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IE Business School Dean Martin Boehm: The Future Of Learning Is ‘Liquid’

Martin Boehm, dean of IE Business School in Madrid, says a new liquid learning model could be the future for business schools


Mon Jun 22 2020


When BusinessBecause caught up with Martin Boehm, the dean of IE Business School in Madrid, Spain was just emerging from two months of total lockdown. No meeting friends or loved ones; no exercising outdoors; and, of course, no face-to-face business school classes. 

The school transitioned quickly online, delivering classes and community activities through a remote format.  

But as Spain eases out of lockdown, Martin and IE are proceeding with cautious optimism—”The pandemic seems under control, but it's certainly not over," he says.

The impact on the way business schools deliver their programming could be long term, even permanent, and as such is demanding a radical rethink of how MBAs and similar courses should be delivered.  For Martin, liquid learning might just be the answer. 

MBA trends and the impact of COVID-19

Martin’s IE career stretches back to 2006, when he first joined the university as a marketing lecturer. He’s seen a steady rise through undergraduate and postgraduate programs at the school, before taking on the role of dean in 2017. 

In this time, the business school landscape has undergone significant changes. 

First and foremost, there has been a significant move towards internationalization, both in terms of the students and faculty. Many schools draw from a more diverse set of applicants to build true diversity in their programs—at IE, the MBA class is 93% international.

“Students are not only coming from Europe, but from all over the globe,” Martin says. 

In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has presented a significant challenge. Latin America, where many of IE’s students come from, is experiencing the peak of pandemic some months after Europe, and its situation remains uncertain. 

“Given our hypothesis that the situation might continue, certain parts of the world in lockdown might be affected by travel restrictions, and that could affect our students as well.” 

The second major trend that Martin points to, however, presents something of a solution. 

There has been a move towards online or blended (online and in-person) formats, a trend which predates COVID-19. At IE, this includes the Global Online MBA and an Executive MBA, both of which have blended formats.  

Given the potential travel restrictions on international students, and indeed the uncertainty of whether IE’s campus will still open pending a second wave of the virus, online learning is becoming increasingly important. 

“It might go back to full lockdown again, and we might have to switch back to fully online.”

Enter: liquid learning. 

Read More: How Online Learning Is Preparing MBAs For Remote Work


The need for liquid learning

The new liquid learning model, announced at IE University (and including the business school) aims to offer a solution to these challenges. Students will have the option to attend class either in-person or online, and the resources and experience available will be the same. 

The word ‘liquid’ describes the adaptable approach that the school is trying to embrace. “It's about moving from one state to another, and just trying to figure out what is the best set up for learning and networking to take place.”

Certain changes have had to take place to incorporate these changes. Classrooms will be fitted out to become ‘hybrid’, with upgraded cameras and microphones to improve the experience for those attending remotely. Large screens will also be fitted so that those who are logging in online have a certain presence in the classroom. 

There's already an example of this at IE. The WOW Room is a multimedia, interactive learning space, fitted out with screens to transport participants virtually into the classroom.

The outcome of this transformation, Martin hopes, is simple—”It becomes irrelevant if you are stuck in Bogota or New York, or here in Madrid,” Martin says. “You can attend class.”

The aim is also to make sure that the institution is better prepared for if, or when, the country has to go back into lockdown. 

“What we have done is try to better understand what are some of the experiences which could take place online, and what needs to take place in a face-to-face setting,” Martin says.

Can teaching work as well online?

Part of this evaluation process has shown that certain things might work better online. Case study discussions, in which students discuss and debate business decisions based on real cases, could be one such example. 

Martin ponders the time lost by students separating into groups, finding the right room, starting their discussion, being called back, and maybe delaying to go to the toilet or find a snack. 

“Now we’ve realised with a click of a button, professors put them in the study groups, and with a click of a button, they come back,” Martin says. 

Will some things be lost? Martin admits that not everything can be recreated online. Those spontaneous moments of chatting to someone after class, or bumping into someone at the bar, are a crucial part of networking, and are what makes the in-person format so important.

“This is why we have to stress liquidity,” he adds. 

The relevance of MBAs

Serious changes will go beyond business school, and graduates entering the job market must be prepared for that. 

“We are seeing that this current pandemic has really put to the forefront that certain skills were maybe not that important but have started emerging as more relevant.” 

Human skills—like communication, empathy, and creativity—are decisively important, as leaders look to distinguish themselves from jobs which could easily be cut or afforded to machines to save money. 

Critical thinking skills will remain equally important. “The challenges that we as managers will be facing are increasingly complex. It won't be enough to memorise or study decisions that have been taken in the past, and seeing what did and didn't work.”

All these make Martin emphatic about the value of an MBA in the current circumstances. 

“As an individual, one of the best investments you can make is an investment in yourself, in your expertise, in your personal development.”  

 The BusinessBecause Big Interview series showcases the thoughts and lives of some of the world’s leading business figures.

Student Reviews

IE Business School




On Campus

My Review

Madrid Is incredible, I've had a fantastic time at IE University. I've had some excellent lecturers overall. They sincerely want the students to flourish and are concerned about developing a personal relationship with them. Having said that, students typically must fulfil their half of the contract by putting in the necessary work and demonstrating a desire to achieve success.




On Campus

Coming Master

I spent 1 semester on my Erasmus during my BBA trip. This was the great experience and after that I decode to enroll for the master program there. I must say that the only disappointing fact is connected to distribution of the students. Master students are being connected to the old campus what is not fully fail.




On Campus

Former BBA

As the former BBA student I can say that the level of the learning is quite high. In addition the place (IE Tower) is probably one of the most innovative and networking-support place in the Europe. I totally recoupment this Uni for business students.




On Campus

International focus

IE university has a global perspective and attracts a highly diverse student body, with students from all over the world. This international environment fosters cross-cultural understanding and prepares students to work in a globalized world. This is same for the faculty members as well, the university's faculty members are from diverse parts of the world and are reputable. they are not only experts in their fields but are also often actively engaged in research and industry. Their practical experience and academic expertise create a stimulating learning environment.




On Campus

Loved it

IE University, in my experience as a student, stands out as an outstanding institution for higher education. Its international perspective is a major strength, evident in the diverse student body that represents a multitude of countries and cultures. Interacting with such a global community has broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of various subjects, providing a rich and comprehensive educational experience. The quality of the faculty at IE University is exceptional. Many professors bring real-world experience to the classroom, making the learning process more practical and relevant. This approach not only enhances engagement with coursework but also ensures that students are well-prepared for their future careers. The accessibility of professors and their willingness to engage with students personally fosters a collaborative and supportive learning environment. Practical learning is another significant advantage at IE University. The integration of real-world projects, internships, and case studies bridges the gap between theory and practice. This emphasis on hands-on experience equips students with practical skills and industry insights, making them more competitive in the job market. IE University offers a wide range of programs across various fields of study, making it a versatile choice for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. This diversity ensures that individuals can find a program that aligns with their academic and career interests. However, like any institution, IE University has its challenges. The cost of attending can be a major concern for some students, as tuition fees are relatively high. While scholarships and financial aid are available, not all students may qualify for them. This financial aspect is an important consideration, particularly for those with budget limitations. The competitive nature of some courses and programs can create a high-pressure environment. While competition can be motivating for some, it may also lead to stress for others. Maintaining high academic standards can be demanding, and students should strive for a balance between excellence and well-being. The workload can be quite challenging, especially for students undertaking double degrees or heavily involved in extracurricular activities. Effective time management is essential to manage academic demands while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. In conclusion, I would recommend IE University to prospective students with specific considerations. If you value an international perspective, practical learning, and a diverse educational environment, IE University is an excellent choice. However, it's crucial to carefully weigh the tuition costs against the benefits and to be prepared for the competitive nature of some courses. Students should also be ready to handle a demanding workload. IE University has provided me with a rich and globally-focused education, equipping me for a career in an interconnected world. Ultimately, it's important to make an informed decision based on your educational and financial goals, along with a willingness to confront the challenges that may arise.




On Campus

Rather Exciting

As a student at IE University, enrolled in the Business Administration program, I can confidently say that my experience at this institution has been overwhelmingly positive. IE University's innovative approach to education stands out as one of its most remarkable features. The interactive classes and focus on critical thinking, particularly through the use of case studies, have significantly enhanced my ability to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world business scenarios. Additionally, the global perspective at IE University, fostered by the diverse student body and international faculty, has broadened my understanding of global business practices, which is crucial in the field of Business Administration. The university's strong industry connections have proven to be invaluable. These connections provide students with numerous internship opportunities and networking prospects, allowing us to gain practical experience and build professional relationships while still studying. Moreover, the comprehensive career support services offered by IE University, such as resume building, interview preparation, and job placement assistance, have been instrumental in preparing us for the job market. On the flip side, it's important to mention that tuition costs at IE University can be relatively high, which may pose a financial challenge for some students, even though there are scholarships and financial aid options available. Additionally, the programs at IE University can be intensive, demanding a significant time commitment, which might not align with everyone's preferences. In conclusion, I wholeheartedly recommend IE University to individuals considering a degree in Business Administration. The innovative teaching methods, global perspective, strong industry connections, and comprehensive career support make it an excellent choice for those aspiring to enter the world of business. However, prospective students should be aware of the financial considerations and be prepared for the intensive nature of the programs. If you're willing to invest in your education and are dedicated to your studies, IE University offers an exceptional and enriching educational experience in the field of Business Administration.




On Campus

A Decent Experience

I've had the privilege of being a student at IE University, where I've been pursuing a degree in arts. My experience at IE University has been highly rewarding and unique. One of the aspects I appreciate the most is the university's strong emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. The opportunity to collaborate with students from diverse fields, including business, technology, and social sciences, has enriched my artistic endeavors. This cross-pollination of ideas has added depth and diversity to my creative work. IE University's international perspective is another significant advantage. The institution's diverse student body and faculty from various corners of the world have broadened my artistic horizons and encouraged me to think more globally. In the field of arts, where cultural influences play a pivotal role, this global outlook has been invaluable. The university also invests in modern resources and technology, providing students with access to cutting-edge software, creative tools, and state-of-the-art facilities. These resources have allowed me to explore new mediums and techniques, pushing the boundaries of my creativity. Furthermore, IE University places a strong emphasis on practical experiences. This practical orientation has given me insights into the professional art world and how to navigate it effectively. Opportunities for internships and collaborations with art institutions have been instrumental in bridging the gap between academic learning and real-world application. On the downside, tuition costs at IE University can be relatively high, which may pose a financial challenge for some prospective students. Additionally, the university's programs are quite intensive, demanding a substantial time commitment and strong time management skills. In conclusion, I would wholeheartedly recommend IE University to students seeking an arts education with an interdisciplinary and global perspective. The institution's innovative resources, practical experiences, and international approach have significantly enriched my artistic journey. Nevertheless, it's crucial to consider the financial aspect and be prepared for the demanding nature of the programs. If you're willing to invest in your arts education and are committed to hard work, IE University offers a truly unique and rewarding artistic experience.




On Campus

A Great Experience

As a student at IE University studying architecture, I have a unique perspective on the institution. Let me share my thoughts on this university: Overall, my experience at IE University has been quite positive. The university's commitment to a holistic education, combined with its innovative approach to learning, has made my time here rewarding. Here are some key aspects I appreciate: Interdisciplinary Approach: IE University places a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. In the field of architecture, this means I've had the opportunity to collaborate with students from various backgrounds, such as engineering, business, and design. It's been enlightening to work on projects that integrate different disciplines, mirroring the real-world scenarios architects often find themselves in. Faculty and Industry Connections: The professors at IE University are experienced professionals in their respective fields, and they bring a wealth of practical knowledge into the classroom. This has greatly enriched my architectural education. Additionally, the university's strong connections with industry professionals and firms provide students with valuable networking opportunities and potential internships. Global Perspective: IE University's international approach to education is a significant advantage. I've had the chance to collaborate with students from all over the world, which has broadened my cultural awareness and global perspective. This is particularly important in architecture, as it's a field where global influences and trends play a significant role. Innovation and Technology: The university's commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements is impressive. In architecture, this means access to cutting-edge software, tools, and resources, which have been instrumental in my academic and design work. On the flip side, there are a few aspects that might not suit everyone: Tuition Costs: IE University is a private institution, and as such, tuition can be on the higher side. This might be a challenge for some students, but there are scholarship opportunities and financial aid options available. Intensive Programs: The university's programs are often quite intensive, requiring a significant time commitment. While this can be beneficial for learning, it can also be demanding, so time management skills are crucial. In conclusion, I would certainly recommend IE University to those interested in studying architecture. Its unique approach to education, international perspective, and strong industry connections have enriched my architectural journey. Just keep in mind the financial considerations and be prepared to put in the effort, and you'll find a stimulating and rewarding academic experience at IE University.




On Campus

A Global and Innovative Learning Experience

IE University is a dynamic and innovative institution that has gained recognition for its unique approach to education. There are several aspects that make it stand out, and while it may not be the perfect fit for everyone, it certainly has a lot to offer. One of the notable strengths of IE University is its commitment to fostering a global perspective. The university attracts a diverse student body from all over the world, creating a rich multicultural environment. This diversity enriches the classroom experience and prepares students to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world. The emphasis on international exposure through study abroad programs, exchange partnerships, and a global network of alumni further enhances this global outlook. IE University is also known for its focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. The institution places a strong emphasis on practical, real-world learning experiences that encourage students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. This approach aligns well with the demands of the modern job market, where creativity and adaptability are highly valued. Furthermore, IE University's faculty is often comprised of professionals with extensive industry experience, providing students with valuable insights and connections in their respective fields. The small class sizes enable more personalized attention, fostering a close-knit community and facilitating meaningful interactions between students and professors. However, no university is without its drawbacks, and IE University is no exception. One potential downside is the cost of tuition, which can be relatively high compared to some public institutions. While scholarships and financial aid options are available, this cost may still be a barrier for some prospective students. Another consideration is the intensity of the academic programs. IE University is known for its rigorous curriculum, and students often find themselves facing a demanding workload. While this can be an advantage for those who thrive in a challenging environment, it may not be suitable for individuals seeking a more relaxed college experience. In conclusion, IE University is an excellent choice for students who are looking for a globally oriented, innovative, and academically rigorous education. Its emphasis on entrepreneurship, international exposure, and practical learning experiences can prepare students for success in a competitive job market. However, the high cost of tuition and the demanding nature of the programs should be carefully considered. Ultimately, whether IE University is the right fit depends on the individual's goals and preferences, but for those who are up to the challenge, it can be a rewarding and transformative educational experience.




On Campus

The liquid learning method

I do like my program so much, since it gives me the possibility to develop my own personal skills while building a strong professional cv with plenty of extracurricular material. The amenities are extraordinary and the campus is super professional and convenient for networking!