The Crystal Ball: B-Schools Acknowledge Challenges, Put Positive Shine On 2022

Mohan Mohanbir Sawhney: Pandemic has “shown us how we can break … boundaries to create learning experiences that harness the power of digital technology”

Not everyone is convinced that in-person learning will make a complete comeback in 2022. Mohanbir Sawhney, associate dean of innovation at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the McCormick Tribune professor of technology, says this year will be about breaking boundaries and moving toward “omnichannel learning” — learning that moves seamlessly between online via a desktop or mobile device and in a brick-and-mortar classroom.

“Artificial distinctions between online and in-person education will give way to integrated learning experiences that will leverage the flexibility and accessibility of the virtual world,” Sawhney tells P&Q, “while maintaining the richness of in-person interactions. The result will be an omnichannel learning experience for MBA students and executives, designed around the needs of learners, instead of the modality of delivery.

“Although we see merit in using live-streaming (synchronous) and online (asynchronous) learning for specific experiences, at Kellogg our primary focus in 2022 for our full-time programs will be in-person instruction. In the future, though, Kellogg will be integrating more delivery innovation as we explore opportunities for blending modalities to offer optimal learning experiences. We see this innovation as a way to break down silos, allowing Kellogg’s different degree programs and audiences to cross-pollinate to further enrich various student experiences through broadening perspectives and inviting different levels of experiences to each program.

“To see how a full omnichannel learning experience works in practice, consider a new program I have recently launched as a pat of Kellogg’s Executive Education offerings — The Chief Product Officer Program. This program is a true blended experience, featuring 20 online modules, live-streamed virtual sessions conducted by me and guest lecturers, online and in-person electives, a simulation game, mentorship and a three-day in-person networking experience. This program reflects trends shaping the future of professional work. Work is becoming hybrid, and the nature of work will dictate the modality, not the other way around.

“For too long, business schools have accepted the boundaries that separate online from in-person, domestic from international and degree programs from non-degree programs. The forced innovation during the pandemic has shown us how we can break these boundaries to create learning experiences that harness the power of digital technology while retaining the power of community and campus presence.”


Ross’ Ekaterina Astashkina

Ekaterina Astashkina, assistant professor of technology & operations, at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, addresses ongoing supply chain concerns and says shortages and delays are likely to persist in 2022.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have observed a growing mismatch between supply and demand in supply chains,” Astashkina tells P&Q. “The main driver for the mismatch is the change in consumption patterns of consumers in response to imposed lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and a new normal of working-from-home. With more time spent at home, we now allocate a smaller fraction of our disposable income on services (e.g., travel, hotels, restaurants, gyms, wellness) and a bigger one on goods (e.g., home appliances, electronics, home gym equipment, and groceries). As a result, the demand for a wide range of goods went up, creating a so-called ‘demand shock.’ The supply side, in turn, has been severely destabilized on account of labor shortages, factory lockdowns, disruption of maritime ports and terminals, extreme weather events due to climate change, and many others. All this translated into product shortages and shipment delays that we have been experiencing throughout 2021 and which are to persist in 2022.

“What exactly are we looking at in 2022? During the year, we will see the effects of the infusion of federal investment into infrastructure projects that aim to alleviate supply chain issues at U.S. ports, waterways, and freight networks. Some projects have been already set in motion, however, no matter how efficient we are in implementing those, this will not eradicate the supply chain crisis entirely, simply because the key fundamentals of the demand and supply mismatch are not going away any time soon. Only once the longer-term solutions are set in place (e.g., production being moved domestically or to geographically more proximate areas), we can talk about recovery from the crisis, resilient supply chains, and, more importantly, a sustainable future. Notably, these solutions are likely to translate into higher production costs but we get the advantage of more responsive sourcing, lower lead times, and lower carbon footprint. Unfortunately, such long-term solutions will take time to set up and are beyond the coming 2022.

“The shift in consumption patterns caused by the pandemic has also had an effect on how much carbon footprint the world generates. We did see a drop in emissions earlier in the year but, now, we are pretty much back to the pre-pandemic levels. I envision transportation emissions will remain at their low levels, however, overall carbon emissions will continue climbing up as we go through 2022, due to the rising of coal and natural gas emissions.

“Is there any hope in curbing emissions and looking at a better, sustainable future? I like to believe that the pandemic has awakened many consumers. With more time spent at home, we have more visibility into how much waste we really create (be it plastic, paper, electronic, or even food waste); and waste is a huge contributor to global warming. In addition, every next package delivered to our door is yet another reminder of the environmental and social impact of consumerism. We get frustrated with the amounts of packaging that Amazon-like services use to make home deliveries, perhaps, experience a sense of remorse when clicking on the same/next day delivery option when it is not really needed. In the end, the firms chase whatever demand we create. So far, our love for convenience has dominated, putting pressure on companies to compete on time and deliver faster no matter the cost.

“Whether our consciousness will eventually prevail (we’ll start buying less, create less waste, and will be alright with waiting longer) – only time will tell. Definitely not now, not in 2022, but, hey, it never hurts to dream of a better sustainable future.”


Georgetown’s Shelly Heinrich

Shelly Heinrich, associate dean of MBA and MS-ESM admissions at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, says 2022 will bring four main developments for B-schools. The first, she tells P&Q, is a rebound for the MBA.

“A strong economy means people are less likely to pursue graduate management education and, as we’ve seen, a sluggish economy, like the one we’re in and that will likely continue for a few years, has sent people fleeing back to business school,” Heinrich says. “And, in particular, a degree that has a sure return on investment, like an MBA. Round one applications for our MBA has seen a 6% increase for the Full-time program and a 33% increase for the Flex program. This is after two years of 10% growth each.”

Heinrich agrees with many of her colleagues and counterparts that the new year will also bring about a strong focus on sustainability in education. “Prospective students are hyper interested in ESG, sustainability, and, in general, a broader focus on protecting the planet,” she says. “They realize that it’s not just nonprofits that have roles related to sustainability, but all sectors and industries, like real estate, CPG, consulting, etc. So, schools will shift more to this focus, either in case studies, classes or entire degrees.”

The coronavirus pandemic also has sparked a shift in MBA students’ career goals, Heinrich notes, a trend that will continue.

“The world is no longer the same as it was and we need to prepare students for what this new world will look like,” she says. “MBA students are trained to solve real world problems and there are now, post-COVID, problems in healthcare, supply chain, sustainability, the future of work, and AI that weren’t as prominent as before. Schools should be acutely aware of these changes, making sure we’re equipped to train the leaders of tomorrow.”

Finally, employee flexibility demands and expectations are changing rapidly and radically. “Employees want flexibility,” Heinrich says. “A year and a half of being remote has made people realize the balance they want in their life and employers have also realized that work can be done in different modalities. This is a good shift, but we must be prepared to make the shift. And a one-size policy for all different companies doesn’t fit all.”

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