Churn inside the Classroom

How does a business school deliver concepts and entire courses that speak to the rapidly emerging needs of various industries, especially the newer ones, without compromising on academic standards? How does it compete against alternate sources of learning that deliver content that have greater appeal as more immediately relevant to the needs of industry? G. Sabarinathan, PhD, explores the issue

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled The YouTube Effect.  I had articulated my hypothesis about the future of the delivery of learnings inside the classroom.  The light heartedness in the post aside, it was a view that I had come to after a fair bit of reflection on what I had experienced inside the classroom.

I have been just as intrigued about the future of the curriculum in business schools.  Calls for a change in the b-school curriculum date back to a time well before Chat GPT was unveiled to mankind as a disruptive marvel.  For example, around three years ago, I was privy to a discussion on what managers expected from a business school curriculum.   Without giving away specifics, a more general sense I took away from those discussions was that managers wanted students to be taught about more contemporary topics such as block chain, fintech, crypto, algo trading and so on, so that they would be better prepared to hit the ground running.

Two recent developments, in particular, prompt me to write this post.  One of them is an article I came across recently that you can read at this link below3.  The article highlights the need for reimagining the business school curriculum, to use a contemporary language.  Second, I had occasion to look at the website of an educational initiative that proposes to impart what it considers much needed management education to start founders or aspiring founders.

The origins of modern management education

Two reports published in 1959 are believed to have led to the modern business school curriculum4.  The business school curriculum has not faced as massive an existential crisis as it seems to now, since the publication of those reports.

I do not write this post as a scholar on management education.  There is a large volume of literature that has emerged since those landmark reports of 1959 for those who wish to get a scholarly perspective.  This literature has examined the progress and relevance of management education through numerous lenses.  My endeavour, through this post, is to present a few observations of mine as a teacher in a b-school who has participated in related conversations through my role as an academic administrator, as part of curricular reviews and as an observer who loves to read and learn about developments in this space.

Sources of learning in a business school curriculum

Learning for the student inside the b-school classroom broadly originates from three sources.  One, the teacher who is often an academician, imparts learnings from wisdom packaged and codified in textbooks, learned articles and other instruments of pedagogy like teaching cases.  Second, the instructor can also on occasion be a practicing manager or entrepreneur who brings lessons from her experiences “in the trenches” of business warfare.  Third, students learn from peers who bring experience from their pre-business school employment.  And finally, students learn from the field through internships and projects, with or without guidance from a teacher.

Of the above, the academician serves as the mainstay for imparting learnings in most business schools that have a reasonable standing among learners as well as employers or recruiters.  Those schools also draw on practitioners and entrepreneurs to varying degrees, to complement the inputs from the academician.  Increasingly, business schools are beginning to incorporate learning from field-based projects, internships and international study tours.  The effectiveness of this last channel above, as far as I know, is yet to be tested, its romantic appeal aside.

The formation of an academic body of knowledge

The academician or researcher in a business school builds her body of knowledge in ways that are similar to the knowledge creation process in other sciences.  She observes phenomena in the world of business.  The phenomena lead to questions which the researcher then seeks to answer by analysing data from across a sample of firms, industries, regions or countries, (referred to as cross sectional data), or over a period of time  (referred to as longitudinal data) or by studying in depth individual firms or industries or individual protagonists in decision making situations.  In a third, but somewhat different approach, management researchers also develop models about decision situations.  They test the validity or applicability of the findings of the model using actual historical data.

The researcher then develops theories that are generalized observations or inferences.  Such theories help the student of management to make predictions about outcomes in similar decision circumstances, leading to what might be considered better informed decisions or choices.  Often those theories enable the manager to organize facts or knowledge in a way that lends itself to more effective analysis and interpretation.