Wisconsin’s Business School Bets On A Novel MBA Approach

A Wisconsin Business School professor in class

A Wisconsin Business School professor in class



However, the school had a secret weapon in making KDBIN work: Funding. Rather than accept a one-time naming gift, Wisconsin has received nearly $96 million from key benefactors not to name the school.  However, this endowment comes with a challenge, Ortalo-Magné notes. “Are we willing to [be as innovative] on the inside as what [our benefactors] did for us on the outside?”

As a result, the school hasn’t been shy about spending money to get the right resources and expertise to faculty. For Odders-White, this support has been the biggest key. “The resources have been there – that makes a huge difference. Asking people to do more without any assistance, you’re setting the group up to fail.”

For example, the school recently added Dakes, a 20-year veteran of instructional design, to work one-on-one with professors to adapt their teaching to KDBIN. The school has also funded faculty course releases and instructional technology to help faculty focus on new ways to achieve learning outcomes. For example, Wisconsin has supported the development of pre-class videos, a popular tool that frees students to absorb content at their pace and professors to spend more time facilitating discussions and activities during class time. The school is also experimenting with classroom configurations, installing additional whiteboards and moveable furniture moveable to enable students to communicate better.


And this support has elevated teaching in Odders-White’s view. “We always have three demands on our time: Research, teaching, and service. The balance between those can be difficult to achieve… We have this clear guidance on how to structure a syllabus or create outcomes or make the best use of class time. We’ve raised our game in terms of faculty focus on teaching.”

Most of all, KDBIN has provided a means for the school to hold itself accountable to students, adds Sanford. “We’re showing students that we’re in this together with them…We’re not just saying we’re innovative.  We’re practicing it.”

At this point, KDBIN is a work-in-progress. It is still being rolled out in the electives. Not surprisingly, there is little data showing its impact over the past year. However, students can sense subtle differences, particularly in networking. For example, Kim Truong, a first generation college graduate from UCLA, received a list of alumni and students in her specialty after being admitted. “I had friends here before I left the west coast,” she says.


KDBIN arrives at a time when business schools are struggling to differentiate themselves, a time when the typical MBA experience has become largely commoditized.  While Wisconsin is a solid and often overlooked top 30 business school, it tends to be overshadowed by such public rivals as UC-Berkeley Haas, Michigan’s Ross, UVA’s Darden, Indiana’s Kelley, UCLA’s Anderson, UNC’s Kenan-Flager, and UT’s McCombs. And one may wonder if KDBIN is little more than a repackaging of what top business schools naturally do to gain a measure of distinctiveness against its formidable rivals.

For Ortalo-Magné, such a question completely misses the mark. “A big part of the conversation at the Wisconsin School of Business is thinking through what our learning outcomes should be and how we’re organized to deliver them,” he says. “Too often schools will rely on brilliant individuals to teach and inspire students with little regard to the other influences students encounter in their MBA education. This ‘go your own way and teach just what needs to be taught’ philosophy is what we are trying to change. We are asking our faculty and staff to think and work together to reconsider learning outcomes.

“We are inspiring each other to learn, develop and reach outcomes that are coordinated as well as mutually supported across classes, programs and departments.  Repackaging does not get anyone to this point. It takes real conversations, real ideas and real work to make our project the reality it is. The KDBIN framework and the training programs we have organized around it have proven critical to start and sustain the collaborative conversation required for success.”

Grainger Center Simulation class taught by Peter Lukszys

Grainger Center Simulation class taught by Peter Lukszys

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