Mitu finally got an offer from ‘Bizcool Business School’ in the US and though it wasn’t in the same league as the other B-schools he had applied to, Mitu decided to go ahead and join. Bizcool was known more for the sporting accomplishments of its students than for their achievements in the corporate world. But that was okay with Mitu as he did not want to wait for another year and repeat the tedious application process.
‘I could’ve read all this from a textbook. An MBA is meant to be a practical degree with focus on real-world hands-on experience.’ Mitu thought to himself in the economics class as the professor drew the X & Y axes on the board and proceeded to draw the demand-supply curve for the umpteenth time to explain a new concept. ‘Why, then, do we end up spending so much time in the class, surrounded by the same sixty students all staring at the board? Considering I could get an entire book on economics for a few hundred rupees, why am I paying Rs 5,000 an hour for this?’
B-schools use a variety of teaching methods to cover the diverse subjects on the course. Most of these are class-based techniques. Occasionally, the B-school may also take the students outside the confines of the class to give them ‘real world’ perspectives of how business is conducted. Knowledge acquisition in an MBA programme is often facilitated using a combination of the following options.
How it Works
Depending on their position on the technology evolution curve, professors may walk into the classroom with a bunch of slides or a flash drive containing the MS PowerPoint presentation and flashes the contents on to the big projection screen. In many cases there are no slides or presentations, just the professor waxing eloquent on the topic for the day. Professors may decide to use audio/ video content as and when required to add variety to the teaching style and suit the topic being covered in that session.
Limitations of the Lecture Method
For a major part of a classroom lecture, there may be very little interaction with the class as the presentation is one-sided. Almost like reading a book. Of course, there might be questions thrown at the students to ensure they are still mentally present in the class. But the fact remains that a lecture usually takes on the characteristics of a monologue.
According to some estimates, the attention span of the average person is roughly around twenty minutes. Of course, this estimate will change depending on which study you refer to. Now, if you consider that these MBA lectures usually are broken up into three-hour capsules (possibly with a fifteen-minute break in-between), it is easy to put two and two together and estimate how much of this actually registers in the minds of the sixty-odd students sitting in the class.
Many of the lecture-based subjects include marks for participation. Ten to twenty per cent of your overall grade may be based on this. The noble intention behind this practice is to encourage students to take an active interest in the topic and interact with the professors and other classmates, thereby increasing the collective learning experience. An MBA class has candidates with significant experience in various industries and disciplines. And in a marketing class on new product launches, if a student who has been a marketing manager speaks up about the personal challenges in this area, it raises the learning value tremendously.
Grading class participation, as you would imagine, is a completely subjective exercise. A handful of vociferous students are consistently more successful in gaining precious air time in each class with their command over language, diction and delivery, while the rest of the class waits patiently for their turn. At times you wonder if their monologues have any connection with the topic being discussed. The modest soft -spoken ones, who have actually completed all the pre-reading for the class and possibly have valid insights, are the ones who struggle for their precious two minutes per class. Other ways of grading students include individual submissions, group presentations and written examinations.
How it Works
Case studies are actual or fictional examples of issues faced by real organizations in different areas. For instance, a case study might focus on a marketing dilemma that an automobile company is facing while launching its latest model in the American and European markets simultaneously. Should it position the new model as a premium brand or a mass market option? How would this decision influence its pricing, advertising and distribution strategies? In contrast, another case may focus on an operational issue and involve supply chain-related details.
Limitations of the Case Study Method
All information required to analyse case studies is expected to be contained within its pages (the length may vary from two pages to over sixty). Some professors may allow students to access information sources external to the case study. This would include Internet-based research on the company, its competitors, the dynamics and trends within the industry that the company operates in and other data relevant to the case. Other professors may disallow this practice as it puts students with superior research skills and information access at an advantage when compared to the rest of the class. As the focus is more on how students analyse a given set of parameters rather than assessing research skills, this approach may make sense. Case studies tend to follow a similar pattern:
Study problem > > Gather related data > > Analyse information > > Propose solution( s)
However, this is hardly how the real world operates. In many real-life situations, the problem isn’t usually pre-defined. In fact, whether there really is any problem in the first place, is a matter that can be debated.
How it Works
This is where each student either chooses a topic of personal interest or is provided one by the professor, and carries out a detailed analysis of one or more key issues within that topic. The nature of individual projects can vary considerably, from being theoretical and research-oriented to being highly hands-on and practical.
As an example, an individual project in marketing may include a study of consumer behaviour while buying a product or a service. The exercise may entail actually reaching out to the target consumers and conducting a survey. The results of the survey are then analysed by the student to discover trends and patterns within the responses.
In the same area, another student may decide to study historical data from Internet-based information on product sales, growth trends and pricing strategies of existing products and then extrapolate these findings to any new product with similar characteristics.
The evaluation of such an individual project is based on the issues identified, the approach adopted for the study, the credibility of data gathered, the depth of analysis, evidence provided to support the hypotheses and the structure of the final report.
Limitations of the Individual Project Approach
In some schools, the individual project is provided as an alternative to an internship. For a majority, this is part of the numerous other assignments they are saddled with. This means the student may not be in a position to devote the time and energy to do justice to the topic, in spite of their best intentions. In order to meet the tight deadlines, the scope often gets sacrificed, the quality gets compromised and it just ends up as another tick mark on the list.
How it Works
‘In the corporate world, you will end up working with teams,’ they tell you. ‘So it is important that we add the element of team play in the MBA course as well.’ Sounds logical, you say. Before you know it you find yourself in a team of five persons from diverse educational and professional backgrounds. As a team you are expected to work on the assignment and submit a common paper or make a common presentation.
Limitations of Group Assignments
The best thing about teamwork is you have others to share the workload. But if you think this distribution of work happens equally then you are wrong. You may end up thinking this is the worst possible combination of workers and freeloaders you’ve ever seen in a team setting.
How it Works
A famous business leader has launched, run and sold several businesses to earn the title of ‘The Serial Entrepreneur.’ And your professor thinks you’d learn a lot by listening to him talk about his own experiences. How did he get started? How did he come up with the idea of cars-running-on-water? Who gave him the initial money to get his concept off the ground? What hurdles did he face while chasing his dream? You think it is an exciting opportunity to see and hear one of you childhood idols speak on a topic of interest for you.
Limitations of Guest Lectures
Generally, guest lectures are scheduled for an hour or two. This is then followed by a reception to allow students to interact with the guest and ask questions that s/ he may not have covered during the lecture.
You can imagine how much content can get crammed into this time. It is just plain impractical to do complete justice to any topic in that time. So the guest ends up taking a very small niche topic to focus on or rattles away at breakneck speed to gain as much ground as possible in a very short time frame. Both alternatives are less than perfect, as you’d agree. There may be the rare case of a student who draws major inspiration from this talk and goes on to achieve something substantial based on a key learning from this lecture. For the majority of the class, apart from the thrill of hearing a celebrity speak, there is little value-addition.
How it Works
You have stared at the classroom walls for so long now that you can point at the exact location of each crack and crevice blindfolded. It is high time you took the learning outside the confines of the classroom. The professor has good relations with a shoe-manufacturing company and arranges for a factory tour, so you can see for yourself how shoes are made.
Limitations of Industry Tours
Factories can be very complex and if you talk to a few of the workers on the shop-floor, they’d tell you they’ve been working there for several years and are still unsure of how the entire process works. Of course, they might have been exposed only to a small part of the entire process and may have never cracked the GMAT or CMAT. The bottom line is that these tours can at best act as a tool for creating awareness and adding a dose of reality to the learning process.
Your profile is unique. So are your needs and your expectations from the MBA experience. So where does the MBA stand, as far as knowledge transfer is concerned? B-school education, to a large extent, depends on providing theoretical grounding across disciplines. Your exposure to your teachers will be limited mostly to classroom interactions and possibly a few extra-curricular activities outside the classroom. Of course, some faculty members may be more approachable than others.
Good schools attract good professors with the skills and the inclination to go beyond bookish knowledge. They can inspire and motivate MBA students to start looking at business from new perspectives. Mediocre schools may not be able to attract the best teachers and this will, in turn, adversely impact the level of education imparted in these institutions.
Saved by the Bell (Inside the Class)
You’ve struggled with the decision (to go in for an MBA or not), convinced (brainwashed?) yourself into seeing value in it, endured the tedious application process, swum through the tons of paperwork, stopped bothering about the huge debt that will be staring you in the face, bid goodbye to your near and dear ones, sold off your old car, and finally found your way into the classroom.
It’s been one hell of a ride, you think, hoping it would be smooth sailing from this point onwards. And then, within the first week, it’s time for a reality check. As if the pre-reading list of books that you hauled all the way from home wasn’t enough, you get a whole lot of new material dumped on you right in the first week. More books, photocopies, case studies, specially coloured sheets that look like questionnaires, feedback sheets. This is the material that you’d have to digest over the next couple of weeks (no, not the entire year as you probably assumed after looking at the pile!).