The Graduate Management Admission Council recently held a contest called the Ideas to Innovation Challenge. After reviewing more than 650 entries, the GMAC panel announced its top 20 selections, as reported by Bloomberg Businessweek.

The winning proposal, submitted by Alice Stewart of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, envisions students customizing their business education through the use of “stackable knowledge units.”  Rather than simply completing courses in a pre-defined curriculum, students could take courses in a variety of subject areas, receiving a certificate of completion for each one.  Professors from different disciplines could collaborate to create “micro-curriculums” that blend topics from business, the sciences, and other areas.

Given the rapid pace of change in technology and business practices in the 21st century, Stewart’s idea appears to be an attractive one.  Students planning to work at a medical device firm could supplement their traditional MBA coursework with modules focused on emerging technologies and health care.  Those with an interest in advertising could potentially add multimedia and web design topics to their core marketing courses.

This proposal has inherent challenges as well.  How can universities create incentives to encourage professors in different departments to work together on creating new courses?  Could these blended courses dilute the value of the degree?  Will students try to “game” the system to pursue a less rigorous curriculum, or will they see the benefits of a more tailored, focused approach to education and become active participants in the creation and delivery of relevant courses?

It will be interesting to see how and where Stewart’s innovate idea is implemented.  According to the Businessweek article, universities have until September to apply for funding to implement any of the top 20 proposals.  Stay tuned for the next update on the Ideas to Innovation Challenge!