Can MBA Programs Learn from Yoga?

Here’s an article in the NYT Business section on Harvard Business School’s efforts to create an online offering without eroding the value of their traditional MBA program. The central hitch (aside from the irony of a Business school struggling with a business plan, I guess) is that the MOOC approach, where thousands of people watch the same lecture online, doesn’t work for HBS’s discussion-heavy case study education format. So they’re attempting an elaborate, custom-designed video setup where the professor can create virtual case study discussions. Unsurprisingly, HBS professor Clay Christensen is skeptical:

Professor Christensen, for one, worried that Harvard was falling into the very trap he had laid out in “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” “I think that we’ve way overshot the needs of customers,” he said. “I worry that we’re a little too technologically ambitious.”

What if technology weren’t the answer?  If the case study methodology relies on small discussions, then it seems that the most logical way to grow would be to increase the number of people who are qualified to lead those instructions.  And maybe make it so all those people didn’t have to live in Cambridge.

What I have in mind is a train-the-trainer model akin to what you find in many professional certification programs, or martial arts or yoga study.  There’s a methodology, and the experts in that methodology train others to teach it.  Then the instructors continue their training over the course of their lives, getting better and better and teaching more people.  The “gurus” might all be in Cambridge, but you’d have experts in every major city offering HBS-branded education.

The internet turns out to be a great complement to these sorts of programs, allowing students to locate the expert in their city, or find out about trainings going on in other cities they might like to attend.  Maybe there are week-long intensives on HBS campus.

Eventually, HBS might even phase out the two-year MBA in favor of continuous lifetime learning.  Aren’t we deluding ourselves in thinking that one can become a “master” in two years anyway? True mastery should take much longer.