Thursday, October 23, 2014

Teaching Business Graduates to Apply Theory

Students enter graduate school with an abundance of hopes and enthusiasm to transform themselves into the next guru CEO that transforms companies to great profit. Sometimes that enthusiasm dissipates when they realize the equally abundant amount of work that is necessary to learn the skills needed to achieve that success. The ability of students to understand higher levels of theoretical material and apply that material to solve important problems for “real world” performance is beneficial for life success.  Graduates who know how to understand theory and apply it are worth more than those who cannot.

It is through this application that theoretical models are adjusted to working models that adequately function within the business world. When theories are adjusted and refined they provide a level of feedback that helps to ensure the theory continues to adjust to a more practical end. The development and attempted application of theory is part of the process of business development.

Some students, unfortunately too many students, read information and rephrase it without trying to understand the information at a deeper level. Graduate students should be more like working scholars that read, understand, and apply best practice theories to solve everyday workplace problems. Their ability to move beyond simple citation and regurgitation is important for future growth and success. 

Graduate students should receive their Master Degree Diploma’s with a level of knowledge and skills that transfer to the modern workplace. Unfortunately, many business school students’ graduates lack sufficient writing, interpersonal communication, and critical thinking skills to effectively navigate their work environment (Everson, 2014).  Making them seek relevant information and communicate about it is important for their development.

The use of theory to solve practical problems can have strong business implications that can better bridge the gaps between the business community universities. For example, business and communication students at a large university in the U.S. competed to solve authentic business problems proposed by a Fortune 500 Company (Brozovic & Matz, 2009). The company was impressed with some of the recommendations and implemented them into their operations while students were able to learn how to apply theoretical knowledge. 

Such collaborations between the business and the academic world are unfortunately rare. Higher education has a responsibility to adequately prepare students for successful employment while business should ensure that business colleges are teaching appropriate curriculum that suits their needs long-term needs. Building connections between the two worlds can only be helpful for the development of both.

Students may resent having to look in the library for materials, read those materials thoroughly, and then formulate an opinion on how to apply the concepts but this is vitally important for successful business management. Business is about solving consumer and market problems and those future executives that can apply knowledge to difficult problems are not only likely to be more effective but also increase their value through continuous learning. 

Brzovic, K. & Matz, I. (2009). Students advise fortune 500 company: designing a problem-based learning community. Business Communication Quarterly, 72 (1). 

Everson, K. (2014). Shrinking the business school skill gap. Chief Learning Officer, 13 (9).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Improving Student Outcomes: Using Causal Analysis To Determine Which Interventions Actually Work

Date: November 4 ~ 3:00-4:30pm (Eastern)
Type: online webinar

With the proliferation of interventions in all levels of education, it is imperative to know which interventions actually work to improve student outcomes. As such, it is also important for administrators and instructors alike to know the fundamental concepts of causal analysis, or studies that help determine whether an intervention is actually causing outcomes to improve over time.

This webinar will introduce participants to the basic concepts of experimental design, with a focus on randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-experimental methods, such as difference-in-differences and regression discontinuity designs. We will also discuss the concept of matched comparison designs using propensity scores. This webinar is an introduction to the fundamentals of causal analysis and is appropriate for anyone interested in knowing more about cause and effect. Participants will leave the webinar with an understanding of how causal analysis can be used to improve student outcomes on their campus. 

* Understand how to use causal analysis to assess interventions and improve student outcomes
* Learn the basic concepts of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and why they are considered to be the “gold standard” of causal analysis
* Understand the difference between levels of assignment to treatment and comparison conditions, as well as levels of inference
* Discuss other options for running a causal analysis study if RCTs are not possible
* Discover the importance of measuring baseline equivalence in non-RCT studies

Web address:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Failure to Innovate in Higher Education- A Problem of Low Hanging Fruit

Education is a classical American institution that helps develop intellectual capital to encourage successful national growth. Sometimes institutions can work against their core purpose by failing to grow or develop beyond current limitations. Innovation in higher education is an important predictor of the success of both the higher education institution and the preparedness of a nation. Failure to reach beyond low hanging fruit in higher education causes stagnation and decline in the form of cost overruns and poor outcomes. 

Despite having strong support through state spending, family savings, and student loans the system has increasingly become unsustainable and hasn’t kept up with the life-long learning needs of working families. Throwing more resources into a clunky system that hasn’t changed only prolongs the eventual financial and educational reckoning that will occur if costs start to outstrip revenue. 

Online education has disrupted the assumptions of traditional education and provides a credible modality many government and higher education officials scoffed at just a decade ago. We can call this the process of innovation and implementation (Parker, 2012) whereby new technology creates chaos in the system and then becomes part of the mainstream until the next development occurs and the process starts all over. All developing industries rely on this innovation-implementation model for growth. 

Online education is a trend that reaches across for-profit and not-for-profit higher educational institutions. Students demand for flexibility in their studies should not be ignored. In 2010 enrollment in online courses increased 29% with 6.7 million (1/3 of all students) enrolled in online courses (Jaggars, et. al. 2013). A total of 97% of two-year colleges offer online courses while 66% of post-secondary universities also offer online courses. 

The far majority of schools in engage in online education and it is no longer a disruptive technology. It has grown because the market has demanded it grow. Online education may not offer the front page grabbing sports teams or large buildings that dotted the landscape in the 20th Century but does offer solutions for the 21st Century. This assumes that higher education is more about learning than maintaining tradition without consideration of long-term national costs. 

Experimentation in higher education is absolutely necessary to develop the institution to a higher level of existence. The quality of education is in a continuous process of change where new models influence traditional models by making them more efficient. In turn, innovative development is slowed and improved for mainstream consumption by traditional education stakeholders. There should be a balance of innovation and integration to ensure maximum relevancy of higher education institutions. Innovation and change avoids the need to reach for low hanging fruit that raises the cost and burden on society as a result of not considering long-term interests or risks.

Jaggars, S., Edgecombe, N. & Stacy, G. (2013). What we know about online course outcomes. Research Overview. Community College Research Center, Columbia University.  ED542143

Parker, S. (2012). Theories of entrepreneurship, innovation and the business cycle. Journal of Economic Surveys, 26 (3).

Monday, October 20, 2014

When Opportunities Dry Up-Income Inequality in America

Income inequality is a hot topic that is becoming more troublesome every year as the gap in incomes continues to grow. Fed Chair Janet Yellen discussed on October 17th the growing problem of income inequality and its potential impact on the American Dream. She elaborated on how child resources, higher education, entrepreneurship, and inheritance influence a family’s ability to raise their position in life. Without ensuring that there is sufficient mobility within society there are risks to the founding fabric of opportunity within the country.

Those who are not wealthy are finding it difficult to save money or pass that money onto future generations. At the same time, those at the top of society are discovering that it is not only easier to earn more money but also save that money for their children. Additional time without change seems to aggravate the problem.

Janet Yellen discusses four possible solutions that include early education intervention, affordable higher education, business ownership, and inheritance income.  Each of these points has some influence on whether someone will be successful beyond the natural variations in human skill and abilities. They provide some formation of doable change but are not a complete solution in and of themselves. 

When society invests in children they can give them better opportunities to learn, obtain quality education, and then apply those skills to the market to earn higher wages. Owning a business is seen as another way of generating wealth outside the restricted compensation structures of larger corporations. Helping families invest and pass on their savings to the next generation is helpful for improving positions over time. 

Pure wealth distribution whereby money is taxed or donated by major corporations or wealthy individuals will not help society grow in the long run.  Contrary to popular opinion, it may actually do the opposite by lowering the need to achieve and succeed based upon one’s individual efforts and merits. It can damage empowerment and societal development of skill and ability which is needed to compete as a nation. 

Fundamental change runs deeper than simply improving skills and ability in isolation and delves into the nature of how opportunity is created and rewarded in society. By focusing on rewarding core competencies and skills the effects of income inequality can be lessened (Cobb & Stevens, 2014). Where individuals have made effort to learn new skills there should be corresponding increases in income. 

Income inequality causes the lowering of incentives for citizens who desire to engage the economic system fully. Where cynicism grows also grows perceptions that effort doesn’t equal reward. When lower income classes of the nation experience lost opportunity their empowerment declines as success is something outside of their control. A sense of fatalism takes over.

As income inequality grows social instability rises as a larger demographic of the nation feels that their needs are not considered, government doesn’t adequately represent them, and success is something they will never obtain. A study of 33 democracies worldwide found that income inequality and regime stability were inversely related (Muller, 1988). Income inequality raises the natural conflicts over resources while the system itself becomes less stable as these classes rub against each other.

The rising influence of the U.S. as a powerhouse of manufacturing, innovation, and technology offers opportunities to re-balance the ship for smoother sailing ahead.  Encouraging Americans to become more skilled and educated is helpful in developing home grown talent that keeps jobs within the country. Wages should keep pace with improvements in abilities to ensure that the nation retains its position as a nation of opportunity for the vast majority of people. Income inequality is one sign that changes in how we govern and the very nature of politics and commerce must adjust to ensure the continuance of egalitarian principles the country was founded upon.

Cobb, A. & Flannery, S. (2014). Those unequal states: corporate organization and income inequality within the U.S. Academy of Management and Annual Meeting Proceedings, p381-389. DOI: 10.5465

Muler, E. (2014). Democracy, economic development, and inequality. Democracy, economic development, and income inequality. American Sociological Review, 53.