By Linda Livingstone
According to a Gallup Poll conducted in May 2013, young adults in the United States who say they developed "21st century skills"—such as real-world problem-solving and global awareness—in their last year of school are more likely to report higher work quality. Of the students with postgraduate work or a degree, 37 percent report applying classroom lessons to develop solutions to real problems in the community or the world.
In recent years, graduate programs have accepted the challenge of helping students develop "21st century skills" by adopting new technology, implementing online and blended approaches to learning, and integrating applied learning experiences into the curriculum. However, despite this progress, business schools are merely 'keeping up' with technology and applied learning capacities. We need to push the boundaries to far exceed what we have offered in the past. If we do not progress, we risk that unproven sources of training, such as private companies, will seek to fill the gap left by business schools.
To get there, I believe we need to incorporate new approaches with the hallmarks of business school.
At the heart of a successful MBA education are business school professors. In this era of experiential and technology enabled learning, students expect instructors to help them down the path of self-discovery, putting real-world solutions into action.
By and large, professors are effectively, and very often enthusiastically, embracing this new age of technology-enabled education. We know technology cannot replace teachers. But it can help students and instructors work collaboratively, albeit not always physically, in the same location, and broaden opportunities for experiential learning.
Now and in the future, schools should be looking at how they deploy faculty across programs, the type of learning experiences professors are providing students, how academics are engaging with the business community, and how technology can be used to facilitate more effective learning.
As the Gallup data clearly shows, MBA programs must work to ensure that our educational instruction is not insular, and that we are not operating in an academic or technology vacuum. Business schools must develop and empower instructors to provide rich experiential learning opportunities, not provide them with just content, research, and gadgets.
Embrace the new role of instructor in experiential learning.
As we think creatively about to how to incorporate real-world application into research and knowledge creation, I believe professors are going to become less like instructors and more like 'community facilitators.' This will require a more student-centered approach in which community facilitators help students hone and share real-world learning. A community facilitator approach is especially applicable to online settings in which students have 24/7 access to the online classroom, and professors can facilitate discussions and respond to students instantaneously.
Within a community, professors will also create laboratory experiences across multiple disciplines so students develop broad skill sets they can apply to real-life business situations. For example, at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of our Education-to-Business (E2B) program this fall. E2B is an MBA consulting program in which teams of students address a pressing business problem for a real company over the course of a semester, culminating in a final proposal and presentation.
E2B projects provide an intense learning experience embedded within the curriculum of select MBA classes such as marketing, finance, information systems, and organization management. This program offers applied, experiential learning that incorporates a traditional classroom setting, and then allows students to translate textbook theories into solving real-world business challenges with the aid of technology and online tools. Over the past 10 years, Pepperdine students aided by specifically-trained instructors have completed 285 consulting projects for businesses of all sizes in a variety of industries.
Another example is Columbia Business School, which has a Small Business Consulting Program where students engage the local business community and apply their business skills to deliver impact to various clients. Through collaboration with McKinsey & Company, students receive extensive training during their projects, through both training workshops and project mentorship.
In addition, several schools—University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Columbia University, George Washington University, University of Maryland, University of Miami, Purdue University, University of Pittsburgh, San Diego State University, University of Connecticut, Lingnan College, Wisconsin and Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos (University of the Sinos Valley) UNISINOS—participate in the Global Business Project, a unique action-based learning course where MBAs work with corporate executives around the world. Teams work virtually in the U.S. first, and then on the ground in Brazil, China, or India, giving students first-hand, international business experience.
At AACSB International, we are encouraging business schools to think creatively. Our belief is that there is not one 'right way to do it.' This applies directly to experiential and technology-enabled learning—all laboratory and online experiences should not be the same. Students need to develop knowledge and practical experience, whether in traditional or online learning environments via internships, case studies, education-to-business programs or other innovative, hands-on approaches that touch multiple disciplines. The format of the program is less important than the ability of a professor to translate academic research and content into something meaningful and practical for both students and the business community.
Engagement with the business community.
One important component of ensuring that students are career-ready is engagement with the business community. In addition to an enhanced learning experience, we also know that students who work with real businesses are much more likely to succeed in the workplace after graduation. When MBA program administrators work alongside professors, business schools can develop new curriculum and tailor existing courses to provide a richer learning experience with real-world application.
The real world also does not necessarily equate to discipline or industry skills. Often, feedback from employers illustrates that employees possess technical skills needed for a particular industry or career, but they lack 'soft skills,' such as the ability to communicate effectively, prioritize assignments, and work as a team.
In fact, the Manpower Group's 2012 Talent Shortage Survey found nearly 20 percent of employers cited a lack of soft skills as a main reason they could not hire needed employees. 'Interpersonal skills and enthusiasm/motivation' were among the most commonly identified soft skills that employers found lacking. Further, a recent study from Millennial Branding and American Express found that over 60 percent of managers said soft skills are the most important when evaluating an employee's performance, followed by 32 percent who cited hard skills.
Soft skills are often taught best through laboratory-type experiences—engaging in a consulting project that requires students to spend time in teams and on-site at a business, participating in an internship, or interacting with executives who come to a classroom all help students hone these important non-technical skills. Although the importance of technical skills should not be underestimated, employees who do not have proficient soft skills will find difficulty rising to leadership positions.
Promote faculty development.
In order to deliver inspired, revolutionary teaching, institutions need to reinvigorate the recruitment pipeline. According to data released earlier this year based on a survey of 430 business schools, AACSB confirmed an ongoing and pressing need for PhDs—not just in the traditional high-demand area of accounting but also finance, management, marketing, and economics. Among those surveyed, schools reported in 2008 that they expected to add 785 new doctoral positions in the academic year; today that number is 812.
Inevitably, professors will increasingly desire to maintain dual-relationships in which business schools and companies share their time and talents. I believe business schools should view the value proposition to faculty as a three-way street—professors, business schools, and companies working together for each other's benefit. In the end, more creative approaches to enlisting and developing faculty are essential if universities are going to be successful accelerating graduate level business education.
The recruitment challenge reflects broader trends about the direction in which business schools are headed. If business schools do not adapt to changing times, individuals and companies will be drawn to untested and unexceptional sources of training. Reorienting MBA programs and professors away from the traditional brick and mortar, lecture-style teaching to high quality technology-enabled, experiential learning is on a course that should be embraced and adopted.