Advance Blog

October 27, 2017
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Business Schools for Digital Generations

By Dean Outerson, Project Head of Marketing & Communications, Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration 

There’s an old adage that if a 19th century time traveller walked into a 21st century classroom, he would find everything essentially the same – a professor standing in front of students giving a lecture, and students taking notes and asking questions.

While every other industry is being disrupted and facing dramatic changes due to technology and new communications tools, university education in general, and management education in particular, has basically remained the same as it was 100-150 years ago. But business schools are now uniquely positioned to lead the way in education reform, as they prepare their students for the rapidly evolving business world.

Disruptive change is the new normal, with new technologies, new players, and new ideas upending the way that businesses operate and compete in the increasingly global market. These disruptions are affecting the largest multi-nationals (think car companies, energy conglomerates), SME’s, and the latest startups.

Because of these sweeping changes, careers paths are shifting and being reshaped to meet these new needs. In fact, many experts predict that most of the jobs of the future (10-20 years from now) have not been invented yet, but that they will inevitably involve working closely with some form of artificial intelligence (AI).

Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Chief Engineer and a prominent futurist, says that these changes have happened in the past, but they continue to trouble people who fear losing their jobs. But as he recently told Fortune magazine, “I would say, ‘…don’t worry, for every job we eliminate, we’re going to create more jobs at the top of the skill ladder.’” But as he says, it’s just that we don’t know what they are yet.

In a way, however, these changes fit with the attitudes and aspirations of the next generation of business school students. “Generation Z” (born between 1996 and 2010), the post-Millennial generation, will be the first generation to come of age in the 21st century and the first true “digital natives”. And according to a recent GMAC study, this digital generation is more interested in entrepreneurship than their predecessors, enjoys finding innovative solutions to problems, and is much more independent and likely to “make their own success”.

In other words, Generation Z will be more open to radical and continuous change than any generation before them.

How are business schools preparing the next generations of students for these changes, and the new jobs that haven’t been invented yet?

In many business schools around the world, the traditional lecture room is finally being replaced with configurable, interactive spaces for hands-on learning activities. Students are also becoming active co-producers of knowledge and learning. And finally, business schools have realized the importance of relevance: applied knowledge, in the learner’s domain, that leads to transformative action learning.

These changes to the business school learning environment are significant but they need to be accompanied by a correlative change in the way students learn the concepts of business and other disciplines.

And it’s not just current and future students, but everyone who needs to learn how to learn, and to embrace lifelong learning. With today’s technology resources, facts have become irrelevant – every answer is online and can be accessed anytime, anywhere with a few clicks on a smartphone.

So the skill that is needed in the modern world is not in knowing the factual answer, but in knowing how to frame the question and in making connections between different concepts and areas of knowledge.

The traditional “just-in-case” learning model no longer fits the needs of the digital generation. Education has always been about teaching a fixed body of knowledge and concepts with the promise that it might be useful to the student someday. It was a teacher-centered format with the teacher transmitting knowledge to passive students who were expected to absorb as much of that knowledge as possible.

Business schools need to adopt a new paradigm of teaching-learning: “just-in-time” learning. Developed for physics instructors in the late 1990’s, it’s a format that uses class time for more active learning. It allows students to learn through a combination of web-based learning materials, and interactive classroom activities.

The “just-in-time” model has already swept through a number of industries such as music (think Spotify), movies (think Netflix), and production (all of the online freelance websites). In education, it means that customized training and learning will be available on demand, whenever, and wherever it’s needed. And it can be applied to traditional business schools, to corporate training, and to personal development (note the success of sites like Coursera, edX, and Udemy).

As other industries continue to innovate and evolve, the education industry must also recognize the changing needs of its customers (students), and fully embrace the “just-in-time” teaching-learning paradigm. Business schools in particular must radically alter their formats and their overall business model to prepare the next generations of digital natives for uncertain but challenging future careers. “Just-in-time” learning is the way to achieve that, and is the future of education and learning.

Dean Outerson, Project Head of Marketing & Communications, Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration 
Dean Outerson is a writer, editor, and education marketing and communications consultant and is currently Project Head of Marketing and Communications at Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration of Chulalongkorn University. He has lived and worked in Asia – Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand – for 27 years and has a keen interest in technology, education, and the future of work. He has been an active member of the Rotary Club of Bangkok South since 2007.

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