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Economy & Tech

IE University Enters the Metaverse: Equipping Students for the Jobs of the Future

​​"We can redraw the way to teach and learn," says IE university's global head of recruitment and admissions Andrea Longaretti.

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IE University is investing in emerging technologies to equip its students for the jobs of the future (Ⓒ IE University).

Last of two parts

Read part 1: Want to Study at Madrid's IE University? First, It Wants to Ensure Your Wellbeing.

The trend in online learning that started before the pandemic has only picked up since, as more people have become comfortable working remotely or studying online. In the case of Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree programs, there has been a record 21% increase in online courses since 2021. That is according to Quaquarelli Symonds World University Ranking (more commonly known as simply QS). 

Riding the wave by actively investing in online learning, some universities are putting themselves on the map. IE University calls it "Liquid Learning." And the next frontier is learning in the Metaverse. 

In 2022, IE University Global Online MBA program is No. 1 in the world in the QS rankings, and No. 3 in a comparable list compiled by the Financial Times. What are they doing that is different, and why? JAPAN Forward continues its conversation with global head of recruitment and admissions Andrea Longaretti to find out. 

Andrea Longaretti poses for a picture on October 14, 2022, in Tokyo. (Ⓒ JAPAN Forward, photo by Arielle Busetto).

Dipping into the Metaverse

Talking with Longaretti, the most telling detail comes out in a comment right at the beginning of the interview. "Working at IE means always approaching challenges, it's like a start-up environment," he says enthusiastically.

This is palpable in the way that the university based in Madrid is taking Metaverse technology head-on. 

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IE has started trials in some programs starting from September 2022. Among them are programs using the latest generation of VR headsets, Meta Quest 2. The headsets, released by the Meta conglomerate, are used to create immersive labs. The idea is to make full use of what the university calls XR, or extended reality.

IE announced on October 4 that it would be kicking off its first specialized courses in the Metaverse and Gaming Experience, open to all students at the graduate and undergraduate levels from 2023. 

According to the university, these include learning experiences in metaverse, gaming, Web 3, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality, among others. The idea is to both train students in the emerging technologies and have the courses themselves take place in the Metaverse. 

For IE, the wider aim is to become one of "the few universities in the world that will have a campus in several metaverses in 2023."

Committing to immersive education, IE University to provide virtual reality headsets to students (ⒸIE University).

Experiments Underway

The university is already experimenting with other ideas to introduce Metaverse-based learning. "A class on public speaking can be stretched until breaking point when taught in the Metaverse," says Longaretti. 

He adds: "Some courses in architecture are well-suited to the Metaverse. It's easier to imagine a space in an all-immersive environment, as opposed to a 2D experience." 

IE is betting on the Metaverse as a trend. In fact, the addressable Metaverse economy is estimated to grow up to $13 trillion USD by 2030, a March 2022 City Group report states. 

Looking to the future of the sector, an IE announcement in July 2022 said that it was creating a Metaverse Center. It's defined as "the first global research and innovation center on the Metaverse." Collaborators include Elysium Ventures, a global Metaverse and deep-tech investment fund based in Silicon Valley. 

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The center falls under the recently launched IE School of Science and Technology. "We are moving forward to explore the entrepreneurial and investment opportunities offered by the Metaverse, as well as its impact on society," says Ikhlaq Sidhu, dean of the new school, in a press release.

IE University is a pioneer in introducing its students to emerging technologies (Ⓒ IE University).

Decades of Online Teaching

As it happens, the pull to the Metaverse builds on decades of experience in online learning at IE University. It debuted with the first online MBA course in Europe in 2001. Now with 20 years of experience in designing online-based content, it is taking the next step. 

Longaretti explains that online degrees can "respond to the needs of our students, including people who work from home." 

"We can redraw the way to teach and learn, and maximize the learning experience," sums up Longaretti. 

When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, IE University was one of the many universities that moved teaching online, massively accelerating online pedagogy. "The key is learning how to make teaching more engaging online," says the head of admissions. 

But, Longaretti explains, while COVID-19 pushed us to go online, it also taught us that certain things are better done while socializing.

"Some themes are better addressed in person, for example, by traveling in Ghana for a week and concretely working on a project. Other content could be asynchronized, with people gathering later in classes and discussing it," he says. 

Challenges, Opportunities

New technology always brings with it new challenges when it's introduced. While there is the technical training aspect, Longaretti says that changing the cultural mindset is the trickier part of the equation. 

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"When talking about the Metaverse, many people still envision the heavy headset. But there are also other immersive Metaverse platforms." He points to 360 rooms that can take advantage of the technology. 

A key is staying ahead of the curve in terms of what is next for education. Longaretti points to an increasing trend toward micromasters and online courses. In short, these are pinpoint qualifications that can be a quicker way of making oneself more employable. 

But, more widely, the university is stressing the value of education that equips students for the jobs of the future. 

"I've had conversations with parents who work in IT and data. They would ask, what is the usefulness of having students in university, tucked away from the world, when technology is progressing so quickly?" 

He probes: "If during their time [at the university] students visit the most important places in terms of digital transformation, and the best professionals come and give lectures, that's not the same as just staying in a room, is it?" 

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Author: Arielle Busetto

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