Harvard Business School has introduced some curriculum “enhancements” that are receiving attention in the world of MBA admissions.
In a letter to admitted HBS students, Dean Nitin Nohria elaborates on the upcoming changes that will introduced to the HBS curriculum in the coming year.
These “two important enhancements” are:
- The introduction of FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development), a program that will focus on “developing substantively meaningful small-group learning experiences throughout the first year that are experiential, immersive, and field-based, with the overall goal of advancing the School’s mission to develop leaders who make a difference in the world.” There will be three modules: the first on leadership, the second on globalization, and a third that will “integrate learning across the year.”
- The implementation of flexibility in the Elective Curriculum. This will include modularizing the calendar and allowing faculty and students “greater flexibility and creativity in molding their courses and building their schedules, respectively.”
Dean Nohria insists that these changes will improve students’ field-based opportunities and will complement Harvard’s emphasis on the case method.
You can read John A. Byrne’s article in Poets & Quants, “Harvard Faculty Votes ‘Bold’ Changes To MBA Program,” for a critique of Nohria’s statement. In short, he claims that these changes aren’t quite as “bold” as Nohria makes them out to be, especially given the fact that other top b-schools have previously implemented similar changes in their curriculums.
Personally, I think it is a bold move for HBS. For a school that has staked its preeminent brand for decades on the case method and a rigid curriculum structure, the dean’s introduction of these experiential elements and of curriculum flexibility, without his giving up on the essence of HBS—the case method—is impressive.
These are significant changes, if not exactly the kinds of changes that will, “set the course for the entire field of management education for the next 100 years,” as promised by Dean Nohria a few months back. That bit of hyperbole might cost him some credibility, but it is unrealistic to ask HBS to discard the case method, which is at the core of its identity and has contributed greatly to its remarkable success.
Given that brand and that success, I would expect HBS to move cautiously in adopting new methods. If it did implement radical change, like replacing the case method with experiential learning (or any other recent pedagogical trend) it would just be pursuing the latest educational fad. No boldness or innovation required. .
Finally, the changes that Wharton and Haas made were also incremental in nature. The schools want to build on the best of what they have. Doing so makes educational and managerial sense. And isn’t the essence of innovation building on what works? Perhaps collectively these schools are setting the course of management education for this century.
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