When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we responded by opening our laptops and turning on our webcams. Business schools around the world were forced to close their doors and move learning into a virtual or hybrid learning environment.
But it's not only how MBA programs are delivered that has changed. A new report from the MBA Roundtable, which surveyed 155 deans, directors, and faculty from 118 business schools around the world, reveals how COVID-19 is also impacting the MBA syllabus.
COVID-19 impact on the MBA syllabus
In nine out of 10 schools, learning objectives have remained exactly the same as pre-pandemic. Around half, however, reported some changes to the curriculum content.
COVID-19 as a topic unsurprisingly made its way into many programs. This most frequently came into courses on leadership, human resources, supply chain, and ethics. Rarer were courses dedicated entirely to COVID-19, appearing in just 17% of programs.
One respondent commented: 'Covid is a common concept given that we are all dealing with it. In a way, it has helped with integrating concepts across courses.'
Business schools have brought in other changes to accommodate some of the adverse aspects of studying during the pandemic. A majority of courses have modified assignments, have brought in more flexible deadlines, and have introduced pass or fail marking.
Assessments have changed too, with many schools adjusting time limits for exams and assessments. 40% of schools have modified these assessments, while 29% have actually reduced the overall number.
COVID-19 impact on MBA program delivery
Unsurprisingly, a shift in how business school programs were delivered was one of the most widespread changes that schools witnessed following the coronavirus outbreak.
In total, 88% of programs saw a change in the mode of delivery of their programs. For in-person programs, this rises to 98%. Hybrid delivery (balancing virtual and in-person) was the preferred form of delivery, chosen by 59% of programs, while the other 39% went entirely virtual.
The change in mode of delivery saw an influx of new teaching tools into the virtual or hybrid classroom. Breakout sessions were most popular, used significantly by 95% of programs, as were messaging and chat tools (93%). Lower down the list includes tools like gamification, Q&A functions, and in-class polls.
One of the more significant changes was a shift away from lectures. Use of lectures as a teaching method went down 38%. Instead, professors opted for ‘flipped classrooms’—where preparatory reading is done at home and class time is used for hands-on problem solving—which went up 72%.
IE professor Enrique Dans recognizes the challenge of engaging students in lectures. “If it's just you talking, and your teaching is one way only, you can try to replicate that in an online setting—but it's really boring, and students don't like it.”
Despite these changes, the majority of business schools remain confident about the quality and rigor of the MBA curricula.
Some aspects of delivery have been significantly more challenging, however: namely inclusivity and student engagement. 58% said that it was more difficult to deliver an inclusive learning experience, while 86% struggled with student engagement.
Outside of the classroom, schools met challenges in providing the other aspects which candidates come to business school for. Community building was found to be the greatest challenge business schools faced, with 88% finding it more difficult than pre-pandemic.
Zoom-based socials and online events have become ubiquitous, helping business schools attempt to recreate extracurriculars which forms a major appeal of in-person programs.
While business schools hope that, in time, students will begin to return to campuses, the majority remain aware that these changes may persist well into 2021. For now, laptop-based student life and a COVID-influenced MBA syllabus remains the norm.
The ‘Current And Future Impact Of COVID-19 On The Business School Curriculum’ report was conducted by the MBA Roundtable, a non-profit that facilitates the exchange of information and resources on curricular innovation. They reached out to over 1500 contacts from 379 schools around the world to see how the pandemic had impacted their curriculum.
Of the 155 participants, representing 118 schools, the majority (140) were based in the US, with a handful from Canada (6), Europe (5), and Asia-Pacific (3). All respondents are affiliated with MBA programs—65% for full-time MBAs and 71% for part-time MBAs—while some are attached to business master’s programs too.
In terms of roles, 19% are deans, 37% are academic directors, 28% are non-academic directors, and 31% are faculty.