22 Nov 2021 20:05 IST

Covid rejigged core tenets of management education

Meaningful tech-enabled, innovative, and hybrid learning solutions are being incorporated across B-schools.

In early 2020, the pandemic brought almost the whole world to a grinding halt. This ‘unexpected force majeure’ triggered a new orbit for the digital revolution. Overnight, schools and other educational institutes were compelled to shift to a completely virtual mode of learning and enablement of the same. Until then, such modes of instructional design formed a very small percentage of pedagogy deployed primarily in classrooms.

The Higher Education (HE) ecosystem across the globe went through tumultuous churning, leading to a significant disruption-led transformation in the learning and teaching spaces. This phenomenon was accelerated due to three factors — increased availability of digital platforms that was deep in engagement in the virtual space; the experimentation (no choice situation) in virtual learning space by different leading institutions in India and globally; the above two factors drove heightened velocity because of the ‘age/generation related’ demographic shifts.

Flowing from the above turn of events, disruption also affected the plans of many young professionals, who were intending to pursue an MBA from B-school in India/overseas. Many MBA aspirants had to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty. The relentless push towards digital-based disruption in the learning and teaching space further reinforced the need for an urgent review of the structure, pedagogy, assessment, and outcome of various HE programs, including MBA.

The above momentum surfaced the urgent need to visualise the skills/competencies architecture and priority for the MBA graduates that will enable them to meet the challenge of today and the day after tomorrow.

B-schools are hence, not wasting any time to restructure, realign, and better adapt to the rate and scope of change. The curriculum reviews are happening more often to factor in the current and emerging world.

In a broader and deeper sense, B-schools are asking deeper questions— what is the purpose of business education, what should an MBA graduate be able to do, and what are the ecosystem boundaries within which MBA education should be anchored.

In this manner, B-schools and related stakeholders (industry, regulators, alumni) are trying to change the fundamental outlook towards MBA education, where would the products of such education would be valued, how should an MBA grad behave, perform, adapt, and contribute, in the new normal. Four trends are captured below:

Increasing demand for STEM-embedded MBAs

We are witnessing a surge in demand for students or lateral hires, who are tech-savvy, innovation-friendly, and agile in thought, behaviour, and action. It is expected that there could be higher enrolments in technology-embedded MBA specialisations such as management science, business analytics, statistics and product management, and people analytics. Consequently, an increasing number of B-schools are crafting more programmes and including intake numbers to address the needs of such students.

Focus on blended learning

Virtual education platforms have increasingly made or are making their inroads into the HE system. These platforms are not limited to complementing and supplementing classroom teaching, they are becoming independent platforms, that can address synchronous and asynchronous learning needs.

Policymakers and many HEIs in India have seen the wisdom and merit of permitting their students to complete the theoretical core courses in online mode which has a salutary effect on the overall reduction in the cost of imparting such education.

Increasingly, meaningful tech-enabled, innovative, and hybrid learning solutions are being incorporated and implemented across institutes in India. The regulatory and other stakeholders seem to have come to terms, that a well-crafted hybrid solution has the potential to substantially reduce the cost of learning, which in turn could address and reduce the yawning gap in demand-supply of right faculty.

Updated course curriculum

B-schools in India and all over the world are restructuring their programmes to factor in the changes in their learning systems, triggered by the increasing pervasiveness of digital technologies and the challenges of the pandemic.

In recent research reports, it is estimated — on average, students retain 25-60 per cent more learning, when compared to only 8-10 per cent in a classroom. This could be due to the student being able to learn faster online. It is estimated that e-learning methods lead to 40-60 per cent less time consumption by the student compared to the classroom setting. This is ascribed to the ‘flexibility’ in the ‘rate of speed of learning’ that can be chosen by different students.

Emphasis on data/research

Big data, business research, and analytics have emerged as vital skills or competence to be honed by MBA students, irrespective of their specialisations.

Most leading B-schools have included this as a critical element of the curriculum. Companies across industries, increasingly, are collecting voluminous data, concerning their customers, consumers, competition, and supply chains. This data has to be cleaned, stratified, and tested with hypotheses rigour so that the humongous data emerges as valuable insights for decision making. Data is not the focus anymore. It is what the MBA student does with data which is most important and the same is being reflected in the curriculum of many business schools.

Post-pandemic, it has become crucial for B-schools to instill in their students, a deeper understanding of the global socio-economic developments and integrate with relevant technologies and build on innovation tools. B-schools should also emphasise, through curriculum design, the importance of entrepreneurship skills with relevant practical assignments.

Lastly, one thing is certain, in the evolving new scenario, MBA students are in demand, now more than ever. Are B -schools listening?

(Uday Salunkhe is Group Director, SP Mandali’s Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research (WeSchool), and Vijayan Pankajakshan is Dean - HR, Chief Human Resource Officer, and Head, Career Management Cell, WeSchool.)