Scalable ways to bring the real world into the virtual classroom

How can business schools engage their students with the real world using a scalable model? This article examines online business projects as an effective and scalable alternative. Tools to help build an effective course and unburden teachers are discussed.

Building real-world experience

Universities have perfected the lecture as a primary means of knowledge transfer. As outlined by Terry Young compellingly in his article for the EFMD Global blog. For better or worse it is the main model for student engagement. While it is a fitting model for sharing theoretical insights, it isn’t an ideal model for building real-world experience.

Business schools are looking for ways to have students interact with the real world. Learn skills and competencies on the job. Admittedly this has always been a challenge but given the limitation of the “new normal”, this has become even more difficult. This article explores online business projects as an alternative to more traditional forms such as (summer) internships and placements.

Educational Innovation: Online consultancy/business projects

Online business projects, are in large part a necessary innovation, due to the constraints of the “new normal”. Innovation, oftentimes the result of some form of necessity, frequently persists even after the initial reason has subsided. In those instances, the innovation had to offer some sort of additional value. I will argue in this article that online business/consultancy projects do offer that bit of extra benefit that can make this edu-format a valuable addition to business school’s curricula.

An affordable alternative

Providing students with real world experience is a logistical challenge for business schools. It requires business schools to match students with businesses be it for internships or practical projects. After which, already overburdened staff visit businesses and coach student teams. This puts additional strain on an already overcharged workforce.

How do (online) consultancy projects help resolve these challenges for business schools?

Experience has taught us that consultancy projects are a (time) effective and scalable method for having students interact with companies, learn teamwork skills and acquire real business skills. Given the limited time engagement for students, allowing them to continue take their courses, the benefit-to-time ratio is very positive. Erasmus University Student Evaluations show that they very much value the (learning) experience whilst being fun for them as well.

Recently, the challenges of the “new normal” have made the online format a relevant extension. This approach, surprisingly perhaps, proved to be a fully-fledged alternative to bringing the real world into the virtual classroom.

The online format reduces the haphazard time engagement for staff as they are no longer required to visit companies during the project. Recent experiences have made companies quite welcoming to an online consultancy approach.

Simultaneously we unburden staff further through the use of two tools; an online team work edu-simulation and a teamwork app (TeamInsights) to support both the students and faculty.

  • The teamwork edu-simulation affords students the opportunity to experience the challenges (e.g. plagiarism, cultural diversity, slacking, manage university workload, team trouble, team leadership, shifting deadlines, work/life balance, personal goals vs team goals) of a consultancy project in approximately one hour.
  • The edu-simulation fast-forwards students through the learning curve by means of experiential learning. As a result, students are equipped to tackle and deal with the common challenges of consultancy projects at an early stage. Faculty is helpfully shielded from a host of recurring and time-consuming issues.

To manage group work effectively, a coach must know what is going on within groups

  1. The TeamInsights app enables student teams, via a Student Dashboard, to handle group dynamics, invisible group welfare factors and team issues themselves
  2. In parallel, TeamInsights, provides staff with a Teacher Dashboard: at-a-glance views in team performance (KPI’s)


Scalability and teaching costs are relevant themes for business schools. At the same time building real-world experience is vital for students. Online consultancy projects, with small groups of students, can be organized into an affordable model for large cohorts.

Rene van der Eijk research interests include innovation, knowledge exchange and network analysis. He works both in academia and business. He specializes in developing new and innovative edu-formats using technology, story-telling and multi-media.