Today, the importance of business skills is growing but at the same time, relevance of management program is going down. In the last 100 years, overall business landscape has changed drastically. The way we manufacture, reach out to customers, work in teams, build organizational structures are completely different. However, there are hardly any changes in MBA education since Tuck (Tuck school of business) started world’s first MBA program. 100 years back, we used to go to campuses, learn basics of business in classrooms, work on submissions, and build relationships. Does that sound any different from what we do today?
Business schools carry an ever-greater burden of keeping up with the industry demand for leadership in number and quality – readiness to perform. We will talk about 3 key areas of change in our current Business School structure:
Providing information isn't enough:
Even until the 90’s several people carried their notes with them when they graduated from top schools, for reference! Information was really only available in expensive books, and hand-written journals. However, today one can find most information for free or very inexpensively. The future schools will focus more on "learning" rather than "teaching". Difference between teaching and learning is similar to difference between tasks and achievements. Teaching is a task, and making students learn is an achievement. We might be performing our tasks but might not be achieving the right results. This will require our faculty to act as a coach rather than a lecturer.
Using real world as learning playground:
The proliferation of manufacturing led to "campus" like companies in the first half of 20thcentury. Everybody lived together and worked together. With "knowledge industry" being the main growth driver, various tasks including managing teams, motivating people, and negotiations are performed in a distributed environment today. Business schools however are still pre-dominantly "campus-based". Do they really need to be campus based?
Context is king in education and there is nothing better than a real business situation to learn from. Using the real world as the learning playground will add more to "learning" and creating the business leaders who will be ready to perform.
Cost of MBA isn't justified:
No education program is more Return on Investment driven than an MBA program today. Think about this- you are a professional earning Rs.5 Lacs and growing steadily in your career. You are thinking of joining a high quality MBA program with a fee of Rs.10-25 Lacs. With the opportunity cost of leaving your job, the overall cost for the program can easily be more than 25Lacs. With this in mind, what would be your primary criteria of choosing an MBA program? Wouldn't it be the expected output salary after you finish your program? Is the right way to think about your education?
As a corollary of this, if you are someone who wants to build business skills to take further risks in your career- may be become an entrepreneur, join an evolving industry, would you be willing to spend the amount to pursue your MBA knowing your short term salary increase will not be significant after MBA? With the huge increase of fees, our business schools are deterring right prospective candidate to join the program. A risk taker candidate will rather spend the fee money experimenting and would not enroll in the program. On the other hand, MBA schools will keep attracting students who are looking for a steady career growth through their MBA and possibly not take too many risks. The question to ask- Shouldn't business education increase your appetite for risk and do something innovative?
Our MBA education systems are built on the principles of scarcity where less number of students end up paying for the whole structure.
Early signs of changing landscape
Enabled by technology and following on the 3 challenges discussed above, we have already started seeing multiple changes in business education. Free online courses (MOOC) such as Coursera, Udacity are enrolling thousands of students who have “learning” as their primary goal rather than "certifications". When Sunstone Business School launched first MOOC in management education in India, thousands of students registered for them in first few months. This clearly shows a trend where students are looking for a more practical and flexible way of learning.
Another change happening is the focus on out of classroom learning in traditional business schools as well. Harvard and Stanford have increased the field focus during their entrepreneurship courses, and several others such as Ohio State are delivering a lot of "Problem Based Learning" rather than a lecture based education. Programs for working professionals such as Sunstone in India are more real business problems based rather than trying to cover theoretical concepts in a classroom.
The future of MBA lies in solving the challenges by leveraging opportunities presented by technology to focus on applicability and practicability of concepts and not only knowledge. This might mean a ground up design of curriculum that helps students learn while applying. It might mean transferring the traditional burden of “lecturing” to technology while faculty plays a much greater role as a coach. It might mean making a business school to look more like the distributed "knowledge-based" company using technology for greater collaboration- we at Sunstone Business School has tested it with great success and seeing different other models coming up. And it might mean bringing down the cost of MBA for high professionals by keeping them in their jobs while they study. What's for sure is that status quo cannot be the plan for any MBA educational structure today.
Dinesh Singh is the Director of Student Engagement at Sunstone. He is a graduate from IIT Kanpur and MBA from Cornell University. He has deep passion in education and has been involved in the betterment of the overall education ecosystem through his professional engagement as McKinsey Consultant and also as a mentor for Cornell.