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Universities use ‘conflicts’ to help students learn more about business

Future schools need to be good at designing experiences for students to help them in their career and purpose, Lee Newman from Spain’s IE University said in an interview with VietNamNet.

To discover new teaching approaches that aim to help students become better in their careers, VietNamNet talks with Mr. Lee Newman, Dean of IE Business School and a Professor of Behavioral Science and Leadership at Madrid-based IE University.

IE University has been famous for supporting students to learn through experience. How did you lead your school and your students through the pandemic period?

We focus on experience and the best way to learn through experience is when you have turbulence or friction. When we have difficult moments and work in a team is when we learn. COVID-19 created a lot of friction and turbulence so that was a way to use the difficult situation of the pandemic as a learning experience. 

In terms of the way we teach, we were able to go online and teach in hybrid mode very quickly. We were also open the entire time, except for when Spain was in confinement. We had nonstop education at IE University even throughout the pandemic.

Did the pandemic change your vision of the school?

COVID-19 was a difficult period, but I think education is always critical and that is why we call it “liquid learning”. It means education should be adaptive and flexible like water so that It can adapt to what is happening in the world, or what is happening in your life as a student. I would say nothing has changed in our vision of education. COVID-19 showed us that our approach of liquid learning is very relevant and important.

IE University’s approach to educating the next generation of entrepreneurs is a great example of globalization. What is going to be the biggest change in the global economic landscape that students must prepare for today?

I think that the world of work is changing, it is always changing but it is changing very fast now. The jobs of tomorrow can be very different from the jobs today. We see new jobs being created and traditional jobs being redefined. For us, what is critical is our programs and the skills that we teach students are up to date. We spend a lot of time talking to companies to understand their needs, and then we adapt our programs all the time. 

To answer more directly your question of what students need for the new global reality, we have a new strategy and a new brand for the business school, which we call “The Next Best You ”. The Next Best You is about helping you understand who you are now, and then the next version of you and making that transformation. It involves three elements: your career, your impact, and your purpose. 

The idea of your career is that we have to be relevant and teach people the hard skills specific to all these new jobs. But one of the most important things for students to be in this new global world is your impact, which is the skills you need to make things happen in the workplace. You could be great in finance, journalism, or marketing but you could still not be successful in your company because you cannot sell your editor or your boss on your ideas, or you cannot organize a group of people in a team and motivate them. For us, impact skills, or the ability to think critically and solve problems, are behavioral skills, or learning to be agile and flexible in difficult world. 

The last part of “The Next Best You ” is your purpose. What we see in young people is that they want to work, and they want to have good careers, but they also want their careers in their lives to have a stronger sense of meaning than that of prior generations. People want to work in a way that makes a difference, not just in their job for their company, or their organization, but somehow to the world. Therefore, we are making a critical part of education in IE Business School about what we call “business with purpose”. We want to graduate the next generation of professionals who have strong sense of purpose, either responsibility to the planet or responsibility to other people that you work with. 

What is the next big thing in education? How will you think the next big thing can change and its impact on students?

The big thing that we see happening is “content”. I was just with Khan Academy founder, and they bring free videos to young students all over the world. That is fantastic. But the value of content has a ceiling. Therefore, what we think in the future of education is that the best schools will need to be very good at designing the experience of students to transform them, which is very different from content. 

Many schools think about education as you are in a class in accounting or in marketing. The focus of the class is that “this is the material”, “this is what you need to learn”, and “we will give that to you”. However, I think, in the future, we are going to flip it and say: “What is the experience we can offer you?” That is the best experience for you to learn marketing in the best way. It might be very different from your experience in learning, economics, operations, etc. That is why we have this new strategy, “the next best you”, which is our mission in transforming people from the current you to the next you through education. That is all about designing the experience between those two things. 

How does this new program affect the community of international students with different backgrounds?

We have these diverse students from all over the world. We could bring them from Vietnam, from America, China, Peru, Germany, they are together, and they work in a team of, let's say, six or seven students, what will happen? That is when you get friction and that is great. We have different ways of thinking but we still have to work together to deliver a project. For us, one of the most important things is to turn that experience of turbulence. It is not always about happiness. It is sometimes about conflict. In the end, people realize that they learn from that experience, and they graduate happily. 

It is important to have these kinds of difficult situations. Sometimes we say, “this is probably not going to translate very well”. But we talked about game-changing moments. It is when you say and someone gives you feedback as a team. We want people to have those moments because that is what transforms them. You have to learn business content, you have to learn accounting, marketing, and finance. That is the basic. But what we want to build on that is this great experience when you graduate from our business school to become a very different and better person. Better in career, better in impact, and better in purpose, which are the three pieces of “The Next Best You ”. 

Lan Anh

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