HBS Faculty Approves Curriculum Innovations
MBA Curriculum Update
with Professor Youngme Moon
Call Recording (LEFA login required)
Feb. 9, 2011
Moon: Giving students more field experiences complements the Case Method.
With overwhelming support, the HBS faculty in mid-January approved the most significant changes to the MBA Program in decades, affecting both the Required and the Elective curricula.
Beginning next fall, first-year students will take a yearlong Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD) course offering small-group learning experiences that are experiential, immersive, and field-based. The course will become the primary vehicle for developing further innovations in the Required Curriculum.
The second-year curriculum will be redesigned to split the existing two terms into four half-terms, allowing faculty more creativity in shaping innovative courses and students more flexibility in building their schedules. While less far-reaching on the surface, over time the modular approach promises to transform the elective-year experience for faculty and students.
“We think now is the right time to act to take the Harvard Business School MBA Program to the next level,” Dean Nitin Nohria said of the curriculum changes. “HBS has always been a pioneer in the field of management education,” he continued, most notably with the introduction of the discussion-based case method of instruction nearly ninety years ago. “The case method will always be a central part of what we do, but we’re now at a point in history when we can do some really interesting things in the field. Both methodologies — case and field — are absolute complements,” he added.
The MBA Program changes are the culmination of faculty research, wide-ranging discussions, and curricular experimentation that picked up momentum during the School’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2008. During that year, HBS hosted two colloquia on the future of the MBA. The first drew an unprecedented gathering of business school deans, corporate recruiters, and executives, who broadly agreed that business schools faced significant challenges in educating leaders for 21st-century global commerce. The second attracted more than 100 HBS faculty, who came to a clear consensus on the need to teach students how to think beyond disciplinary information silos and to be more self-aware as leaders. But how? Dean Jay Light established faculty committees to evaluate a variety of proposals, including submissions from fifty HBS colleagues. Work on curriculum proposals continued under Dean Nohria after he took office last July and resulted in the January 19 faculty vote.
“We don’t do anything without a lot of thought and care. That’s what makes us who we are,” said Youngme Moon, senior associate dean and chair of the MBA Program. Moon, the Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration, characterized the FIELD course as a “step change” that builds on experiences first-year students already get on a smaller scale and in a variety of ways. Significantly, the FIELD course “ups the ante” in three key content areas: leadership, globalization, and integration based on experiential learning. A ten-member faculty team has been named to design and deliver the course, but one feature is clear from the outset: To better prepare leaders for a global economy, all students will be required to participate in off-campus immersion experiences during the January Term.
Unifying the three content areas is a set of process skills that will pervade and define the FIELD experience: self-reflection, hands-on learning, and teamwork. “Everything will happen in teams,” large and small, with the goal of helping students develop listening, communication, and feedback skills, Moon explained.
While the Required Curriculum reflects an institutional philosophy that all first-year students need a common knowledge base, the Elective Curriculum presents students with “an incredible marketplace of ideas from the best faculty in the world,” said Moon. By moving to a modular format, that marketplace can grow even more diverse as faculty develop new kinds of course offerings. Some courses that now span an entire term may be divided into parts A and B and continue essentially unchanged. But with four half-terms, faculty will have a newfound freedom to experiment with course design. Moon compared the new approach to a rule change in sports. “A change in the rules may not sound like much, but over time it can have a major impact on how the game is played,” she explained. “That’s what we think will happen here. We already have a bunch of faculty who are jumping all over this.”
Just as HBS pioneered the case method and nurtured its adoption in business education around the globe, Moon is cautiously optimistic that the latest curriculum changes will repeat that pattern by developing new techniques that can be replicated elsewhere. Noting that other business schools have already implemented curriculum changes with similar leadership, global, and integrative goals, Moon observed, “If anyone can crack the code to get this right, it’s HBS.”
—Roger Thompson, with reporting by Brett Gibson and Justine Lelchuk (both HBS ’11), copresidents of the Student Association.