Business Schools Level Up to Meet the Future

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Wednesday, March 6, 2024
By Tricia Bisoux
Photo by iStock/Nastasic
Curricular innovations are placing students at the center of pivotal and ongoing trends that are transforming the world of business.
  • Technological advancements and rapid changes in the workplace have inspired corresponding advancements in business curricula worldwide.
  • AACSB’s 2024 Innovations That Inspire has recognized wide-ranging curricular initiatives designed to produce a new generation of students who are adaptable, agile, and adept at ethical problem-solving.
  • Addressing areas such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and data analytics, these programs are training students to ideate, pivot, and lead responsibly in the dynamic and uncertain future of work.


Last year, Yahoo! highlighted what its editors ranked as the most significant 25 innovations of the 21st century, spanning everything from smartphones and social media to electric vehicles and cloud computing. This list reflects the transformation that business and society have undergone over the past two and a half decades—and indicates the roller coaster of change that will likely only pick up speed in the years to come.

Of course, these key advancements have sparked new business curricula, as faculty work to acculturate students—and themselves—to emerging technologies and sociological shifts. Whereas students 20 years ago were just starting to become familiar with e-commerce and mobile technologies, today’s students are grappling with data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality, along with societal challenges related to poverty, access to education and healthcare, and the ongoing environmental crises.

These issues feature prominently in submissions to AACSB’s 2024 Innovations That Inspire, an initiative that recognizes forward-thinking programs that reflect the potential future of business education. Below is a sampling of submissions—including three selected among this year’s Innovations That Inspire. Together, they offer a glimpse into how business schools are transforming their curricula with the future of the world and the workplace in mind.

The Future Is…Data-Driven

The School of Business Management (SBM) at Shanghai International Studies University is making a big play in the tech sector. Since 2015, the business school has invested nearly 14 million USD in two lab clusters in brain intelligence and machine intelligence—10 labs in total. The school aims to position itself as a hub for and source of intelligence science research and talent.

Through the hubs, SBM encourages faculty to target their research and teaching on data and intelligence fields, and it supports students as they pursue their own research in related disciplines. It also adopts a “collaborative education mechanism” that ties faculty research in these areas to its degree programs.

So far, SBM’s faculty have won national grants for 57 research projects and engaged in 554 interdisciplinary initiatives related to data and intelligence sciences and technologies. SBM students have published 358 articles and conducted 129 research projects, and 82 percent of SBM’s graduates have pursued further studies in these fields. In 2022, the school’s lab for Brain-Machine Intelligence for Information Behavior was recognized as a key laboratory in the city of Shanghai.

Recently, SBM received approval to offer new undergraduate majors in areas such as big data management and application. According to the school’s Innovations That Inspire submission, its focus on data and intelligence fields is driven by the imperative to meet employers’ current and future need for data-literate workers and to “turn students’ data and intelligence aptitude from potential to reality.”

The Future Is…Digital and Multidisciplinary

Many business leaders are struggling to keep up with digital transformation—society’s as well as that of their companies. To support their digital transition, the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland launched xLab in 2019. Through xLab, CWRU students work on projects to help organizations address pressing digital challenges.

Companies join xLab as “members,” which gives them access to a student team, as well as discounts to executive education and invitations to special events. They then submit projects that typically take student teams one semester to complete (although more complex projects can last longer). Guided by a faculty member and a mentor from industry, each xLab team includes six to eight undergraduate and graduate students who are assigned based on what disciplines best suit the organization’s needs.

Student teams provide their clients with digital prototypes, services, and business models that use emerging technologies such as machine learning and decentralized digital identities in responsible and ethical ways. Student teams also train the employees with the skills to use the applicable technologies after the project has ended.

Whereas students 20 years ago were just starting to become familiar with e-commerce and mobile technologies, today’s students are grappling with data analytics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality.

The benefits of the project are threefold. Companies receive much-needed digital solutions. Weatherhead grows its network of business partners. And students receive hands-on experience working on digital innovations with peers from different disciplines. Some students are even hired by corporate clients after projects have been completed.

As the world’s data centers grow, they will consume more resources over time, which makes it paramount that companies embrace effective and sustainable digital architecture, the school emphasizes in its submission. Chosen as one of this year’s Innovations That Inspire, xLab supports companies as they incorporate digital technology into their sustainability efforts and helps them maximize their “potential to create lasting, meaningful change.”

The Future Is…Inclusive

As educators look to the future, many are concerned that quality higher education could become a luxury that underprivileged populations cannot afford. That concern inspired the School of Business at Woxsen University in Hyderabad, India, to create InclusiVR: Virtual Education for Every Student. Starting in 2023, the school has been using virtual reality (VR) technology to build a campus in the metaverse, where students can pursue training regardless of geographical, financial, and structural barriers.

The School of Business is collaborating with the university’s AI Research Centre to build the platform. As part of this initiative, both faculty and students are being trained in the use of VR technology, as they serve as both contributors and end users of the platform. The school is now creating virtual courses on organizational behavior, machine learning, marketing management, wealth management, and supply chain management, and will continue to develop and refine the InclusiVR platform.

The School of Business joins Woxsen’s schools of law, science, technology, arts and design, architecture and planning, and liberal arts and humanities in using and creating courses for InclusiVR, which was selected as one of this year’s Innovations That Inspire. The business school has committed to “leveraging AI and VR technology to make education accessible and impactful, ultimately contributing to sustainable development through empowered and educated individuals.”

The Future Is…Responsible

With the increasing use of AI in a variety of applications, experts have warned about the potential for embedded bias in AI’s programming or irresponsible use of AI tools in the marketplace. Training students to use AI in responsible ways is the driving force behind another initiative selected among the 2024 Innovations That Inspire: CO-BOLD, a serious game developed and launched in 2021 at Leuphana University’s School of Management and Technology in Lüneburg, Germany.

In the game, students are exposed to AI’s wide-ranging moral implications and develop their moral reasoning. They hone their ability to identify situations when such reasoning is necessary and the willingness to speak up and apply it.

Each player assumes the role of quality assurance manager at a large technology company. In that role, students must assess the quality of an AI assistant developed for a large bank called CO-BOLD. Players must recognize ethical risks and dilemmas common to the use of AI; then, they are challenged to speak up and address these problems, even when facing pushback.

The game is accompanied by an “ethical sensitivity test” developed by researchers at the school, which measures how well students identify ethical dilemmas in relation to AI. For example, before playing the game, one group of students in the master’s in management program identified only two of seven ethical issues. After playing the game, students retook the test and identified four of seven.

So far, the school has tested CO-BOLD in six courses with more than 250 students of business administration and information science. When incorporated into a short course called AI Ethics, the game is supported by related exercises and lectures. Faculty will continue to study how the game impacts student learning when presented in different contexts—for instance, whether students play the game in groups or alone, or whether the game is deployed in a course or as part of an extracurricular activity.

Students have described the game as “relatively realistic, rewarding, immersive, and educative.” Faculty, too, are pleased with the game’s impact and capacity “to stimulate the kind of learning and thinking that we were hoping for.”

The Future Is…Innovative

With the world needing nuanced solutions to complex problems, business schools worldwide are making it their mission to turn their students into master problem-solvers. To maximize their impact, many schools are diving deep into one issue or industry to provide specialized expertise.

At the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, one such area of specialization is medical device development. Launched in 2008, the Medical Industry Leadership Institute Valuation Lab (Val Lab) is an experiential multidisciplinary course that invites medical companies and inventors to submit their healthcare innovations for evaluation. The lab’s founding director is Stephen Parente, the school’s Minnesota Insurance Industry Chair of Health Finance. Parente saw a need for a course focused on medical device development because of the university’s location near the state’s Medical Alley, a hotbed for healthcare innovation.

Business schools want to ensure that faculty and students alike can manage uncertainty with aplomb and pivot quickly as one new trend shifts into the next.

In the Val Lab, graduate students from 10 colleges across campus form teams that evaluate groundbreaking medical technologies for their investment potential. After students sign nondisclosure agreements, companies give students access to proprietary information. Teams conduct in-depth research before delivering to company representatives their analyses regarding technical feasibility, market viability, financial implications, and legal considerations for the products involved.

Each semester, students in the course work consecutively on three different projects, which provides them with a richer understanding of the industry and prepares them for leadership in the medical sector. Students in the Val Lab now complete 30 to 40 products each year for clients ranging from hospitals and medical device manufacturers to healthcare startups and nonprofits.

So far, companies submitting projects have been based not only in Minnesota and California, but also in China, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Since its inception in 2008, the Val Lab has had significant influence over medical device development. Students have analyzed more than 500 medical innovations, and alumni from the course now work at companies such as Philips and Medtronic—or have gone on to found companies of their own. 

The Future Is…Here

What Yahoo!’s top 25 innovations will be by the year 2050 is anyone’s guess. By then, Yahoo! itself might have given way to a new form of media. But for business schools, the goal is to ensure that today’s business graduates are comfortable working in nontraditional workplaces and experimenting with new technologies, no matter what form those technologies might take. Faculty and students alike must learn to manage uncertainty with aplomb and pivot quickly as one new trend shifts into the next.

As the business environment continues to transform, schools must ensure their students not only find great jobs after graduation, but also stay employable throughout their careers. By designing agile, innovative, and forward-thinking curricula, business schools will continue to produce agile, innovative, and forward-thinking leaders who won’t just anticipate the future—they’ll help shape it.

All submissions to AACSB's Innovations That Inspire program are collected in DataDirect for members to explore for additional insights and inspiration.
Tricia Bisoux
Editor, AACSB Insights
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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