A Big Future for Big Data in Business Education

Article Icon Article
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
By Dan LeClair
We are only just beginning to understand the potential of Big Data to change business education and business schools, including the way we teach, create, and connect.

More than a decade has passed since I first heard the words “Big Data.” It was said by a Google engineer during a meeting in response to a question about the major challenges facing business schools. He said nothing else, leaving me and the deans in the room scratching our heads. Just think: that was before YouTube, Google Earth, Waze, and more. Today we are producing at least 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily, and the digital universe is expected to amass 40 zettabytes (45 trillion gigabytes) by 2020.

At the same time, we have only just begun to understand the potential of Big Data. Advances in artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and Smart Cities, for example, are building on Big Data and transforming business and society. Similarly, the biggest opportunities for business education lie ahead. We are only just beginning to understand the potential of Big Data to change business education and business schools, including the way we teach, create, and connect.

The Way We Teach

Online education activities are generating massive amounts of data that can improve our understanding of learning and enable advances in personalized learning. Learners will become better self-trackers, using technology to measure everyday formal and informal learning activities to improve and augment their education. Consumers of these learning technologies are creating customized educational pathways and are opting in to make their data available to potential employers, who in turn are gaining knowledge in talent analytics. With “gamification” initiatives, software tracks everyday educational activities—such as completing modules, assessments, and projects—awards points, and encourages competition. These and other advances will play a key role as business schools becomes hubs of lifelong learning.

Spiraling demand for analytics talent is spurring innovation in degree programs. Business schools are developing and launching new programs, including specialized master’s programs, themed and co-branded degrees, undergraduate majors, and executive education courses. Institutions are combining and recombining disciplines in different ways, creating unique curriculum blends that target specific sectors, such as health care, transportation, and energy. In addition to developing new programs, business schools are also rethinking their core MBA and undergraduate curricula to incorporate data analytics. They are asking tough questions about replacing math and statistics requirements, inserting required analytics courses, and integrating ideas throughout the curriculum.

Despite recent growth, the programs and curricula in data analytics are far from meeting the increasing demand, and demands, of business. In response, AACSB started an Analytics Curricula Advisory Group to accelerate curriculum development worldwide. As a first step, the advisory group built a Data Analytics Seminar as part of AACSB’s popular Curriculum Development Series.

The Way We Create

Big Data will usher a new age of business and management research. Of course, scholars will have more, and sometimes better, data available to conduct innovative research projects. Raw data generated by businesses are becoming opportunities for research—with students and faculty working together with practitioners to create new insights. New policies will be necessary to handle sensitive information and intellectual property. We will see new research platforms, such as the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative, which helps bring together academic researchers and companies worldwide to create a better understanding of customer analytics. Data analytics may change the way we measure and track research impact to favor utilization and added value over exclusivity and prestige.

The work of scholars work will evolve, too. Researchers will move more fluidly between businesses and academic institutions, as illustrated by the recent article “The Techonomist and the Machine,” which highlights the experiences of economists in tech companies. More and more, scholars will co-create new knowledge with practitioners as well as with academics in non-business disciplines. Emerging expectations for data analytics are causing us to think more purposefully about the pipeline of scholars and teachers. Nobody is sure what discipline or combination of disciplines will be responsible for producing the scholars we will need to support growing demand for talent and thought leadership in data analytics.

The Way We Connect

Our exploration of Big Data in business education reveals that business schools will require stronger connections between academia and practice. Advances in data analytics are coming too fast and furious for business schools to keep up, unless the schools are tightly connected to practice. Partnerships will provide businesses with access to talent, students with access to experiences, and faculty with access to data and resources.

Data analytics initiatives are also motivating more cross-sector and interdisciplinary work. Beyond business, data analytics can revolutionize government in areas such as transportation logistics and environmental sustainability and assist NGOs through procurement and people analytics. Through data analytics, business schools will extend their impact across sectors and make new connections across the campus. They will work with new players, including policy schools (e.g., cybersecurity) and athletics (e.g., sports analytics), as well as computer science, math, and statistics.

Big Data and data analytics can mean better, more connected, and more impactful business education. And we have only begun to scratch the surface of the huge potential for these fields in business education. Not explored in this post are new ways business schools are catalyzing innovation in data analytics or how data analytics is affecting the management strategies and practices of business schools, in functions such as marketing, fundraising and development, and faculty deployment, for example. We will address these and other topics in future posts.

Dan LeClair
CEO, Global Business School Network
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.