Changing the Dynamic by Adopting a Future-Focused Business Curriculum

How business schools are bringing the future of work into today’s curricula.
Changing the Dynamic by Adopting a Future-Focused Business Curriculum

It’s no small task for business schools to rethink their programs in ways that serve the future needs of business. Such an effort can entail training faculty in new pedagogical approaches, building academic cultures based on innovation, and making students more responsible for their own learning—in short, making bold leaps into deeply unfamiliar territory for higher education.

Here, we feature three business schools that have taken on this challenge. They include BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, which implemented a campus-wide digitization project; Grenoble Ecole de Management in France, which adopted a strategy based on serious games; and the Tennessee Technological University’s College of Business in Cookeville in the U.S., which expanded a small media lab into an innovation hub for its region. All three initiatives reflect not only new realities that await business graduates in their future careers, but also new directions that lie ahead for business education.

Engaging With A Digital Curriculum

BI Norwegian Business School Adopts a Campus-Wide Digital Strategy to Ensure Its Students Learn in The Same Way Business Will Work

As digital technology plays a larger and larger role in the future workplace, business schools will need to make digital media a larger part of their curricula. That idea is behind an initiative at BI Norwegian Business School. In 2012, the school set an ambitious goal—to have its entire faculty embrace digital technology and blended learning pedagogies. As a first step of what it calls the BI 2020 initiative, BI and its faculty identified three trends that would drive the school’s transformation. The first is employers’ growing demand for flexible, “just-in-time” training for their workers. The second is the need to engage students more fully in the educational process.

The last is the growth in the market for MOOCs and other online certificate programs. As MOOCs become more sophisticated, faculty predict a future where students curate their own online programs to include courses taught by prominent professors from completely different schools. In this scenario, educational providers will form international networks in which they share content with each other’s students, allowing each school to focus on its strengths. To prepare for this future, BI’s faculty believed it was important for the school to establish its place in this market by bolstering its online presence and creating trusted learning experiences.

With these trends in mind, BI first focused on faculty training, creating workshops on blended learning, the flipped classroom, video production, and assessment in online environments. Its trainers follow up with faculty throughout the semester as they apply new pedagogies in their courses. Last fall, the school funded the attendance of eight faculty members at an online education conference in Germany.

BI also encourages its faculty to design customized courses to fill educational niches for particular businesses and industries, as well as to co-teach courses with professors from other disciplines and institutions. For instance, lecturers at BI and the Hamburg School of Business in Germany now co-teach a course on shipping management, bringing students together using streaming technologies and Adobe Connect.

As part of the school’s vision, BI’s faculty hope one day to offer students opportunities to create their own educational paths by selecting online courses from a curated portfolio, including courses at BI and MOOCs from other schools, and perhaps even digital certification modules to document when students have mastered particular skills.

Since the launch of BI 2020, the school has invited students and faculty to propose ideas to pilot in its new blended learning environments. Over the last three years, approximately 70 ideas have been piloted with the support of school funding. These include the launch of a research study of student behavior in digital learning environments, the use of the gaming platform Kahoot to motivate students during lectures, and the creation of podcast study guides to help students through tough materials.

In one pilot, instructor Anton Diachenko, then a doctoral candidate, created a semester long in-class case competition to encourage more student participation in his large introductory strategy course. Competing in 55 teams of three, students went online before each lecture to read a short case and complete a multiple-choice quiz about the case. Teams accumulated points based on their collective quiz results. The eight teams with the best results took ten minutes at the start of class to prepare short presentations of the case; other students selected a winning team based on how much they learned from its presentation. “They were really motivated, and we could see the difference in the class,” says Diachenko. “They weren’t just sitting and listening, but they were active participants in the process.”

The school promotes widespread adoption of the most successful pilots through the BI LearningLab, a center that helps students and faculty succeed in blended learning environments. For instance, it began holding “LearningLab Invites,” a regular event where faculty give presentations on their experiments with new pedagogies. (See Diachenko’s presentation about his pilot of the mini-case competition here: BI 2020 has inspired faculty to create a culture based on the sharing of ideas, where success stories spread quickly, says Anne Berit Swanberg, LearningLab’s director.

Because the BI 2020 initiative relies on the ongoing creation of new digital course materials, administrators recently created and approved a new Policy for Copyrights to address copyright issues related to the digital workbooks, videos, and other online learning materials that faculty and students are creating. “We have developed a contract with professors, in which BI has the right to use the digital resources, but the teacher owns the materials and may edit and refine them,” Swanberg explains. The school still is working out its approach to faculty teaching loads and its faculty compensation policy for the creation, use, reuse, and sharing of learning resources.

Adopting a more digitally driven curriculum has been more difficult for some faculty than for others, says Swanberg. “But by offering training in new ways of teaching and using digital learning resources, we are developing a common language for teaching and learning in a digital age. Our culture is slowly changing.”

BI’s administrators knew that BI 2020 represented a dramatic change for faculty, but they wanted to make the school’s transition to digital learning environments the responsibility of every faculty member. As BI faculty note in their report explaining their digitization plan to the school’s board, campuswide investments in new technology and teaching methods ensure that these crucial developments are adopted by all faculty, not just a few early adopters and technological enthusiasts. “The age of the ‘enthusiast,’” they write, “is forgone.”

Read the faculty’s report “BI 2020: New Ways of Teaching and Learning” at

Gaming The Future


Because of their power to engage, educate, and entertain, serious games have gotten serious attention in business. Gamification is quickly becoming a mainstay of recruitment, training, and marketing in the workplace, says Hélène Michel, professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management in France. She points to cosmetic company L’Oréal, which uses its game “Reveal” to introduce job candidates to opportunities at the company. She also references tire company Michelin, which uses “Mission Antitrust” to train its sales force in appropriate behaviors, in the aftermath of running afoul of antitrust laws; the company now is licensing the game to other firms. “Because these games are now part of business life,” Michel says, “we need to train our future graduates to be familiar with these tools.”

Michel, who has studied this topic since 2003, defines a serious game as any game—either digital or analog—designed for a purpose beyond entertainment. Under Michel’s direction, Grenoble has spent three years incorporating serious games into its curriculum, marketing, and recruitment. “We call this the ‘Playground project,’” says Michel. “We expect to use games as a new playground and lever for innovation.”

This project has led the school to add several new elements to its programs:

A branded game portfolio. Grenoble has developed a line of serious games for innovation and technology under the brand GEMinGame. Its portfolio currently includes seven products, ranging from Nanorider, a board game where players develop products and services using one of 42 technological components, to The Mindful Manager, a virtual game where players learn to develop their awareness and decision-making skills. The portfolio also includes “Game of Deans,” a board game in which players collaborate to develop an innovative product or service for higher education.

“Game master” workshops. Each year, the school trains 20 faculty in serious game design so they can easily use, customize, and even create games for their purposes. When faculty design their own, Michel says, they buy into the strategy more fully. This realization is based on experience. Early on, says Michel, the school asked faculty to use proprietary games from large companies. But because these games are largely for individual users, students played them in class with their headphones on without engaging with one another. Faculty did not see the value. “We began helping faculty create their own games based on their own research frameworks,” Michel says. “That way, even if a game is not perfect, the teacher is willing to use it.”

Student participation. The school’s next step was to launch game design seminars for students, so they too could understand and interact with games effectively. The students are trained to use ITyStudio, a serious game design and 3-D simulation software platform. “We realized that the students’ role should not be only as players, but also as designers,” says Michel. Students can choose to create games for their master’s theses, and they often design games as part of their courses. For example, last year, 13 students in Michel’s human resources management course created four games centered around challenges related to intercultural management, such as retaining foreign talent. Michel invited executives to evaluate all four games; they chose “Culture Guru,” which trains staff to manage virtual global meetings, as the best. Soon, the school will sell and market “Culture Guru” under the GEMinGame brand.

“The Playground” lab. This dedicated space is divided into two sections. The first is a small design space with eight stations that walk small student teams through each step of creating a new game, from finding inspiration to selecting packaging. It features whiteboard walls for brainstorming, entertainment-based board games for inspiration, 40 tablets loaded with virtual games, and raw materials for prototyping. The second area is a large demo space where designers can share their working concepts with up to 40 testers at a time. The school also just launched its “Pop Up Game Room,” a mobile version of the Playground that travels to incubators, companies, and other campuses.

The use of games in admissions. Last year, Grenoble began integrating serious games into some of its master’s degree admissions interviews, which turned out to be popular with both students and selection committee members. The school will follow students admitted after their gamebased interviews, to compare their progress to that of students admitted via traditional interviews. Next year, the school plans to use its virtual game Smartifacts to evaluate candidates’ innovative thinking. Players are asked to come up with creative solutions to everyday problems people face, such as locking themselves out of their homes.

The school still is studying the effect of serious games on students’ learning outcomes and satisfaction. Michel was surprised that student satisfaction turned out to be one of the biggest hurdles to clear. “At first, we received comments like, ‘I didn’t spend €10,000 to play with a Rubik’s cube!’ So we changed how we presented serious games,” she says. “We explained that the games were in the curriculum not to make things easier, but to reveal new types of knowledge.”

The school has received around €1 million (just over US$1 million) in public and private funding to support its serious games strategy—it costs the school about €30,000 (US$32,200) to create a board game and up to €200,000 (US$214,800) to create a virtual game. While Grenoble hasn’t yet seen a direct ROI, Michel says that the indirect ROI has been significant: The school has built its brand, differentiated its programs, and landed contracts for customized corporate training. It expects to generate revenue once it starts selling its serious games online and in bookstores next year.

For Grenoble, serious games have become a way to “interact with people who are too busy, too disengaged, or not interested,” says Michel. “It’s easier to invite executives to a game design session than to a board meeting.”

More important, by teaching students to be game masters—to collaborate and find innovative solutions to problems—the school is encouraging students to dream bigger for their own future careers. “We expect our students to become rule changers,” says Michel, “not just in game design but also in their business lives.”

To see student Laure Dousset give a tour of the Playground, visit

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Triggers for Innovation