Ready for anything: New research centre to target the development of adaptive and ‘anti-fragile’ leaders in a shifting world

Henley Explore: Immersive Cases and Immersive Experiences, a new research centre focusing on harnessing the power of emerging technology in education, will help keep Henley Business School Africa one step ahead in the unending contest between technological innovation and education.

Henley Business School Africa today is launching a new research centre – Henley Explore: Immersive Cases and Immersive Experiences – in a move that is expected to help keep the business school, which offers South Africa’s only international MBA programme, one step ahead of technological disruption.

The pioneering centre is working to develop case studies that are unique to the African context often accompanied by Virtual Reality (VR) films that can provide students and delegates both at Henley and at other international schools with unrivalled immersive learning opportunities.

“As a new generation of disruptive technologies including generative artificial intelligence models like ChaptGPT hit workplaces like a tsunami, businesses are looking to business schools for answers and guidance for how to navigate the road ahead,” says Prof Danie Petzer, Research Head at Henley Africa. “This centre is part of a wider strategy within Henley Africa to partner with forward-looking organisations to prepare adaptive leaders for evolving business ecosystems.”

Petzer adds that this is the fifth research unit to launch at Henley Africa and the third to open its doors within the last 12 months as part of the school’s roll out of an ambitious research agenda to support its teaching and learning. Other new centres include The Henley Centre for Leadership Africa, launched in March 2023 and the John Madejski Centre for Reputation Africa launched this April.

Researchers at Henley Africa, including Louise Claassen, Executive fellow of Henley Africa and Co Director of Henley Explore who also heads up the centre’s Quantum Futures Lab, have already produced ten immersive case studies. These cover a range of topics from data-driven conservation agriculture in Africa, and growth in Africa’s sustainable energy sector, to Gikomba Market: the life cycle of a shoe – with more in the pipeline.

Claassen, who has just published a second Henley White Paper on the topic of immersive learning, says that the power of using VR and other emerging technologies in learning is that they can help to jolt leaders and managers out of a rut by providing them with new ways of looking at old challenges.

“Over time, organisations will often have developed established ways of conduct that may not be that easy to change. However, by adding edgy, emerging technologies to a body of diverse and effective physical, classroom-orientated immersive learning experiences, a whole pantheon of powerful new immersive learning experiences can constellate,” she says.

For example, one of the Henley immersive experiences and case studies allows students to experience the logistics challenges of moving a container from South Africa’s strategic Durban Port to City Deep Container Port to Johannesburg along the 688km Container Corridor operated by Transnet SOC, the South African rail, port, and pipeline firm.

“It’s like students are sitting alongside Transnet team members as they interact with the container and solve challenges as they encounter them. The study touches on a number of critical business capabilities such as strategy, supply chain, internal collaboration, and customer service. It’s hard to beat that immediacy when it comes to learning. People learn best by doing, and by getting feedback as they make mistakes. VR can simulate this and speed up the process, and it is not just us saying this,” adds Claassen.

A PWC 2022 US Metaverse Survey found that VR – and the metaverse in general – can train people more efficiently, showing that learners can be trained four times faster in a VR setting than those in the classroom, while their confidence around applying the skills they had just learnt increased by 275%, and their emotional connection to the content was 3.75 times stronger than that of classroom learners. In addition, the VR learners were four times more focused.

And a psychological study that involved 160 Stanford University students in the US and the Technical University of Denmark showed a 76% increase in learning effectiveness when using virtual methods, and a 101% increase when VR applications were married with teacher-led coaching and mentoring.

“VR makes it possible to visualise the invisible, making learning more easily comprehensible and helping to make intangible and abstract concepts more tangible. This in turn can help shift the conversation around technology from fear and uncertainty to one of possibility and excitement. And this is a far better place from which to face an uncertain and shifting future,” concludes Claassen.

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