, Amer, it was a pleasure.
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