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How to Accelerate the Transformation of Business Education

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G. John Cole
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The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business will host over 1,400 thought leaders, experts, and educators from over 60 countries at this year’s International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM) in Houston, Texas, April 23-25.

ICAM 2017 comes at a moment of drastic change in the business world and beyond – change which business education needs to address directly, and quickly if it is to stay relevant to the wider world. As the evolution of business goals drives the evolution of business technology and vice versa, schools are looking to stay ahead of the game by expanding target demographics and campus diversity, and by shaking up faculty models and programs.

The ultimate test of the relevance of business education is that the schools themselves should be leading the way to change, producing tomorrow’s leaders of industry, and guiding the conversation on what is necessary and desirable for global prosperity. These are the main aims when we talk about acceleration of the transformation of business education

Engagement

But what does this mean in practical terms? For a start, it will require bringing educational tools and models in line with the world of business. Virtual and distance learning and individually-tailored programs are quite achievable with today’s digital technologies, and more accurately reflect the opportunities and challenges of the professional sphere.

More importantly, they enable students to combine the solid groundwork of the classical mortarboard education with a level of self-determination and independence that reflects today’s climate beyond campus walls. The evolution of internet culture, and the societal changes with which it is inextricably intertwined are producing generations of Renaissance women and men who know and contemplate the world in vastly broader terms than those of their chosen profession.

Of course, digital technologies are useful tools but just as important are the programs, experiences, and encounters that they facilitate. Classroom-bound education – and traditional teaching methods – may be limiting to students’ understanding of cultural diversity and the human value and potential in socially responsible business practice. The embracing of social sciences and an emphasis on emotional intelligence will be valuable features as business education transforms. One example of how educators might achieve this is in the running of consulting projects that are in the public interest.

And it is not just about the humanities. Today's business student – tomorrow's business leader – also requires a strong awareness of STEM disciplines. These are the industries in which so much innovation occurs, and while many will be inspired to make practical business use of what they find, even the less scientifically-minded among business students will benefit from an awareness of the trends and possibilities of science and technology.

Of course, today’s students are increasingly likely to come from a science or humanities background in the first place – rather than straight out of high school – as an accelerating obsolescence cycle sees the need to acquire new skills and knowledge coming around more and more quickly. In short, business schools should be looking to recruit from a wider demographic, as managers and non-business professionals alike seek to retool or reboot in the age of the free-agent labor market.

Institutions can and should seek to compete with non-traditional learning experiences (edX, corporate training) in attracting non-traditional students. This effort may include transforming current programs to better fit the need for ongoing (re)education as well as the bundling of skills and knowledge in formats that are accessible to those who are already at work.

It may mean an enormous, and overdue, shift to online delivery. While virtual business is now the norm, virtual education remains a novelty. The opportunity here is not to move existing services online, but to develop new modes of education that embrace, exploit, and drive forward the potential of online communication; not to look at business and think about how things are done these days, but to formulate new innovations in education that will become the way things are done in business.

 

Transformation

Above all, schools can accelerate the transformation of business education by embodying and encouraging those values that are most relevant to tomorrow’s world: critical thinking, sustainable practice, and innovation. These are not qualities that can be enhanced with technology alone, but which will prosper in an atmosphere of meaningful engagement with society and the natural and built world around us.

That the tools now exist to do so in unprecedented ways puts forward-looking business schools in an enviable position. They have the power to pick up those tools and lead the way forward in business education and professional practice if they choose to embrace the formidable potential with which they’re now faced.

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