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How business schools bring innovation to their classrooms

How business schools bring innovation to their classrooms

Steve Jobs once said that innovation is what distinguishes a leader from a follower. The top business schools have realized that they can hold on to their reputation only if they are continually innovative. This realization has inspired them to spark innovations in their MBA curricula and in the format and delivery of their management specializations.

Over the years, top business schools have functioned as workshops of new business ideas. MIT Sloan, for example, has not only pioneered theories but has also been successful in making these innovative ideas work in the real world. The Harvard Business School has been fostering entrepreneurship through its Innovation Lab, encouraging leadership building through the Leadership Initiative, and driving health care research through its Health Care Initiative.

For over a decade and a half now, Stanford GSB’s Center for Social Innovation has been cultivating leaders who can solve the world’s biggest social and environmental problems with the most innovative solutions. Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business is offering a range of innovation-focused MBA electives, while the NYU Stern School of Business has been focusing on producing “serial innovators.”

Business schools in Europe and Asia have hardly been laggards at bringing innovation to their campus and curricula. Indeed, more than half of the top 15 business schools with the best MBA specializations in innovation are outside the US, according to QS Top MBA’s “Innovation MBA” rankings of 2014. The schools include INSEAD, Singapore; IE Business School, Spain; London Business School, UK; IMD, Switzerland; IESE Business School, Spain; the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad; and IIM, Bangalore.

These business schools and some others have stepped up their innovation efforts. Here are brief sketches of how schools have used technology to expand their reach, tweaked their degree programs and curricula in pursuit of quality leadership for the business world, and adopted new methods of course delivery to take management education to more people.


“Open to all” and “affordable” may not be on the glossary of terms of many top business schools. But both ideas are being implemented by the University of Illinois’ College of Business, a top-50 business school. The school has launched the first massive open online course-based (MOOC-based) MBA, “iMBA,” along with Coursera, the California-based online learning company.

The full-time MBA study material has been restructured for the online program. A student can take up any course at any time and pay only if he or she wants a certificate for completing that course. A sequence of courses for college credit will cost $1,000 per course or $3,000 for the entire specialization. The total fee for the MBA degree will be $22,000—Illinois’ own two-year residential program costs $100,000.

Raj Echambadi - IllinoisMBA Crystal Ball asked Raj Echambadi, Senior Associate Dean of Strategic Innovation at Illinois, what makes the iMBA innovative. Here’s what he had to say:

“First, a segment of each of our classes is open to students from outside the iMBA. We get learners from all over the world — rural villages, senior executive suites. Most MBA programs are closed environments.

Second, our classes teach material the way you’ll use it in the real world. We don’t always follow traditional academic sequences and departments. For example, a senior executive from Google is part of one of our digital sequences.

Third, we don’t always follow the typical classroom format — a professor standing at the front of the room delivering a lecture. Instead, we set up ways to encourage real-time side conversations among students.

Finally, our classrooms are global. You’re working with and learning from people who are all over the world who are bringing you real-time insights from their industries, their customers, whatever is happening in their local environment and job that day.

In a University of Illinois online classroom, we want to spark different ways of thinking as well as cover the conventional material.”



Illinois is not the only b-school to have breached the MOOC frontier. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has launched 18 MOOC courses and two specializations with the involvement of 30 professors of the school.

Many courses are priced at $95 and specializations at $595. More courses and specializations are in the offing under the program.

What is the essential difference between the full degree course and the online, open-enrollment course? Online courses are shorter and focus on critical skills, while the full course gives the student a chance to delve deeper into the subject and provides deeper exploration of topics and career management, among other academic opportunities.

Berkeley Haas

Another innovation in the MOOC space is the Philanthropy University launched by UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. The objective? Develop quality leaders in the social sector. Leading professors will teach students five to eight weeks in an experiential learning environment on platforms developed by NovoEd.

While Haas is responsible for the basic pedagogy and curriculum, the instructors come from other top universities as well as leading organizations in the social impact space.

The 7 foundation courses currently on offer are: Essentials of nonprofit strategy, Global social entrepreneurship, Organizational Capacity, Leadership, Social Impact Scaling and Fundraising.

Berkeley Haas awards a Certificate in Social Sector Leadership to all successful students. It’s a fantastic deal – students get to learn from the best teachers for free and use the knowledge immediately, without having to worry about education debt.


Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has evolved a set of seven courses on the “growth and scaling” topic. Rather than evolving a curriculum on a topic and hoping that adjustments would eventually be made on the basis of market feedback, Kellogg went to MBA employers first to understand the business challenges in the area of growth and scaling before evolving the curriculum.

Professor Ben Jones - KelloggMBA Crystal Ball reached out to Benjamin F. Jones, Faculty Director, Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, to find out more about how the program change was conceptualized. Here’s what he shared:

“What I heard from our business leaders that we talked to, and from our alumni, was just how hungry they were to hire people with these skills on the one hand, but also, when I talked about this growth and scaling course idea in front of fairly seasoned executives, I’d often get the response: Can I take that class? Do you have a class for me? I’d love to take a class on that. There was a sense that not only do they want people who can do it, but they find this to be enduring challenges throughout their career, and they’re looking for really rigorous and thoughtful guidance on how to that.

I think we knew at that point that we were really onto something that the marketplace really valued. It’s also the case that Kellogg is a general management school, and we actually have strength across many functions of the business — in our capacity to teach, in terms of the scholarship we have here — understanding the customer, finance, strategy, organizations, operations and technology. We really felt that Kellogg had a rare capacity to deliver programming with depth on the growth and scaling challenges in each of those functions, and that can also look across the functions collectively and put something really special together.”


Yale SOM

How can MBA students be equipped to work across time zones, languages, and cultures? To acquire the skills necessary, Yale students now work on a project with member schools from Yale’s Global Network for Advanced Management, after a grounding in team dynamics. The idea of introducing “Global Virtual Teams,” a required course in the core curriculum, came from students, basically.

Students returning after their summer internships told Olav Sorenson, Director of SOM’s MBA curriculum, the routine difficulties of working with people stationed in remote parts of the world. David Bach, Senior Associate Dean for the Executive MBA and Global Programs and Professor in the Practice of Management, says the course will help students develop a set of skills that the market is demanding.

Carlson School

An MBA course specially made for Congressional staffers? That was the innovation that Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, came up with, and it could potentially benefit 13,000 people.

The $75,000-course can be completed in one year, but given that the staffers are particularly busy when Congress is in session, the course can be stretched to two years. Difficult courses in topics such as accounting and finance are usually held in the summer months when work pressure is not too tough for staffers.

Questrom School

Among other notable innovations is the Master of Science in Management Studies program of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, a program for undergraduates that has no formal courses or a syllabus.

The learning is driven by the students who take up experiential projects in three companies, where senior executives with a stake in teaching guide them.


Can active sports betting shown live on a massive screen inspire an idea to build a virtual classroom for students around the world. It can, if Harvard Business School is the school we are talking about. HBS has introduced “HBX Live” that allows schools to recreate its famous case-study classes anywhere in the world, operating from a leased studio in Boston that brings faculty onto a high-resolution video wall. Sixty students can participate at once in this classroom that recreates HBS’ amphitheater-style seating.

A professor, four production staffers, a cameraman, and four stationary cameras, and 60 laptop cameras, one for each students, create the virtual classroom that looks more like a lively TV show.

Patrick Mullane - HarvardIn an exclusive interview with MBA Crystal Ball, Patrick Mullane (Executive Director, HBX) shared more insights.

When we asked him what triggered the change in strategy, he said, “When we began developing HBX, our mission was to extend the reach of Harvard Business School’s on-campus offerings: high-quality business education reimagined for the digital age. We sought to use technology to enhance our ability to educate leaders who make a difference in the world (the Harvard Business School’s mission).

Rather than a change of strategy, it was merely adapting to rapid technological changes taking place all over the globe. We wanted to take Harvard Business School’s famed case study method, and make it accessible to more people in more places.

We believed that, in the end, if we did online education well it would enhance the brand by bringing world-class business education to those that otherwise would not have had access.”

Read the full interview here: Harvard online certificate course


W. P. Carey School

In 2015, Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business introduced a free MBA and increased its class size by 40 percent to 120. Amy Hill, Dean, says the free MBA will enable those with startup ideas launch their ventures without digging into their seed money but, at the same time, gain valuable business insights and networks. The school is expected to incur a loss of $20 million annually but the returns for the students will probably be invaluable.

Mason School

How do you think management professors of a reputed b-school go about revamping their MBA curriculum? Go to alumni and employers, mainly, and ask for their observations on possible improvements, right? Well, yes, for most colleges.

But the William and Mary Mason School of Business, Virginia, had other ideas: it went crowdsourcing for information, late 2015, and received 200 ideas and 2,000 unique visitors from over 50 countries.

Ken White, Associate Dean of MBA, says the school wanted to find out what the “users of MBA,” the employers of school graduates, felt.

Student reactions

All this may sound intriguing for the teams designing the programs. But what about the students? How are they responding to these innovative changes?

The Philanthropy University by Berkeley Haas has enrolled 220,000 students from over 180 countries for over 455,000 courses. That’s a phenomenal response. But being free doesn’t make it easy. The number of certificates earned have been a modest 574.

On the growth and scaling related changes at Kellogg, Professor Jones says, “I think the kinds of students who are super interested in these courses can be divided into three types: someone who is past the initiation point of an entrepreneurial venture and wants to scale it, someone who is interested in private equity and entrepreneurship by acquisition (where you’re hoping to try to find established companies that you think have much higher potential returns than they currently have, buy them, grow them, or manage them better, and then probably sell). And then the third group are members of family businesses.

The response has been widely positive from all across the board from these groups. Students who take part in these courses immediately come away with ideas to put into place at work. Before taking the courses, students looked at market demand and external drivers without fully appreciating the internal perspective on how to grow a business. The courses have helped them learn how to grow and scale a business from an interlocking set of perspectives.”
Resources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5| Image credit: Northwestern University

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2 thoughts on “How business schools bring innovation to their classrooms”

  1. I have been selected to Olin Business School (Full Scholarship), Kelley Business School (20k Scholarship and 35k Graduate Assistantship), Mcdonough School of Business (20k Scholarship), and Jones Business School- Rice University (56k Scholarship). My tentative Post-MBA goal is to become a healthcare consultant. These goals may change during the course of an MBA. Which school would be best suited for me as an international student? My decision has to factor in the post-MBA salary, employment rate, cost of education, international prestige and the number of opportunities offered by the school. Please advise me what to do? Does MBA Crystal Ball help with such issues?


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