Dutch Business School Leads New Trend In Online Learning, Data Analytics & Industry 4.0

A mega focus on tech innovation is matched by more flexible online learning programs at the Netherlands’ Maastricht School of Management

Maastricht School of Management (MSM) in the Netherlands has overhauled its full-time MBA program in recent years, staying ahead of the game in terms of technological innovation.

The MSM MBA’s Digital Economy specialization offers students courses in online retail, big data analytics, cybersecurity, and Industry 4.0. While a one-week Innovation Management module takes MBA students to Germany to study at RWTH Aachen University—a leading engineering university at the forefront of developments in Industry 4.0, robotics, and automation.

At MSM, MBA curriculum is changing, and delivery is changing too. Through distance-learning, students can enjoy a more flexible MBA experience. They’re able to switch between an intensive one-year MBA program in a full-time setting; two years in an executive setting; or two years online.

“The school,” Oliver Olson, director of global education programs at MSM, explains, “has virtual reality, artificial reality, and artificial intelligence on its radar.

“We innovate based on the market and what we see the industry is asking for,” he continues. “It’s about tearing down the delivery of education and starting over, based on the feedback from industry. With our MBA now, it’s about the flexibility; it’s about online learning.”

Oliver, speaking to me at the MERIT Summit on executive education in Lisbon in January, meets with employers on a regular basis. Major MBA employers—like Nestle, SAP, and Virgin Media—he says, have emphasized the need for a modern classroom; a more immersive learning experience.

“That includes lectures and case studies,” he explains, “but it’s more and more about getting students out of the classroom; talking with alumni, industry leaders, and putting into practice what they’ve learned.

“It’s not all about knowledge,” Oliver continues. “Knowledge is cheap. You can watch YouTube videos and do MOOCs for free and read your own books; that’s not our role. Our role is to edit the knowledge and guide students towards the right knowledge. We help take the learning and give it context and perspective.”

On the one-week Innovation Management module in Germany, that context comes in the form of learning in one of the hubs for Industry 4.0 in Europe. The module was developed for top German executives working at the forefront of tech development in industry—MBA students receive a German Executive Education Certificate upon completion of the course.

Maastricht School of Management also offers five master’s in management and engineering programs, in collaboration with RWTH Aachen, covering specialist areas including production systems, electrical power systems, and computer-aided mechanical engineering. The partnership is about delivering the hard skills and soft skills combined.

The now infamous digital skills gap is high on the agenda. In Germany, MSM MBA students see the application of digital skills—data analytics and the use of artificial intelligence—in action. “We’re updating our curriculum to fill in the gaps,” Oliver says.

Through consulting projects, MSM MBA students work on real-life projects, solving real problems for real firms. MSM MBA students enjoy company visits followed by dinners with senior execs. During Maastricht’s Entrepreneurship Week—in May this year—students can connect with entrepreneurs and investors, experiencing the vibrancy of the city’s startup ecosystem.

MSM’s heightened focus on new technology and the current realities of the business world, Oliver explains, is about delivering the tech-savvy, forward-thinking students that employers are after.

“It’s about risk mitigation. Employers want to hire a student that will be productive. They’re looking for a business school to reduce their hiring risk and cost of training in the future,” he continues.

“The first disconnect that traditionally exists in the business school world is that we think we’re selling a product to students. We’re not; we’re selling students to the market. It’s vital for us to talk to our customers; and those are the HR and L&D directors of the big firms.”

Maastricht School of Management has close corporate partnerships with the likes of KPMG, Mercedes-Benz, and Phillips. There’s strong industry links within the school’s faculty too—Oliver worked for 12 years in banking in the US before transitioning into business education.

Crucially, MSM’s professors are a mix of academics and former practitioners. “Ex-CEOs and PhDs,” Oliver smiles. “We’re constantly on the lookout for those ‘unicorns’ who have both.”

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