Most students apply for a university program at the age of 17 when they don’t exactly understand what awaits them after they graduate. Back in 2004, why did you apply to ITMO for a program in Business Informatics?
My school had close connections with St. Petersburg State University of Economics, but despite its focus on economics, I have always been interested in IT. Back during my school years, I already participated in programming contests, and was quite good at them. Still, I was also interested in economics and everything that has to do with business. So I wanted to combine these two fields, and a program in business informatics seemed like a great way to do that.
What did you get from studying at ITMO in general?
I’d like to note that my program was dedicated to application of IT methods in business, it wasn’t exactly about business education, but technical training.
The training we got in all of the technical subjects was really great, as well as the conceptual things (like systems theory and systems analysis). What is more, the education we got included lots of practical training; many subjects were taught by representatives of different companies. This was really great.
I believe that the fact that ITMO university involves experts from companies in teaching students gives the latter great opportunities. For example, when I was in my fourth year, a lecturer who worked for a company assessed my progress and offered me a position as a junior Java programmer.
Still, you decided to change your career path and not focus on programming only?
During my third or fourth year, I applied for a job at IT CJSC, where I were responsible for coordinating the work of my project team, - so I was both a technical specialist and completed organizational tasks. We visited clients’ branch offices and conducted particular work there.
This was the time when I came to understand that there’s a problem with managers in the field of IT: there are few, and classical IT specialists find it hard to become managers, they face many problems while doing so. Classical managers who come to the IT field, on the other hand, don’t know enough about it and lack a reputation in the professional community.
So, I decided to take this particular path. I knew that I could develop as a classical programmer and at some point become a team lead, but this way it would have taken longer for me to build the managerial career I always wanted. I got my first managerial position when I was 25. If I was to develop solely as a programmer, that would’ve taken longer.
You’ve also managed to get some international experience: business training in Finland, an internship in Spain and a dedicated program on leadership in China. What are the benefits of getting to know many essentially different business schools?
This was important. At Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, I studied on a double degree program. It was a classical Master’s program in English where I had to spend a year in Russia and then a year in Finland. If we’re talking about business education, Russia’s leading business schools, Saint Petersburg State University Graduate School of Management, for instance, are stronger; yet, that was an interesting experience, as I studied in a multicultural group - we had Finns, Russians, students from China and other Eastern countries - this helped to broaden my outlook.
In Spain, I participated in a year-long internship during my PhD program. Apart from conducting research and working, I attended courses at the ESADE business school, which is currently among the best in Europe. For instance, it was Henry Chesbrough who taught innovation there - the author of the open innovations concept.
In China, I got an entirely different experience - I participated in an executive training program for top managers. By that time, I already had some experience of teaching abroad myself, so the teaching style I saw there wasn’t novel to me. Still, there was a lot of different culture context, and communication was at a different level. This also helped me to broaden my horizons.
Regarding teaching, you were among those who launched the iMBA distance learning program at the RANEPA Institute, and have been working in education for quite some time. What is it that you like about teaching the most?
Teaching is always interesting. It is just great when you can give people something, something that will help them solve their tasks.
Still, I never forgot about my focus - IT management and innovations. When I was working for RANEPA, I managed distance learning at their business school. Then I managed an IT company, and currently, I am working on a different project.
What is the difference between Russian and Western MBA programs?
I’d like to note that the depth of dialog in Western business education is greater, as everyone, especially the students, are a lot more serious about it. Even though we have great trainers in Russia, the behavior of most students has a negative effect on their results, as attitude is very important. In Western countries, students who’ve paid for their education are set on working to their fullest in order to get the most from their education. In Russia, however, many students expect to just get some ready solutions, and this is a negative thing. Still, I can’t say that the quality of education that we give is lower. We have MBA programs that are by no means inferior to Western ones.
What are the projects that you’re currently involved in?
I recently left my position as head of an IT company and decided that I want to implement my ideas in the field that I like. I believe that education is the field where you can really make a difference, change the world for the better. When I was the head of a distance education program at RANEPA, I learned that we can really have a positive influence on the students, and it’s really great.
Still, I believe that the field develops too slowly. I want to help those who want to provide great education, and this is really good. So I launched a company that focuses on developing online and distance education programs on a turnkey basis for both corporate clients and university.
We have several different ways in which we work: for instance, clients can come to us with their own tasks, like when they already have a distance education system, but it is a good course that they are looking for. So, we collaborate with the customer and their lecturers on all the stages of creating a course: we help them to come up with a concept, work on methodology, feedback mechanisms and test assignments, shoot the videos, finalize the course and post it on a platform. This is what makes us different from other companies that just shoot videos for educational programs.
Still, the videos are very important, as well. Their quality has a great influence on how the course would be perceived by students. Also, its the main source of expense, though we’ve succeeded in solving this problem. We have a partner studio in Moscow and our own one in St. Petersburg. Both make use of a technology that allows filming high-quality interactive videos a lot cheaper and faster than usual.
We also work with clients who have no system whatsoever. Let’s say the client teaches on an onsite basis, but going to 10 different places all over the country can consume too much time and money. The client wants to introduce distance education. In this case, we help them to choose a platform and decide on the strategy, the specialists they need, and so on.
When talking about clients, we mostly work with three types of them: companies who want to introduce distance education courses, people who launch their online schools, and universities (mostly their business schools).
Since online courses started to become popular, there have been arguments about the efficiency of distance education. In 2014, when you were launching iMBA distance education program, you were looking into this problem. Has the situation changed in any way?
I believe that it is just not right to compare regular and distance education, as their purpose and results are different. You won’t be arguing, which is better - solfeggio or singing lessons, or will you? Surely, they are both from the same field, but they are different. It is much the same with intramural and distance education.
On the other hand, distance education is a great way to solve certain problems we now face. Most importantly, it can help solve the problem of information overload, i.e. the situation when people find it hard to choose the information they can trust on their own. Surely, many people agree that we’ve started to read less. Still, just imagine the following situation: you go to a bookstore and you even know what books you want to buy. After seeing all of the books there, you just become frustrated - you see thousands of books, and 99% of those are not worth reading.
Surely, it is becoming harder to navigate in the material, but an expert opinion can really help them here. What is more, distance education courses are not books - the students get feedback, which make distance education a lot more efficient. What is more, distance education allows people to study at their own pace. Different people perceive the same content at different speeds. In-class education is great at motivating the students and practicing complex skills; as for distance education, it allows to study information more effectively.
Today, many traditional universities and business schools turn to such distance education formats as online education. What are the trends in this field that you now focus on?
First of all, I would like to note that nowadays, distance education is becoming all the more popular. More and more classical educational establishments have started introducing it, not just universities, but training centers and especially language schools, as well. During the last few years, there has been a real revolution in this field.
I believe that the future belongs to blended learning, which is a combination of intramural and distance format. This allows to make the best of the strong sides of each format and get the best results, and train better specialists.
What’s more, if we’re talking about corporate training, microteaching and mobile learning will be getting more and more popular, as well. I also believe introduction of recommendation systems into educational platforms to be very promising, as well - that can help students form individual educational paths.
We can also expect a shift towards VR and AR technologies, though it’s still hard to tell for sure: apart from the obvious advantages associated with their introduction, there are a series of technical problems, as well.
On the whole, I expect three major tendencies: first of all, an increase in the amount of video content, secondly, the use of recommendation servies in systems and creation of individual educational paths with the help of AI, and finally, the use of VR and neural interfaces, which look most promising in the long term.