AI at the B-School

Even schools that are teaching AI in the classroom could do more to take advantage of this powerful technology.
AI at the B-School

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, commonly known as AI, has the potential to impact everything that humans do, from completing everyday tasks to implementing business strategy. The rapid rise in the development and use of AI means that the next generation of business leaders must understand its function, its benefits, and its ethical implications. In fact, a survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council finds that slightly more than 70 percent of employers plan to hire business school graduates who have a knowledge of AI so they can fill data analytics roles. Therefore, it’s no surprise that interest in master’s programs in data analytics has doubled in the past five years, according to GMAC.

But business leaders aren’t the only ones who have to be on top of AI. Business schools, too, should be incorporating it into their own systems and processes. However, even schools that are teaching the theory and application of AI might not be practicing what they preach. Based on my experience in designing and delivering learning journeys on digital strategy for businesses, I see three primary areas where AI could be implemented to profoundly improve business school operations.


Social media companies already use algorithms to target users with advertising. Similarly, business schools could use AI to identify the best potential applicants for their programs. Schools could use AI algorithms to analyze publicly available data and information posted on social media; in this way, they could scan, evaluate, and identify people who could be good candidates for their programs, before students even begin the application process. For example, they could target people who require a specific skill to progress in their careers—a skill that the business school specializes in teaching.

But AI can be helpful to admissions officers well beyond the initial recruitment process. For instance, during the interview stage, AI can be used to analyze the enthusiasm of potential students. AI can record phone calls and interviews to evaluate the applicants’ speaking patterns and facial expressions to gauge how positively they are responding to the recruitment officers. This fascinating and innovative use of AI will help administrators identify the candidates who are most interested in their schools’ programs, which will save recruitment officers a lot of time.

This technology, which already exists, also can help schools shape their future admissions processes. As they monitor applicant interviews, AI programs can determine which phrases and conversational points spark the most interest and enthusiasm in applicants, showing recruitment officers what to focus on in future recruitment interviews.

After students are admitted, administrators can use AI to help students customize their courses by inputting data about each individual’s career path, ideal way of learning, and desired skill sets. With this information, AI algorithms could quickly identify which course of study would benefit each student the most, whether it’s an MBA, a master’s degree, a credential program, or even specific electives and modules.


While some critics fear that AI could ultimately end the role of the professor altogether, it is more likely that AI will help professors make their teaching more efficient and more accessible to a larger audience. In business schools, AI is most likely to take the form of robo-assistants, which are programmed with professors’ knowledge and expertise and then made available to answer students’ questions in specific courses. Unlike their human counterparts, robo-assistants don’t need to take time off—they are available 24/7. This availability is especially convenient for students who are working professionals, as they are likely to be studying during evenings and weekends.

A case in point is Ashok Goel’s Knowledge Based Artificial Intelligence course offered in Georgia Tech’s online master of science in computer science program. In 2016, to help him answer questions from the approximately 300 students in the class, Goel and a team of Georgia Tech graduate students began building a virtual teaching assistant. The assistant, whom they created by tapping into IBM’s open developer platform, was named Jill Watson. (Read more.) Jill has since evolved into two AI instructors that complement about a dozen human assistants who help Goel run the course. Learn more about the course.

As Goel found, robo-assistants can be beneficial in large classes, where it is often difficult for students to have regular one-on-one meetings with their professors. Because the AI assistant knows everything the professor knows, I predict that students soon will find that speaking to the AI assistant is similar to speaking to the professor. Robo-assistants can deliver quicker and more efficient responses than a lone professor, which will allow schools to serve a larger number of students while offering them even more personalized attention.

I expect to see even more AI innovations in the classroom of the future. It’s likely that AI algorithms will be used to aid professors in time-consuming tasks such as teaching the basics of any discipline or grading routine tests. For example, about five years ago, Arizona State in Tempe teamed up with adaptive learning company Knewton to create computer-based courses that would see students through their general education requirements such as college math. (Read more.) The school now works with several vendors to use AI in a number of classes, including classes for business students, according to Arthur Blakemore, professor of economics and vice provost for student success.

With more development, AI programs could become student advisors that analyze students’ work to determine the areas where they have insufficient knowledge, then supply links to educational resources that the school provides.


Finally, once students have graduated, AI can be a resource for both schools and alumni—particularly in the area of lifelong learning. By gathering data from alumni on their career paths, aspirations, and current employers, AI can identify the skills that alumni will need to succeed in their careers. AI also can direct alums to tailored, personalized programs or even short courses and relevant learning content offered by the business school.

At the same time, AI can be used to pair current students or recent graduates with alumni who have experience in certain fields and can act as mentors. AI also can help alumni network with each other to find jobs, launch joint ventures, or secure freelance work.

Additionally, administrators can use AI to keep current with the skill sets that are required by various employers. This will enable schools to offer companies more relevant executive programs.


At this moment in time, many of these functions already are being handled by AI algorithms. For instance, a number of business schools that have online programs use AI to monitor conversations with applicants to track their success. In addition to Georgia Tech, a few schools have experimented with AI to provide robo- assistants and sophisticated chatbots that interact with participants to support professors in specialized courses.

However, few schools can implement AI processes on their own. Those that want to integrate AI into their education practices can turn to outside companies—whether these are edtech startups or tech giants such as Amazon, Google, and IBM. Schools that want to find the best possible edtech for their needs might seek the support of an online education partner to bring in the necessary AI expertise and connections. It makes sense for schools to outsource their AI requirements, because these outside partners tend to have the most up-to-date and innovative AI available. At my own institution, Vlerick Business School in Belgium, we selected an online education partner that can bring in AI capabilities based on its experience in the U.S. market.

Schools that decide to implement AI into their administrative functions must be careful to meet legal standards. In the European Union, for instance, institutions must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which outlines data protection and privacy standards for everyone within the EU. Under GDPR, as institutions gather data, they must gain permission of students or applicants at each separate step. They must ask candidates to opt in, not expect them to speak up if they want to opt out. For instance, before recording and monitoring a phone or video interview, administrators must explain why they want to make the recording and give the candidate an opportunity to decline.

But it’s important for all schools— not just those governed by GDPR—to use information ethically. AI can be a fantastic tool for business schools, but only when it is used in an ethical manner. At Vlerick Business School, I run a digital strategy program in which I discuss all aspects of AI, from the tools that are available to the ethical practices that should be followed. One tool I use is the ethically aligned design treatise proposed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Explore their website.

The Ethically Aligned Design Treatise was created by more than 250 cross-disciplinary thought leaders and includes more than 100 pragmatic recommendations for users, policymakers, and academics who are involved with AI. As the treatise explains, “As the use and impact of autonomous and intelligent systems (A/IS) become pervasive, we need to establish societal and policy guidelines in order for such systems to remain human-centric, serving humanity’s values and ethical principles. These systems have to behave in a way that is beneficial to people beyond reaching functional goals and addressing technical problems. This will allow for an elevated level of trust between people and technology that is needed for its fruitful, pervasive use in our daily lives.”

At Vlerick, we agree. We want graduates not only to understand the impacts AI can have, but also to learn that it must be used for good.


It’s clear that AI can be implemented successfully in all areas of a business school’s administration, from recruiting to teaching to maintaining connections with graduates. For the time being, AI will not replace staff or professors; it will simply make their jobs easier and less time-consuming, so they can focus on more important tasks.

But if business school administrators are going to successfully deploy AI, they must experiment with it. They must input more data and update common processes so AI algorithms become more specific and efficient. If they do that, business schools will find themselves not only teaching AI at a world-leading level, but implementing it in ways that ensure a tailored, responsive, and high-quality educational experience.

Steve Muylle is a professor and partner at Vlerick Business School, which has campuses in Brussels, Ghent, and Leuven, Belgium. He also is the academic director of the school’s online MBA.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's January/February 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].


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