Is commodity a dirty word for business education and management schools?


Efficiency and productivity are good to teach but difficult to put into practice in a quite protected environment such as the one of the top Business Schools.

 Teaching, sorry learning, is done through highly qualified faculty members, experts in their domain, but often reluctant to innovate on learning methods and use of technology.

 Opportunities are here for many changes in the coming years.


First, changes coming from the population of students and participants as well as from a younger faculty.


A new generation of learners is coming, used to internet, video games, and all the highly sophisticated new technologies media. They won’t accept standing passively in a class room; neither will they read dull management books. They are the “Lara Croft” generation of learners as Prof Sanderson from Bradford puts it.


A new generation of faculty (Y) will come too, after the baby boomers, and they know how to deal with IT. Learning styles have changed; traditional cognitive approaches are less in favour. Blended learning comes in.



Secondly because main corporate clients are changing and pressing on executive education providers to deliver: more quickly, less expensive, standard quality for all, instantaneously to everybody, to get immediate results. They ask for ROI on executive education. Not for the exclusive programmes for top senior people (though sometimes you find good e-learning modules on leadership styles!) but mainly for fundamentals in marketing, finance, control, management, HR, supply chain, project management, IT, bureautics, foreign languages ….


Thirdly, the provision of quality distance learning modules in management is on the market. Some publishers have a strong catalogue of 300 different modules in 6 or 7 languages. And with the MOOCs almost every discipline is on free access.


Fourthly because the observation over a long period, shows clearly that course contents have changed within a four decade length. Forty years ago Marketing was an elective course, now it is core, and Finance has nothing to do with what it was then? Management control did not exist, not even Strategy, not mentioning HR. Basic standard courses have been pushed out of the curriculum to make room for something more exciting, and up to date.


Simply put: basic quality management education on fundamentals is now becoming a reality and can be delivered differently, as a commodity, with less cost ands good quality. In most cases quality is satisfactory because modules are designed by school faculty, as would be an expensive text book.


The question is what most Business Schools will do with it.

Up to now, very little, as often the faculty consider this as downgrading the quality of teaching, and resist very often the use and its deployment of it. They are right if you consider the past quality of what could have been described as “e-reading”, which is still the case in some Distance Learning programmes.


But due do the different changes in the environment, things may speed up for the following reasons:


  • Participants come from very different backgrounds and a good distance learning pre-requisite to harmonise levels can save a lot of time and effort for the beginning of any programme. Most of the content is about definition of management concepts in the different areas. A PhD faculty is not needed to lecture at this level. Inductive prelearning through e-learning modules can improve the discrepancies in the classroom, reduce eventually tuition costs.
  • Learning in the classroom comes from sharing and facilitation by the faculty and not from basic content delivery, generating a better use of the expert faculty for top level courses more linked to research.
  • Distance learning sessions can be used as “chapters of books” and the faculty can replicate exercises during the course
  • E-learning can improve the situation of those who cannot come to courses or have to take the course again, or very distant or working learners (part-time participants as in Part-time executive MBA), or for multisite campuses
  • The use of such module can drastically reduce time spent out of office in corporate management seminars and allow quick dissemination of knowledge at a very affordable cost. Anybody can refresh secretly just before a meeting on a not so familiar domain (finance for marketers, HR for finance people…)


And this list is not limitative.


But distance learning is no substitution. It has to be tutored and blended. People learn more and more through sharing, benchmarking, discovering and experiential learning.


Some schools are starting to use it in their MBA programmes (in France HEC, ESSEC, ESCP-EAP, in UK Manchester, Open U, in Germany ESMT). It will spread as in this world like in the corporate world; good ideas disseminate easily and up to now some providers claim one million corporate learners on line.


For Business Schools, if they want to benefit from this commoditisation effect, they will have to redefine where they want to add value.


In Executive Education, corporations are looking for different outcomes. Content providing, meaning academic basic content, is not really an issue. Solution delivery, action learning, efficiency and performance delivery, organisational  development, sharing and leveraging best practices, internal networking to lower transaction costs across the organisation, personal and team development, better use of technology in communication are part of the new provision required.


These new approaches to Executive Education does not bring a complete answer to the hard question of ROI in education, but it shows clearly that what is delivered improves daily life and bring clear improvements and satisfaction to the management.


For individuals, for example Executive MBA participants, they are of course looking for quality, image and relevant learning. But they would love shorter and cheaper programmes, to invest less time and money away from the job market.

They are also looking for customised and individualised programmes, with coaching and personal development on soft skills, and work on real work issues, to facilitate the relations with their boss.

Sharing best practices across a diversified classroom, improving the way they do creative team work is something they do not find elsewhere.


If they could get all of that without the load and cost of the first part of the programme, many of the applicants would appreciate. Pre-MBA e-learning modules of quality from Business School faculty could do it. Their boss would love it too and support their project.


Welcome to the age of leanings. When some items become commodities new  values come from complementary services.

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