Dave Snowden

Whither the MBA?

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One of the questions asked yesterday at the Durham Seminar (Podcast and slides available when I get home tonight on a working network) was what recommendations the panel would have as to the future of a MBA in a Business School.

There were answers arguing for doing the whole process on line and such like which I think we can dismiss. Social computing gives us powerful tools and they should be used in education. However they do not substitute for face to face lectures and tutorial groups as well as the sense of place that an University can provide.

My response was to argue that the focus should be on a radical change to the content of what is meant after all to the a masters degree. I argued that the case based approach was flawed, allowing for theories to be made retrospectively coherent, something no scientist should tolerate. Further than an MBA is this day and age seems to be taught content, rather than a masters programme involving a degree of independent thinking. Mind you PhD’s also seem these days to be more taught, with a narrow focus using various survey and other type instruments whose validity I and others have challenged. The Mediaeval model why which you engaged in discourse, attended lectures and then presented your ideas to examination by your peers seems to have got lost somewhere along the way in the journey to commoditisation of learning in general. Originality is punished in favour of conformity.

My suggestion (and if any University ever wanted to do this I would love to be involved at any level), is to create an MBA which involves trans-discliplinary learning. I would use undergraduate modules from anthropology, philosophy, sociology etc along with some basic science and other options. I would use the examined thesis to test the ability of students to synthesis that learning into current organisational issues both in theory and practice. Given a free reign I would then pick up the idea of a workbook to record and audit practice from the accountancy profession. Something along those lines would add value, and create a profession with some change of creating new insight and understanding. Surely the role of education, rather than the creation of cannon fodder for the factory models of consultancy that prevail.

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