Business Schools Try to Find Their Way With Generation Z

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Good-bye Millennials. Hello Generation Z, the next demographic group entering business schools. These young people were born into a digitally connected world and don’t remember a time without the internet, which makes them unique and somewhat foreign to most older administrators, professors, and even some other students on campus.

As a result, top business schools are aiming to learn about this latest batch of students—and cater to them.  Discover what is happening in response to the arrival of this new demographic.

At attention

One of the challenges schools are facing is learning how to keep the attention of these students. They are supposedly distracted by digital devices and are used to immediate gratification. Many educators have looked to studies that show today’s students only pay attention for the first 10 minutes or so of any lecture, and that people only spend about eight seconds on a website before turning to the next search result. The consensus seems to be that you have to go big or go home because these students simply won’t stay focused.

Obviously, this is a generalization. But it is among the perceptions providing a framework for educators, who are creating a curriculum for the future. This is particularly important to those trying to keep the MBA program alive at a time when many experts are suggesting it’s on life support.

While at least one study featured on Physiology.org has argued that the 50-minute lecture is still viable, there is universal recognition that applying various teaching methods probably yields the best results.


As a result of this concern, business schools are turning to novel ways to educate students, even in graduate programs. The traditional case study seems to be taking more and more of a backseat. The word “edutainment” carries much baggage. Some feel it is a suggestion that younger people cannot handle real work, nor can they be serious-minded. On the other hand, does education have to be stale or boring? Why can’t professors strive to make the delivery of knowledge interesting?

Some programs are aiming to provide a combination of traditional and new methods, like flipping the classroom, so the students become the teachers. Or they are having them take on real-world consulting projects. There are study abroad trips and global projects that have them managing multicultural teams across geographies and time zones.

For years now, schools have had students work in teams on real world consulting projects. These are all responses to the changing needs of the global marketplace. Some are adopting the use of online teaching platforms for entire programs or portions of classes.

However, we all should take a step back. Recently, the Financial Times reported on how many business schools are turning to edutainment. For example, Neoma, the French business school, is employing game culture to bring concepts to life. The FT story includes a description of pricey virtual reality case studies being brought into the classroom.

Teaching the truth

The basis of the FT story was the fact that these young people have grown up alongside Google, the search engine behemoth. As a result, they expect to be able to look up whatever knowledge they need in the moment they need it. So, these business schools are focused on “information sifting,” which refers to teaching students how to decipher truth from fiction with all the information out there.

After all, “alternative facts” have become all too real. But making business decisions based on “alternative facts” doesn’t bode well for the employee or employer. What educators have to rail against is edutainment clouding their judgment when it comes to the facts. They cannot let the entertainment portion of education cloud students’ ability to decipher fact from fiction.

In addition, many say this generation has unrealistic expectations about work and their role in the workplace, especially early in their careers. This is similar to sentiments uttered about Millennials. Therefore, business schools should help them manage their expectations and recognize what real life will really be like post-graduation. A little honesty and hard work are never bad ideas.

What to do

Moving forward, business schools have to come up with the right balance of serious-minded education and a manner of delivery that will allow Generation Z students to take it all in. They are the consumers of this education, so it should conform to their needs and lifestyle. Certainly, business schools have to keep up with the times and employ new technology and the types of experiences students will encounter in the workplace. After all, we need innovative minds to change the world.

However, educators must not fall into the trap of completely replacing teaching with entertainment. That would be a grand folly and could contribute to the further degradation of communication and the breakdown of effective workplaces. While some educators will be teaching rocket science, determining the best way to pass down knowledge is not rocket science.

Using basic reasoning skills and common sense, business schools should figure out the right balance among teaching methods. They have to remember the ultimate goal is producing ethical, worldly, and knowledgeable leaders to take the world into the future. In other words, they can’t just hand over star gamers or believers in conspiracy theories to the leadership pipelines at top multinational corporations. That would be the end of us.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Nunzio Quacquarelli

Nunzio is the founder and CEO of QS. Following completion of his own MBA from the Wharton School, he has gone on to become a leader in education management with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He is truly passionate about education and firmly believes in the QS mission to help young people to fulfill their potential through educational achievement, international mobility and career development. 

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