Management Education – the future of the MBA

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Management Education – the future of the MBA


Times of profound change call for profound new ways of thinking, reasoning and acting. The fourth industrial revolution is ushering in new business models, disrupting sectors and reshapingsocioeconomic systems, unlike anything we have experienced before.Already we are experiencing transformation in the world of work, as digital competencies and the ways in which technology is applied continue to develop and change.

Despite criticism of the MBA, it remains a highly sought-after qualification across sectors and industries globally.Challenges in the 21st Century business landscape require leaders and management practitioners to have a multi-disciplinary skillset and the multifaceted nature of the MBA, with its orientation towards integration and synthesis, is the ideal incubator for shaping the requisite skill set.A significant shift in students’ orientation takes place during an MBA programme — their perspective of the world of work, business and management widens, and the new paradigm is further honed through practical application within the industry context they come from.

Leadership and management practice needs to be ever more innovative in relation to emerging advanced decision technologies. As many traditional business functions become subject to disintermediation by automation and expert analytics systems, new ways of leading and managing need to be framed: the “what” and the “how” shapes the learning environment students are exposed to; the actual process of teaching and learning, the learning experiences as perceived by students and the resulting learning outcomes of students.

These are being challenged by the changing world and the pressure will increase. When considering the drivers of change and associated megatrends, that is technology (disruptive technology developments); energy and environment (changing energy mix, shortage of resources, climate change); economics and politics (knowledge and information society, economic shifts, globalisation, “new normal”, multi-polarity); and social and health (demographic shifts, urbanisation and mobility, health and wellness demands), the future of MBA education is set to be disrupted.

The unfolding future, characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity fundamentally challenges our assumptions, thinking and reasoning as pertains to leading and managing the organisations of the future.Our linear thinking simply will not suffice, considering technology’s exponential progress.Take AI, machine learning, robotics, IoT, blockchain and automation’s impact on the future of work as very real examples.Drawing on an apt expression of a fellow scholar that “content is a commodity”, the programme content of future MBA programmes will not be the primary consideration, as information becomes even more democratised, but rather the design of the programme and the associated learning environment that is created.It is critical that business schools understand what students should be prepared for, and design backwards from there.

By 2030 the MBA will have far less emphasis on the business management functions of finance, marketing, operations, HR, operations and the like.Greater emphasis will be on, among others, complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, cognitive flexibility, sense-making, social intelligence, cross-cultural competency, virtual collaboration, digital intelligence, design mindset, futures and strategic foresight. There will be less “discipline-specific” modules and more integrative, immersive group projects. Proctored examinations will be something of the past as students will demonstrate competence by means of portfolios of evidence, reports and presentations on real-life projects.

The mode of delivery will become blended, a combination of physical and virtual engagement, amplified by virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality.The adoption of progressive technologies to optimise the learning experience will be the norm and many MBAs will become wholly virtual. AI-driven “lecturer-bots” will be extensively deployed to facilitate student engagements.Subsequently, automation in the student journey will be prominent, technological advancements will mean that geographic location will no longer be a constraint and costs will be driven down dramatically, making the MBA more accessible. The future of MBA education will look very different and business schools intending to compete in the future, as point of departure, will need to consider the following with the 2030 leader and management practitioner in mind:

Rationale: Why will they be learning?
Aims and objectives: Towards which goals will they be learning?
Content: What will they be learning?
Learning activities: How will they be learning?
Lecturer role: How will the lecturer be facilitating their learning?
Materials and resources: With what will they be learning?
Grouping: With whom will they be learning?
Location: Where will they be learning?
Time: When will they be learning?
Assessment: How will their learning be assessed?

Business schools prepared to become exponential in their thinking, reasoning and acting will be the ones that survive post 2030.Continuing down the same path will inevitably lead to irrelevance and obsolescence.A forward-looking perspective is essential.

Dr Cobus Oosthuizen is dean at Milpark Business School.

02 Jul 2019