Keith Lumsden – an appreciation

Professor Keith Lumsden, founder and Academic Director of the Edinburgh Business School, has passed away at the age of 84.  

A graduate of the University of Edinburgh, he went to Stanford University in California on a scholarship in 1959 and stayed to complete research into programmed learning techniques in higher education.  Some of the most interesting conclusions he took from that research were that:

  1. people learn at different speeds;
  2. there is no definitive “best” way of teaching people;
  3. people learn more effectively if they are exposed to different ways of absorbing the same information.

CAPDM was formed to help realise the entrepreneurial ambitions Professor Lumsden had for Heriot-Watt University. Together we applied these research findings to create a new flexible programme of management education for the University, aimed at mid-career workers anywhere in the world who did not wish the expense and inconvenience of studying in a classroom.

The Edinburgh Business School building, built from the proceeds of the successful distance learning MBA.
Edinburgh Business School

The resulting Edinburgh Business School MBA programme included a number of ground-breaking characteristics from day one.  It could be studied anywhere and started at any time. Students were not obliged to come to a campus for face-to-face teaching and they had seven years to complete a programme comprising seven core courses and two electives. Quality was rigorous, and course materials were authored specifically for distance learning. Assessment was undertaken by examination only, sat in 300 examination centres around the world on the same day.  Students were given only two chances to pass an examination before being asked to leave the programme.

CAPDMers were extensively involved in the development and implementation of this innovative programme, as well as the business, administrative and technical environment needed to commercially sustain it. 

  • A digital knowledge management and learning strategy was carefully designed and developed to manage and exploit the many learning materials developed for the programme.
  • A custom course publishing system was developed that replaced the inefficient systems that academic publishers used at that time. 
  • A custom, student-focused administration environment was developed that optimised the purchasing of courses, and the academic processing of students and examination scripts.
  • A custom online learning environment was developed from scratch with innovative analytics and feedback features.

The core design requirement of giving learning choice to students was supported by the XML-based, single-source mastering approach that CAPDM enabled. Course modules were simultaneously batch published into multiple delivery forms including for print, online PDF and packaged for the emerging new generation of online learning environments. This approach also underpinned the cost-effective translation of the English language core modules into Hebrew, Chinese and Spanish, and then Arabic and Russian, for delivery in print and online.  This XML-based, digital strategy ensured that the MBA was ‘online ready’ as soon as that market matured.

CAPDM ‘spun out’ of Edinburgh Business School in 2001 to take the proven benefits of this online distance learning approach to other universities and education providers. Since then we have evolved this model to develop more than 30 successful online higher education programmes, including three more MBA programmes for Edinburgh Napier University, The University of the West of Scotland and Queen Mary University of London.

Professor Lumsden’s legacy is broad, but perhaps his most impressive and abiding achievement is the more than 22,000 MBA graduates, in 158 countries around the world, who grasped the chance he gave them to complete an MBA from a UK University, their way.