Blockchain, Big Data Analytics & The 5 Hottest Topics On The MBA Curriculum In 2018

Business schools are constantly updating their MBA programs to meet employers' needs

What do MBA employers want? How should business schools adapt?

Every year, the brightest minds of the business school elite pick up their iPhones, throw on their suits, attend glitzy corporate events, and meet with HR and L&D directors from the world’s leading MBA employers—McKinsey, Microsoft, and Amazon included.

They want to change their MBA programs to suit employers’ needs—to provide the most fertile hunting ground for recruiters—or at least they should.

In today’s VUCA environment, the skills employers want are changing rapidly and no one’s quite sure what the future of work will entail. Knowledge of new technology beyond the buzzwords—artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, blockchain—is important, but soft skills—agility, adaptability, emotional intelligence—are essential.

Here’s the five hottest topics on the MBA curriculum in 2018:


1. Big Data

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“Belief is in God; everything else is about data,” says Luis Rodrigues, CEO of the Executive Education School at Nova School of Business and Economics which, together with Catolica Lisbon School of Business and Economics and MIT Sloan, offers The Lisbon MBA International program.

“Gut feeling and experience are becoming obsolete,” he continues. “It’s all about data, and students need to know about it.”

At the core of artificial intelligence is data. Big data analytics drives decision-making in business today. Big MBA employers like McKinsey and Bain want data-savvy recruits, and b-schools are adapting their offering accordingly.

The UK’s Nottingham Trent University offers a specialized Online MBA with Data Analytics. Edinburgh Business School, the Graduate School of Business of Heriot-Watt University, boasts an online MBA program with data-driven electives like Marketing Insights and Consumer Behavior. It currently has over 9,000 active MBA students.

In Canada, at York University’s Schulich School of Business, a Cognitive Analytics and Visualization Lab has been set up in partnership with Deloitte to help develop the next generation of business analytics talent. While at Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia, a data analytics tool is being used to provide MBA students with feedback on job interviews.


2. Blockchain

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Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies have taken off—you can now pay for your business education in bitcoins.

But blockchain is more than just a trending buzzword according to Martin Calnan, director of executive education at France’s École des Ponts Business School. “You need to go further and understand the implications of blockchain,” he says.

“What are shared ledgers? What does blockchain really mean? Not everyone has to be an engineer, but you need to have technical literacy; you need to understand the fundamentals in big data and analytics.”

Business schools are waking up to the importance of blockchain. The Innovation & Cryptoventures Course at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business has grown from 13 to 230 students in under five years. Through IE Business School’s TechLab—a pillar of the Spanish school’s International MBA—students explore how to apply disruptive trends like blockchain to business strategy.

“IE prepares us to handle the disruptive new technology that may change the world,” current MBA student, Fabio Nelson Macchi, explains. “I think it’s a must for any business school to be at the cutting-edge of business trends—that’s what creates innovation.”


3. Sustainability

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The triple bottom line—environmental, social, and financial sustainability—is at the forefront of the minds of global leaders in business and—Donald Trump aside—politics alike.

Sustainability means profitability. For Oliver Olson, director of global education programs at Maastricht School of Management (MSM), it’s a core business concept. MSM’s International Business and Sustainable Development MBA specialization tackles issues around fair trade and green tech innovation.

At Copenhagen Business School, responsible management is a core component of the MBA curriculum. John Elkington, who coined the phrase ‘triple bottom line’, is a visiting professor at the UK’s Cranfield School of Management, which offers a sustainability-driven MBA as well as a specialized Management and Corporate Sustainability MSc.


4. Soft skills

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How can you prepare MBA students for jobs that don’t exist? Soft skills. Increasingly, MBA employers value soft skills over technical, ‘hard’ skills that can be learned on the job.

UK Business Schools like Bath School of Management—with its innovative MBA curriculumLancaster University Management School—with its focus on mindfulness and self-reflective excursions to the Lake District—and Cass Business School—with its Expeditionary Society—are using various techniques to hone emotional intelligence in their students.

Experiential learning is key to the development of the ‘soft side.’ At The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, global consulting projects see MBA students drive social impact in emerging markets.


5. New business models

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With the rise of the sharing economy—companies like Uber and Airbnb—and the disruptive potential of the Internet of Things (IoT), MBA students need to be aware of new business models and opportunities for innovation.

None more so than in China—MBA students at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai and Beijing’s Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) see first-hand how the rise of mobile payment technology, and the likes of Alibaba and Tencent, are disrupting business worldwide.

In Europe, at France’s entrepreneurship-focused EMLYON Business School, MBA students travel across Europe—to destinations like Brussels, Milan, and Helsinki—for company visits to explore alternative business models.

Helga Pattart-Drexler, head of Executive Education at Vienna’s WU Executive Academy, thinks business schools should focus on new collaborations between different companies. “As a company in the future, you will not be able to create a new product alone,” she says.

New, IoT-inspired partnerships are popping up—Toyota recently partnered with Amazon, Pizza Hut, and Uber to develop a fleet of electrically-powered driverless delivery vehicles. MBA students need to stay ahead of the game.

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