When the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD.org) invited me to speak at their 2013 MBA conference in Lausanne on March 18, I was somewhat surprised, and also flattered.
EFMD is an interesting organization whose fundamental objective is to raise the standard of management education worldwide. According to the general information on their website, they seek to provide an international platform to bring together leaders in the management education in order to reflect on major issues affecting their profession. At the heart of the group are over 550 business school members that include some of the world’s premier institutions of management education.
In addition, they are the group responsible for several accreditation programs, including the prestigious EQUIS certification for schools of management. Their accreditation standards are globally recognized for their role in assuring the quality of management education in business schools and corporate universities.
EFMD’s annual MBA conference brings together about 80 MBA Program Directors from business schools around the globe. The overall aim of the event is to provide participants with a forum for exchange of ideas, and with concepts and examples of management practice that they might apply in their day-to-day work.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Leading the MBA–The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. For my talk, they asked if I would address the topic of “creating positive group dynamics” in an MBA classroom. As I can only speak about my own views and experience, I wrote the title of the talk this way: “One professor’s thoughts on creating a positive group dynamic in an MBA class, and on why the classroom experience still has unique advantages over other forms of learning.”
In today’s world, I find this a fascinating topic, as schools worldwide ponder how to adapt to the age of the Internet. In fact, much has been written in the press in recent months about online learning and the coming disruption of the world’s educational models. In a Financial Times piece called “Welcome to the virtual university”, economics columnist Gillian Tett describes her “startling” experience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, when she attended a debate on the future of online education.
The first reason for Tett’s surprise was that the room was absolutely packed, even though the meeting was in an inconvenient location and competing with such headline-grabbing events as German prime minister Angela Merkel discussing the future of the Eurozone. For the Davos elite, e-learning an ultra hot topic. An additional cause of surprise was how much emotion and passion this subject evokes. People simply have strong positions and opinions regarding the impending change for universities, a change that, according to Tett, “could rival, or even eclipse, the type of shock that technology has produced in the worlds of finance, retail and media in recent years.”
Of course, this shock of technology, this disruption, is already having its effect of schools of management. According to Rakesh Khurana, a Harvard Business School professor who chronicles the changes in management education, business schools today are facing a crisis, and a fight to be relevant in the age of free online content. Strategy & Business reports (in January 2013) that many schools are experiencing a decline in the number of applicants, particularly for their two-year MBA programs. Students are increasingly opting for one-year specialized degrees, and others are choosing to take courses online or on a part-time basis.
One-year MBA programs are suffering these days as well. It seems that the university model we have known for centuries–where students attend lectures, take notes, and sit for examinations to be evaluated–can now be completely called into question. As Thomas Friedman wrote in a New York Times editorial on March 5, people are wondering why they should attend costly universities in an age when the world’s best lecturers are giving away their content. Many are asking: “How can colleges charge $50,000 a year if my kid can learn it all free from massive open online courses?”
Given the evolution of technology, an evolution that seems to be improving the online learning experience on a daily basis, this is certainly a pertinent and growing question. Next time, I will sketch out the beginning of a response.