The ever-accelerating pace of online technology has completely changed the way we work, entertain ourselves, communicate and connect. And now it is revolutionizing the way we learn.

Of course, digital technology in education, and in particular, business education is nothing new. The iTunesU platform and MOOCs – both of which we have embraced at HEC Paris – have been with us for more than a decade now, and we’ve accompanied Learning Management Systems for almost 20 years. But what we are on the cusp of now is an ability to deliver a complete learning experience online which can compete directly with and, in some cases, may even supplant the traditional classroom delivery model. But how prepared is the international business school community to cope with this transformation?

At the moment there is still a widely-held perception that studying online is a ‘poor relation’ to its campus based equivalent. Many online programs are provided by poorly-known schools that undermine their brand through low admission criteria and large class sizes. And while some major schools have embraced digital education, few have done so whole-heartedly. Even Wharton has largely concentrated on using it as a means to source new audiences, which they then seek to bring into residential programs, while Stanford GSB has filmed its lectures and posted them online. So what we are seeing is the use of the internet in limited experimental or marketing approaches, but little evidence among the major players of designing degree programs that are specifically developed for the online learner.

So we decided to do just that. But why?

The need for courses designed for entrepreneurial and innovative leaders is greater than ever. According to the 2017 Alma Mater Index by Times Higher Education, we are one of the world’s leading business schools, with more CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies than any other school after Harvard and Stanford universities. Our incubator features prominently in the world’s largest startup campus, Station F, soon to be opened in central Paris. So, it was only natural that we build on our partnership with the world’s leading online learning platform, Coursera, to create our first fully online international degree program around entrepreneurship and innovation.

This new degree, the Online Master’s in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, responds to the needs of the ever-changing and rapidly-evolving world of business. For almost 140 years, HEC Paris has produced world-class innovators and entrepreneurs. Its more recent ability to build open courses is being leveraged to develop a fully online global degree for the entire world. The program expands access to a global audience of current and aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders, drawing from Coursera’s 25 million learners globally.

People often have ties which prevent them from taking up the campus based option of study, particularly later in their careers. This is doubly so for entrepreneurs. They may not be able to move away from their current roles, experience difficulties finding the necessary time away from their workplace, have external commitments to family, friends or wider society. But we cannot turn away from this population — we have a duty and, of course, a commercial imperative to provide these people with the best programs we can. We need to recognize that, in today’s world, education takes commitment on the part of students, but must also adapt to their realities.

And there is a perhaps more prosaic, but nonetheless extremely important reason for fully embracing the possibilities of digital education: the international reach it can offer. In the three short years that we have been running MOOCs we have engaged with over a quarter of a million students worldwide. Over that same time we have touched around 13,000 students through our campus degrees. We are opening up opportunities in regions that have been neglected until now: a fifth of the applicants for our new online Master are from Africa. They too deserve world-class education.

We appreciate that getting this right won’t be easy. This is why we have committed our top specialist in the digital field, Marc Vanhuele, to pilot this effort. For the best part of his 20-year-career at HEC, Marc has integrated the latest in digital technology with his classroom teaching and marketing research. He has involved 25 top faculty members in this new way of teaching, delivering and selling educational programs.

We have hired our first-ever Chief Digital Officer, Robin Ajdari, former VP of Learning and Development at the digital transformation specialist, Atos, to help develop these online projects. Robin and I see the necessity of evolving towards the digital future as essential for business and business schools.

Crucially, as I said earlier, HEC Paris has partnered with the world-class online education platform, Coursera. Together, we provide the outreach and range of communication and collaboration tools we need to make this effort a success.

For our very first online degree – a Master’s in Innovation and Entrepreneurship – we are focusing on an area where we have real practical and academic depth. We are also sticking to the approach which makes our more traditional programs so effective, combining the knowledge and experience of a diverse student body, entrepreneurial mentors and some of the best professorial talent in the field. All wrapped up in a pedagogy that embodies learning by doing.

One of the things that is really exciting — and, at times, daunting — about online education is that it is like moving from producing a stage play to producing a film. Instead of being locked into the ‘here and now’ you can shape and curate content through constant feedback from academics, digital specialists, creatives and students themselves. And in doing so you get the opportunity to produce material that is exactly tailored to the needs of learners. But it is a completely new Artform. We must embrace it and innovate with it.

Our motto at HEC Paris is Learn to Dare and we believe we have embraced the spirit of that model in this new online Master’s in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. We also say that Tomorrow is Our Business and we are convinced that the digitalization of education is creating that new tomorrow.

From: Forbes on May 29, 2017 | Written by Peter Todd, Dean of HEC Paris