For decades, MBA graduates from top-tier schools set the standard for cutting-edge business knowledge and skills. Now the business world has changed and MBA programs are changing with it. Increasingly, business educators are questioning conventional business education; and, if communication professionals are to build business brands and corporate reputations, communication education must change too.

Much of today’s academic curriculum is focused on teaching students the tools and techniques of communication. Integrated channel development, social media and new digital techniques are important, but creative and critical thinking skills demand far more attention in the classroom. To stay relevant in the changing environment, programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels need to do more than add a few classes. They need to re-imagine their entire approach. The coming change can be summed up simply:  It’s time to integrate critical thinking skills across all communication disciplines.

This shift will not occur by instinct, osmosis, or luck. It will have to be planned, and begin with an understanding that no element of the newly interdependent world of global communication exists in isolation. This is the kind of mindset that successful business professionals walk around with, but it’s not just business people who need it. Even established communication professionals are required to approach problems quickly, dynamically, and across disciplines as diverse as marketing, data analytics and finance. Communication students who wish to thrive in this new environment must learn how to “connect the dots” between multiple disciplines in order to communicate the nature and impact of the complex problems that characterize our modern business world.

Models for this approach are already appearing, replacing what has been too much siloed thinking.

At the University of Massachusetts, the Communications and Critical Thinking (C&CT) track serves students preparing for communications careers with a unique interdisciplinary course of study. It provides training in the latest media technologies and in timeless communication skills such as presenting good arguments, critical reasoning and logical evaluation of competing opinions.

The University of Rhode Island offers a Critical Thinking course to introduce students to the principles of good reasoning.  Students who complete the course are in a much better position to provide convincing reasons in support of their conclusions, and to identify personal prejudices and other impediments to effective communication.

The next two decades should bring a sea change to communications education. Universities usually change at a glacial pace, but that will not do anymore. Communication curriculums must do more than teach tools and techniques. The traditional elements of a solid education will remain, but our new and rapidly changing business climate creates a need for innovative learning, with communication students actively reconfiguring and reconsidering ideas as circumstances evolve. Institutions that embrace this model will produce communication professionals ready to assume the complex responsibilities of real leadership across global organizations. 


Dr. Norman Booth is Vice President of Education Practice at Coyne PR