The Business School whose courses compete with Netflix

To inform, educate and entertain. This excerpt from the BBC’s mission statement, as defined by Royal Charter, might as well be the motto of the NEOMA Business School in France.

One of the country’s leading business schools with more than 70,000 alumni, it has built a reputation for not only offering a range of high-quality bachelor’s, MBA and master’s programs at its campuses in Paris, Rouen and Reims, but the triple-accredited school runs also ahead of the game in delivering innovative new learning models powered by VR, the metaverse and AI.

And while Netflix’s disruptive business model is a popular Harvard Business School case for discussion in the MBA classroom, the appeal of Stranger Things, Squid Games, Bridgerton, and Wednesday is also a source of reflection for business educators.

“When students are home, we think our main competitor is not another business school, but Netflix,” explains Delphine Manceau, dean of NEOMA. “They can drop out of college and just get on with streaming services. So our courses should be as engaging as a Netflix show.”

In January, the school announced a series of new “iLearning” courses that aim to be just that. The letter “i” is not only a nod to the iconic tech giant Apple, but is also meant to signify words like “impactful”, “immersive” and “interactive”. Each student is treated as the protagonist of an adventure, with tough decisions to make along the way.

How professors can keep their students engaged when they are not physically present on campus is especially relevant in the post-pandemic era, where the popularity and availability of remote learning has surged.

NEOMA had already launched a permanent 100% virtual campus in 2020 – the first European business school to do so. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are tools regularly used in the programs to assess each student’s performance, help generate resources for collaboration and evaluation, and assist with case studies.

“The beauty of the online campus is that there are no boundaries and students from all over the world can get started very easily. For example, we organize a day with all our international academic partners, so that 400 universities from all over the world can introduce themselves to our students. These kinds of events would cost a lot to physically organize, and the carbon footprint would be disastrous,” emphasizes Manceau.

Of course, the virtual campus was a cornerstone in NEOMA’s response to the Covid pandemic, when travel restrictions prevented many international students from returning to France.

“That was the first phase in which the virtual campus was central, because all classes were online and it was an alternative to Zoom. But now that we’re back on site, we’re trying to come up with new pedagogical applications for the campus. For example, our Executive MBA has tracks in China and some in Europe, and they work together very easily on the virtual campus,” explains Manceau.

The school has taken the lead in remote delivery and is already leveraging the experience of the past three years for the next version of the virtual campus. But Delphine Manceau is determined not to give up the traditional face-to-face classroom experience for technological advancements. The three French campuses are set up with top-notch pedagogical equipment, including augmented learning rooms, creativity and simulation rooms, trade rooms and language labs.

“For us, it’s really not about technology replacing face-to-face education. I think technology is here to make people more effective and relevant. This applies to data, which helps many companies make the right decisions. It’s also true for professors: If they have data on student profiles, they’ll be more relevant in the way they teach face-to-face, Manceau says. “What’s important is that we’re going in different directions, combining the best of each technology to complement the stimulating learning environment of the Reims, Rouen and Paris campuses.”

Delphine Manceau’s positive attitude toward implementing new technologies that enhance rather than replace the learning experience stems from a genuine interest in people, which is one of her favorite things about being a business school dean.

“What I like most is that as universities and business schools, we are the first to share the goals of each new generation. So we observe the changes in society before they actually happen,” she says.

“Young people have really changed in five years. It has accelerated with the pandemic. Changing technology now plays a key role in our operations, ways of working in companies and the challenges we face in society, changing what we teach and how we teach it. I think it’s a great time to run a business school because it’s not always easy, but you’re right in the middle of what’s happening.”

While the power to influence the future of business is a great responsibility, she maintains an optimistic outlook. She sees a strong desire to be changemakers in the students who come to NEOMA for their personal and professional development.

“I think they are very concerned about the future of the planet. They are sometimes angry about the way things have gone in the past years and decades, sometimes centuries. But in every generation there are contradictions. They want to enjoy life, and how can you blame them? These people were cooped up at home with their parents as teens when, essentially, you want to go out, meet your friends, and live your own life,” she says.

“So this has changed their relationship with time. They want to make an impact. There is a tension in this generation between striving to be long-term changemakers and their relationship to time that I think is different from previous generations. I think we have a key role to play in turning this ambition and aspiration into something positive.”

However, Manceau believes that business schools and universities should also make provision for students who feel anxious, depressed or overwhelmed. Last spring, NEOMA announced two new student well-being initiatives. “D-Stress on Demand” is a series of virtual reality workshops that supports students in overcoming fears that can hinder their learning and later careers, such as fear of flying, large crowds or public speaking. “Feel good on demand” consists of several online interactive modules, accessible 24/7, covering different aspects of well-being: sport, nutrition, personal development, etc.

“The year before the pandemic, we created a wellness center at NEOMA, which was quite new for a French business school. They have been around in the US for a very long time. I think it’s very important that we help students thrive while they study because if we succeed, this well-being will be maintained when they join a company for the next step in their career. We know how important the early years of adulthood are for the rest of your life,” says Manceau.

Caring for the mental well-being of students is a critical part of the school’s efforts to increase the diversity of applicants for its programs. The other major area of ​​support is financial. Since 2008, NEOMA has partnered with student associations on the Reims and Rouen campuses to provide mentorship to high school students from disadvantaged areas in France. The aim is to help them realize their higher education ambitions and climb the ‘ropes of success’, as the name of the program means in English.

“The first thing you can do to improve social diversity is to make money available to help students. We have made a very public commitment to say that no student should drop out of NEOMA for financial reasons,” says Manceau. She explains that part of this commitment involves plans to double the school’s budget for scholarships within the next five years.

“It’s also a lot about the psychological barriers that are there. Too many young people don’t even consider applying to top business schools like ours, and they don’t even contact us to know about the scholarship policy, so there’s no chance for us to show them otherwise.”

As one of the most prominent female deans in Europe, Delphine Manceau is also strongly committed to gender diversity at all levels of the institution. “I am very proud that we now have 45 percent women in our faculty. That clearly stems from a policy that our leadership team is really pushing to hire more women. I think it also helps to be a female dean.”

Another priority for the NEOMA Dean is to help students, especially female students, better negotiate their salary. “We encourage them to try not to make gender-based career choices because there are still a lot of stereotypes. But again, it’s a long journey.”

The dean of a business school naturally has a great deal of authority and interest, and the institution’s many stakeholders want to hear what they have to say. Their involvement in social media allows deans to even shape an institution’s perception, and this is true of Manceau, who has a significant professional online presence.

But what is the secret to getting these successful online followers? Manceau does it herself, which is important to her. ‘I don’t have anyone to do it for me. I think we are ambassadors for our school, but we are also ambassadors for management, for higher education. Usually I try to share information I find relevant about NEOMA, but also about higher education in general. I think many young people, potential students and their families lack information about management and higher education.”

If a clear picture emerges, it is that of an institution that is constantly implementing and leveraging innovations in technology, but with a very human core. NEOMA’s recent launch of their 2023-2027 strategic plan is aptly titled “Engage for the Future” as it aims to continue the school’s momentum in transforming its pedagogy, community impact and student services.

Speaking with Delphine Manceau, it is clear that she is at the heart of this strategy, embodying the school’s vision while continuing to strengthen NEOMA’s position as an innovative force in higher education.

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