By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- One of the key elements of modern business education is the lengths to which schools will go to connect and communicate with students, whether actual or potential.
While years ago, acquiring an MBA inevitably involved scribbling notes in a campus classroom for hour after hour, these days ever more schools offer part-time studies, or distance learning via email and the Internet.
Now, one business school has gone a step further and established a "campus" in a virtual reality world.
INSEAD, the highly-rated business school based in France and Singapore, has just announced it is to build up a presence in Second Life, an increasingly popular digital world which now has five million registered "residents."
Second Life, while often referred to as a game, is not in fact based around any specific goals. Residents, who create their own online character, or avatar, instead have an almost endless choice of pursuits and options inside the ever-changing digital world, much as in real life.
Now, your avatar can even go to business school, thanks to INSEAD's Second Life "campus."
Mixing, making money
One element of this will be to give existing and applicant students the chance to mix and discuss their thoughts in the online world. In the future, INSEAD hopes, as well as hosting open days at its physical campuses in Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore, it will also hold them on the virtual campus.
Students will even be able to join courses, such as a proposed MBA class on entrepreneurship in which participants will have the chance to develop a business plan and test it inside Second Life.
Apart from the increased opportunities for mixing between people who are geographically distant in the real world (or "meatspace," as Second Lifers call it) and marketing opportunities for INSEAD, the virtual campus highlights a curious but potentially lucrative opportunity -- real entrepreneurship in the virtual world.
Increasing numbers of Second Life residents earn real world incomes through their activities in the online realm, putting together goods and services for avatars to use.
They pay for these in "Linden dollars," named after Linden Lab, which created the world, but these are fully exchangeable into real US dollars, part of Second Life's increasingly sophisticated economy.
A number of people make a living through activities inside Second Life, while international brands including Reebok and American Apparel have set up "stores" inside the world.
Such is the potential importance of such commerce in the future, that INSEAD says it will incorporate learning about Second Life into a range of programs, including its MBAs, and Executive MBAs.
It will also build a research center and social science research lab on its virtual campus.
"As an international business school with participants from around the world, INSEAD embraces innovative approaches to learning that will enable us to develop leaders who are prepared to operate in a constantly evolving global business environment," said Antonio Fatas, dean of the school's MBA program.
"We recognize the growing importance of the digital marketplace and want all of our participants to have the opportunity to experience it first-hand."
INSEAD students can now meet in the virtual world.
FACT BOXFT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Columbia, U.S.
3. Harvard, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. London Business School, UK
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Insead, France/Singapore
8. Stern, NYU, U.S.
9. Tuck, Dartmouth, U.S.
10. Yale, U.S.
Source: Financial Times 2007
FACT BOXMBA BASICS
The classic MBA is a two-year full-time program. Accelerated and distance learning MBAs are increasingly popular.
A typical MBA student has several years' work experience and is in their late 20s.
Those who take an Executive MBA, or EMBA, tend to be older, more senior managers.
Courses are expensive, but the rewards are high -- some new MBAs now get a $100,000 basic salary, according to a survey.