Interim Dean Joseph Thomas, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, delivered the opening keynote speech. Photos by Dana Green Harris.

Innovations in Graduate Business Education Conference draws academic leaders from across the country

Leaders from business schools across the country gathered at Rutgers Business School for two days recently to discuss the challenges of preparing students to lead in a work world that continues to be altered by technology and meeting the growing demand for lifelong learning experiences, especially among alumni.

More than 150 people attended the Innovations in Graduate Business Education Conference, which is hosted every two years by Rutgers Business School. The conference, initiated after Rutgers University entered the Big 10, is designed to showcase thought leadership and inspire educators from the Big 10 – and beyond – to share innovative ideas in business education.

The theme of the conference – “Lifelong Learning in a Digital Era” – attracted top administrators from Wharton, Kellogg, Kelly, Darden, Michigan State, Penn State and Cornell. Educators from more than 50 business schools participated. Part of the attraction was also the line-up of speakers and panelists assembled by Rutgers Business School Dean Lei Lei and Senior Associate Dean Sharon Lydon. The speakers included Jonathan Levin, dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business; Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School; Joseph Thomas, interim dean of Cornell University's S.C. Johnson School of Business; Peter Hirst, associate dean of MIT's Sloan School of Management; and Matthew Slaughter, dean of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.

Interim Dean Joseph Thomas, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, kicked off the Innovations in Graduate Business Education (IGBE) Conference at Rutgers Business School with a thought-provoking presentation. Listen to the dean's keynote remarks.

While Thomas acknowledged that technology is changing business and business education, he also highlighted that not everything has changed. He stressed the importance of interpersonal communication skills, relationship building, and networking. “What we have been teaching is still important,” he said.

Thomas reviewed the changing needs that business schools must meet, from undergraduates to mid-career executives to life-long learners. To meet the educational needs of students, employers, and technology, business schools had to provide a range of certificate programs, “mini courses” and distance learning offerings. Thomas said that this product proliferation is both a challenge and an opportunity.

The first panel discussion explored digital disruptions in business education.
The "Digital Disruptions in Educating Business Students" discussion was led by Jeff Brown, dean of Gies College of Business. Panelists included Peter Hirst, associate dean, Sloan School of Management; John Kraft, dean, Warrington College of Business; Megan Leroy, director, Warrington College of Business; and Alva Taylor, faculty director, Tuck School of Business.

The first panel discussion, "Digital Disruptions in Educating Business Students," was facilitated by Jeff Brown, dean of University of Illinois Gies College of Business. He stressed that online learning was just different, not better or worse. He likened online and in-class learning to movies and stage productions: each providing strengths that meet the needs of different audiences. 

Peter Hirst, associate dean at MIT Sloan School of Management rhetorically asked, “who are the learners?” to point out that the answer is blurry. There are many different learners engaging in different ways including immersive digital classrooms with avatars and blended with in-class, on-ground classrooms.

Dean John Kraft of the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business Administration, pointed out that there has been a culture of disruptive innovation since 1974 with the advent of TV Replay recordings of class sessions to now fully online specialized MA programs. Kraft said, “if someone has an idea, we’ll try it.” 

On panels and in keynotes, the speakers agreed that technology will continue to disrupt business schools both positively and negatively with the continued need to prepare students to be leaders in a business world using big data, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other technologies.   


Corporate Leaders Express Market Perspective discussion panel.
Rutgers Business School Dean Lei Lei (center) poses with Senior Associate Dean Sharon Lydon and members of the final conference panel, Bob Alig, Liaison International; Eric Dingler, managing director, Deloitte & Touche LLP; Courtney Billington, president, Janssen Pharmaceuticals; and Jens Molbak, CEO of Coinstar and founder of WinWin. Also pictured (third from left) are John Byrne, editor-in-chief, Poets & Quants and (far left) Daniel Stoll, executive director of Rutgers Business School's Communications and Marketing team.

In addition to technology, the educators discussed the expansion of experiential and action-based learning, the educational opportunities business schools can offer their alumni and the growing demand for customized curriculum, which schools are beginning to deliver via online programs, blended learning and unique content.

Hear the discussion, moderated by John Byrne, editor and chief of Poets & Quants, that asked a panel of corporate leaders to answer questions about what they would do as business school deans.

On the second day of the conference, Glenn Hubbard, who will retire later this year as dean of Columbia Business School, described the digital transformation and its effect on graduate education as “far more of an opportunity than a threat.”

The prosperity of Columbia – and business schools collectively, Hubbard said, depends on the ability to be adaptable and to provide experiential learning experiences.

He predicted that business analytics would continue to be emphasized in graduate business education and other areas such as fintech, blockchain and artificial intelligence would continue to be in demand by students.

Hubbard and other speakers addressed the challenge of engaging alumni with an increased variety of educational offerings, from discounted executive education programs to online offerings. Hear Hubbard's complete keynote.

Conferencegoers broke out into smaller discussion groups to share ideas, perspectives, and to ask questions.
Conferencegoers broke out into smaller discussion groups to share ideas, perspectives, and to ask questions.

A panel discussion, moderated by Peter Methot, executive director of Rutgers Business School’s Executive Education, examined the role executive education programs have traditionally played in delivering lifelong learning opportunities to business leaders as well as to alumni.

The panel, made up of executive education administrators from Wharton, Darden and Michigan’s Ross School of Business as well as the AACSB’s chief knowledge officer, discussed the potential of using technology to personalize learning and the viability of offering “stacking” programs to blend non-degree and degree programs.  

Mike Malefakis, associate vice dean of executive education at Wharton, said the program offered at his school attracts self-motivated, well-educated, seasoned professionals who are trying to stay relevant. “When you offer something stackable, people will come,” Malefakis said. View the entire discussion.

-Sean Ireland and Susan Todd

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