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).

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