AI and Hybrid Learning Recast MBA Programs: Ethics and Inclusion at the Forefront

by | Jun 12, 2024

Artificial intelligence (AI) and hybrid learning are now at the forefront of MBA students’ interests, according to the 2024 Tomorrow’s MBA report by CarringtonCrisp, a UK-based consulting firm. The survey, which included 2,263 respondents from 32 countries, revealed that 53% of prospective MBA students consider AI an indispensable part of the business curriculum. This focus on AI has remained consistent, having also topped the list in 2023 as reported by BestColleges.

Andrew Crisp, co-founder of CarringtonCrisp, emphasized that business schools are increasingly integrating AI into their programs. “Schools are aware that this is happening. They don’t want wholesale lifting of content from one of these providers, but they recognize it’s being used. So it’s a question of embracing it and creating an environment where it’s used positively to enhance the experience of studying for an MBA,” Crisp explained.

AI is not just a buzzword; it’s a crucial competency that future business leaders aim to master. Many students indicated they would use AI to bolster their MBA applications. However, nearly three-quarters of respondents believe AI cannot replace the creativity required for quality instructional design. This nuanced view underscores the importance of balancing technological proficiency with human creativity in business education.

In addition to AI, other tech-related fields like technology management, data analytics, digital transformation, information management, digital marketing, and e-commerce are also in high demand. Between 41% and 48% of respondents highlighted these areas as essential for navigating the increasingly digital landscape of modern business. The emphasis on digital skills reflects a broader market demand for tech-savvy leaders capable of steering organizations through the complexities of a digital economy.

A significant trend emerging from the report is the growing preference for hybrid learning models. Nearly three-quarters of prospective MBA students prefer full-time study but favor a blend of online and in-person classes. “People want the flexibility that online study provides them whether that’s synchronous or asynchronous, and they want the face-to-face to give them the experience, and to give them the networking more than anything else,” Crisp noted.

This demand for hybrid learning is driving more MBA programs to offer flexible options. The hybrid model is particularly advantageous for working professionals who need to balance their studies with other responsibilities. By combining the best of both worlds—online flexibility and in-person engagement—hybrid learning models can democratize access to top-tier education, making it more inclusive for a diverse range of students.

Ethical leadership, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are also high priorities for MBA students. Around 82% of respondents expressed interest in these topics, reflecting a societal shift towards more responsible and inclusive business practices. “Employers are reacting to these issues in society and say: ‘If we’re going to maintain the strong customer relationships we have, we have to understand our customers and where they are and the issues that are important to them. And, therefore, we need people who can come into our business with an understanding of these issues,'” Crisp said.

Interestingly, while climate change was a top concern last year, it has now dropped to the 26th spot in student priorities. However, the broader concept of “sustainability” has emerged as a new area of focus, ranking 15th in importance. This shift may be attributed to the more encompassing nature of sustainability compared to the specific issue of climate change. A holistic approach to sustainability can integrate various environmental, social, and economic factors, aligning better with current business practices and societal expectations.

As the traditional MBA model evolves, alternative educational paths are gaining traction. Prospective students are increasingly considering stackable, non-degree credentials, with professional certifications being the most popular. Other alternatives include master’s programs, certificates, diplomas, and continuing professional development. Mini MBAs, which offer a condensed version of the traditional MBA, are also widely known and appreciated. These alternatives provide flexible and targeted learning opportunities, allowing students to build their qualifications progressively and adapt to changing career demands.

The 2024 Tomorrow’s MBA report paints a vivid picture of evolving priorities among MBA students. The strong emphasis on AI and other tech-related fields indicates a shift towards digital proficiency as a cornerstone of modern business education. This trend is likely to deepen, with business schools potentially collaborating more with tech firms to provide cutting-edge education in these fields. Specialized MBA programs focusing on AI and tech management may become more prevalent, catering to the growing demand for digital skills.

The rise in hybrid learning preferences underscores a broader trend towards flexibility in education. As work-life boundaries blur, the ability to juggle professional commitments with academic pursuits becomes increasingly valuable. Schools are expected to continue investing in robust online platforms to complement in-person instruction, making the hybrid model a potential norm in MBA education.

Ethics, DEI, and responsible management are not just academic interests but reflect broader societal shifts. As companies grapple with these issues, the demand for ethically aware and inclusive leaders is growing. MBA programs may develop more specialized courses and initiatives in these areas, and we may see the rise of certifications and credentials focused specifically on ethics and inclusion.

The shift in focus from climate change to broader sustainability indicates an evolving understanding of environmental issues. This broader focus allows for a more holistic approach to integrating sustainability into business practices, aligning better with current business trends and societal demands.

Finally, the growing popularity of alternative credentials suggests that the traditional MBA may need to adapt to remain relevant. Schools may offer more modular and stackable programs, allowing students to build their qualifications progressively. These alternatives provide flexibility and targeted learning opportunities, catering to the diverse needs and career aspirations of modern students.

In summary, the future of MBA education looks set to be increasingly digital, flexible, and ethically conscious. As AI and hybrid learning models gain prominence, and as ethics and inclusivity become integral to business practices, MBA programs will continue to evolve, reflecting the changing demands of both students and the broader business landscape. This evolution promises a more adaptable, inclusive, and forward-thinking approach to business education, preparing the next generation of leaders for the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing world.