Des Dearlove of the Thinkers50 chaired an amazing panel on November 11, 2013 entitled “The Future of Business Education”. It was sponsored by Dean Santiago Iniguez of the IE business school, and featured as panelists Clark Callahan, the Dean of Executive Education at the Tuck School, Roger Martin of the Rotman School, Noel Tagoe, the Executive Director of Education for CIMA and myself.
For the most part, the panelists were fairly pessimistic about the ability of business education to continue as it has been. Mind you, this is nothing new for many of them. As Clay Christensen said, “Six months after I got tenure [at Harvard], I was predicting the demise of the enterprise.” As he wryly acknowledged, that ended up landing him in the Dean’s office to provide some explanations. Dick Rumelt, chiming in from the audience said much the same. “I said to my wife when I got on the business school faculty that I’d better get tenure fast before the whole thing blew up — and that was back in 1976!”. He said “it feels bubblier than ever now.”
Aside from the obviously disruptive forces of various kinds of on-line education, the panelists drew our attention to several other issues. One is that the knowledge we are imparting to our students doesn’t result in graduates who are “fit for purpose.” All too often, the panel concluded, students are taught what professors feel like teaching, not what they need to know to be successful in their later endeavors. Moreover, the siloed way in which knowledge is imparted causes systemic problems in pattern recognition across domains. It also doesn’t foster the creation of the truly novel, which is what is needed in much of today’s business environment. The pressure is already evident – business schools have been merging and some in desperation have partnered with private owners.
One of the main challenges for the panel came from the floor, in which an executive who has had learning and development responsibilities for several major corporations pointed out that “business schools don’t feel relevant – the real challenge is how you get people to behave differently, and how you actually implement your suggestions.”
On a brighter note, the panel also covered where the future might lie as new business models for higher education emerge. One idea is that business education could evolve into a value-adding process network, where learners would participate through membership. They might well pay to access apps on devices and find their learning to be configured in a customized way, depending on the boundary conditions for the problems they are facing. Executive Education is also seen as a bright spot, as on-line and distributed learning actually complement the executive education model. Indeed, On line learning helps people in Executive Education to do their jobs better, rather than be seen as cannibalizing.