Even the best students can feel overwhelmed by the hectic pace of a quality MBA programme. Business school requires them to juggle class meetings, coursework, extracurricular activities, internships and research projects – leaving precious little time for the true innovation and creativity so highly valued in today’s knowledge economy.
Maribel Blasco tackles this issue in her award-winning article “Conceptualising curricular space in busyness education: An aesthetic approximation.” She argues that modern-day curricula – business programmes in particular – are becoming increasingly structured and crowded, creating what one of her students termed “a non-stop whirlwind of activity.”
In her research, Blasco argues that students, particularly those in creative and entrepreneurial fields, need “imaginative space,” not constant activity and assignments. She writes, “Learning to think innovatively and creatively, it is widely agreed, requires an environment where there is plenty of space for exploration … so that creators can freely come up with ideas without concerns about results, deadlines or failure.”
MBA programmes often take a highly structured, results-based approach, Blasco says, and are increasingly infected by what she calls “an era of ‘busyness’” in higher education. She proposes more attention to thinking space – creative, cognitive and reflective – in business school curricula, so students can get more out of their studies. Rather than piling on more classroom hours, modules and projects, she argues, programmes should allow students to slow down, absorb and reflect upon what they’re learning, and try out new ideas. To explain the benefits of space, she invokes the metaphor of jazz music: some of the greatest jazz comes from improvisation, which occurs when space is opened up within a song, allowing each instrumentalist to experiment.
One person intrigued by Blasco’s research was Tamim Elbasha, director of Audencia Business School’s full-time MBA, a comprehensive 12-month programme that aims to equip students with broad business knowledge and training through experiential (experience-based) learning. Elbasha believes in continual improvement of MBA curricula to better meet the needs of learners. As he told Le Monde in a recent article on the current state of the MBA in France, “In Nantes [at Audencia], we offer the broadest core courses possible. The idea is to give our students plenty of reflection so that they can take a critical distance from our programme and consider their career path.”
To this end, Elbasha has worked closely with Blasco to implement the concept of “imaginative space” in Audencia’s MBA curriculum – with a goal to reduce feelings of crowdedness and the “whirlwind” Blasco’s student described. He began creating cognitive space by reducing the number of subjects learners study concurrently in a given week. To make this possible while retaining the breadth and depth of the programme, Elbasha designed a system of concentrations in which each learner chooses two areas of focus – innovation or finance, and strategic CSR (corporate social responsibility) or entrepreneurship. This also helps them craft the best possible career portfolio.
Elbasha has also implemented another significant change: learners in Audencia’s full-time MBA now have each course organised in a one-week block from Wednesday to Tuesday, with the weekend break deliberately inserted in the middle to allow for “creative space” and provide greater flexibility and time to develop new ideas. And the programme development won’t stop there; Elbasha has received funding through the Audencia Foundation to study the impacts of these changes, enabling him to make further improvements down the road.
All of these improvements are aimed at one goal: fostering an environment in which learners can gain the skills and experience necessary to thrive in today’s business climate. Meeting this goal wouldn’t be possible without the aid of research like Blasco’s. Audencia is always innovating, and stays up-to-date on cutting-edge research, developing new ways of thinking and learning that set students on the path to fulfilling careers.
For more information on Audencia’s full-time MBA and how to apply, check the programme page.
Blasco, Maribel (2016) Conceptualising curricular space in busyness education: An aesthetic approximation, Management Learning, 47(2), 117-136.
Guiomard, Gwenole (2017) Universités and Grandes Ecoles: Vu de France, Face au MBA, l’exception française, Le Monde 16 Mar.