13 June 2024

Preparing students today to lead tomorrow’s digital transformation 

Business Education
| The European | Lily Bi

As technology continues to shape modern business strategy, the digital world
demands that graduates hit the ground running, says Lily Bi of AACSB International

Digital transformation – the good, the bad, and the unknown – has been a hot topic in recent years. However, businesses, education leaders, and other industry professionals are still wondering what the future has in store and how they can best prepare for the inevitable changes.

When we consider digital transformation, we need to look closely at how it might be defined. To me, I see digital transformation as meaning “to fully integrate digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how it operates and delivers values to its customers.” Some tools to facilitate digital transformation include AI, blockchain, virtual and augmented reality, and data analytics tools. Each can be used in a variety of ways to help innovate and elevate the business world to the next level of the “new normal” and change what is taught at business schools, as well as the tools used for teaching.

However, many people are still questioning what the new normal will look like as technological advancements are adopted into workplaces worldwide and society is in desperate need of talent that can lead us into the next era of digital transformation. At AACSB – the world’s longest-standing and 

largest business education alliance – our industry reports reveal employers are focused on hiring tech-savvy graduates who are ready to lead in this way. Embracing new technologies will increase operational efficiency, stakeholder value, and spur continuous growth. But technology alone is far from enough, a successful digital transformation requires the leaders to be business-savvy, have the ability to integrate business and technology, and continue to innovate as the market changes. 

Beginning with business education 

If as a leader you’re asking yourself where to begin, then business education is the first place to start. Business schools produce and prepare graduates who are ready to tackle the world’s business and technology challenges. In fact, 84% of business school deans agree that digital transformation will be a much bigger priority for them over the next two years – a figure which was revealed in our recent report, ‘Embracing the Digital Shift: Perspectives on Digital Transformation in Business Schools’. This in-depth report features results from deans, faculty, and IT leaders who were surveyed at business schools around the world. 

The report views digital transformation as “the integration and adoption of digital technology into all areas of business school, including teaching, research, and administration.” It helps identify the challenges and successes business schools are facing in preparing their schools and graduates for the changing world of digital transformation. 

The faculty we surveyed believe by exposing students to technology-enabled learning experiences, they will be prepared to work in an increasing digitally-dependent world. To leverage these technology-based experiences, some schools are utilising augmented reality, like virtual reality (VR). By using VR headsets, students can immerse themselves in real-life business situations, including learning how to discuss difficult topics with their manager, interact in board meetings, liaise with startups, and more. This type of simulation gives students room to fail and try again without suffering real-world consequences. In addition to learning about the tech itself, students learn about human instinct and how to best use it, how to interact with people in different cultural contexts, and how to work cross-functionally across the organisation to achieve a common goal.

While adjusting to demand in changing times, 82% of deans agree that their business school will begin to offer hybrid learning opportunities. While many business programmes were initially launched hastily as hybrid or online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many have realised the numerous benefits of continuing such programmes. One main benefit is that it helps prepare students to work for a company or position that is hybrid or fully remote. The communication skills, time management, and self discipline required for such programmes helps students prepare to face those same challenges in a professional environment. Many businesses will hire on a hybrid or remote basis to help increase productivity and widen their employee search in order to find the best candidates regardless of their location. The businesses that eventually hire these graduates can feel confident knowing their future employees can thrive in a variety of work environments.

To keep up with the rapid changes, some schools are going as far as creating specific degree programmes or microcredentialed programmes focused on skills required for digital transformation. These programmes allow students to be fully immersed in what the digital future looks like. For other students, seeking microcredential programmes or digital badges allows them to continue with their traditional four-year business degree, while enhancing their skills through taking these courses on the side. 

And while the curriculum and learning experience is evolving for students, faculty are also taking on new roles, moving from “sage on the stage” to facilitator, coach, and advisor to students as they introduce more experiential learning and immersive exercises that encourage greater collaboration, problem solving, and analytics skills where students learn by doing. These are high-demand, durable skills that businesses seek in the change-makers and business leaders of the future.

Hands-on experience 

By interacting with businesses, business schools can identify the knowledge and skills needed for future leaders. As business schools continue to innovate their offerings to better prepare students for the future, it’s important that there be enhanced collaboration between business schools and industry. By collaborating with a variety of companies ranging in size and specialisation, business schools will be able to provide real-world, experiential learning opportunities for their students. One of the best ways for students to learn is through doing, and by working directly in these companies as interns, they will be able to learn first-hand what is needed for success later on. They may even see gaps in the market that can be filled by further business education. 

Digital transformation is a cornerstone of modern commercial strategy. The dynamic nature of the digital world requires capabilities such as technical know-how, business proficiency, strategy building, and forward-thinking. AACSB-accredited schools are preparing today’s students with these skills so they can become tomorrow’s digital transformation leaders. I look forward to seeing the ways our graduates positively transform industry and the world as we know it. 

About the Author

Lily Bi is President and CEO of AACSB International. 

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