Business schools always need to look ahead because they educate leaders and decision-makers for a fast-changing world, most recently greatly disrupted by the digital era. How do MBA programmes translate these developments into management education?
Trending on the MBA curriculum
Managers and business executives need to take the lead in utilising the potential of digital resources for company innovation and growth. As big data, machine learning, and AI are massively and rather quickly gaining ground in the business world, business schools incorporate them into the MBA curriculum. According to BusinessBecause, business schools such as Stanford University (US) and Georgetown University (US) are planning to offer FinTech courses in their MBA programmes as an attempt to help students become masters of financial technology. Other schools go a step further with entire specialised programmes, e.g. Amsterdam Business School (the Netherlands) have their own part-time MBA in Big Data & Business Analytics.
Introducing new topics in their curricula requires a lot of work from MBA programmes as well as a certain willingness to take risks. Trends such as FinTech are so new that “academics are having difficulty to construct a syllabus for Financial Technology 101, let alone more advanced topics on AI,” as an article in The Conversation explains.
Replicating the essence of these digital developments, some MBA programmes develop interdisciplinary programmes to integrate highly innovative technical elements such as big data and machine learning in their teachings. Maura Herson, Director of MIT Sloan’s MBA programme, illustrates the shared learning taking place among classmates: “MIT Sloan students are able to take classes shoulder to shoulder with students from across campus in the MIT Media Lab, or MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science programme if they want to gain deep technical expertise.”
The open loop of lifelong learning
Precisely because of the fast and ongoing changes taking place in the industry, the concept of lifelong learning has settled as the more appropriate way of thinking about education and staying professionally up-to-date. In the digital age, it is no longer sufficient to learn about corporate strategy or financial analysis at a given point in time while business functions are continuously being reshaped. The many new job positions that have sprung up in the past several years are yet further proof of the vibrant state of business. In addition to exploring unfamiliar business territory, today’s MBA students are also eager to switch functions, industries, and geographical locations. Business professionals from all generations, and especially millennials, are curious to discover and continue their learning journey through job hopping, as CNNMoney points out.
Business schools are taking note of these developments and MBA programmes have started to invest in, and build, long-term relations with their students and alumni and provide them lifelong education opportunities. Tuck School of Business (US) offers a fluid “lifelong” experience for their students in the form of a seven-year MBA. Similarly, “Module 7” is a lifelong learning course at TRIUM’s Global Executive MBA (offered by NYU Stern School of Business, LSE, and HEC Paris) initiated by an alumnus of the programme.
Scott DeRue, who is the dean of University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business (US), echoed this need for lifelong learning in a recent podcast with Harvard Business Review: “The students of today […] are going to be making transitions, big fundamental career transitions throughout their life, much more so than we have, or our parents did. […] Stanford’s got a very interesting concept at the university level, and business school included, that they talk about as the ‘open loop’ university. Once you start you can always loop back and come back into the university – your learning never stops.”
Learning styles for digital natives
What is more, the effects of digitalisation go beyond the introduction of new courses and formats. The way we consume information and the way we learn have evolved. “Learning is shifting to an environment of personalised, real-time coaching and reinforcement, and can even include the usage of virtual reality or gamiﬁcation,” highlights Vincent Turner, Senior Manager at Revel Consulting, quoted by Merit Summit.
Online education and modular programme formats are no longer just a series of instructional videos, but rather personalised tools centred on each programme participant. IE Business School’s “WOW Room” in Spain is an example of a virtual classroom that mimics the face-to-face environment thus making the experience more immersive while utilising some of the latest technological hypes.
Soft skills stay essential
Despite the claims that technology and digitalisation will take over the human workforce entirely, experts usually consider this an exaggerated claim. Automation is certainly contributing to the efficiency of many of the business tasks and financial services we have gotten used to. However, with all the technological upgrades out there, soft skills remain absolutely essential for management and leadership around the world.
“The MBA programme develops technical competence, self-awareness, and moral judgement.” What Ralf Boscheck, Dean of the MBA Programme at IMD Business School (Switzerland), highlights here holds true for the approach of many leading business schools. MBA programmes provide a healthy mix of classroom and off-campus interactions in a digital and physical environment that stimulate the self-discovery that every responsible business leader needs.
In business, soft skills or “people skills” typically refer to your ability to work and communicate well with others. Attitude, work ethic, and critical thinking are extremely important for aspiring managers and entrepreneurs in any field. “Even the most thorough and conclusive data analysis needs to be communicated, trust in the messenger must be established, and desired change requires leadership,” elaborates Thomas Roemer, Director of the MIT Leaders for Global Operations.
In that sense, it is true that the MBA is transitioning into a new, more enhanced experience. New courses are offered, new formats and teaching methods are explored, while the connection with participants is developed and maintained over time. Even so, perhaps living in the digital era has made us appreciate the human side of business much more and we have learned that there are skills which cannot be replaced by technology after all.