The Right Approach to Education in Business Schools
In this article, Professor Chandra Kant explain the three approaches to imparting education in MBA colleges using the analogy of carpentry. While there is no one right or wrong method, and ideal MBA program should adopt and mix of all the three approaches.
To learn to make a chair, there are three approaches.
I can teach you how to make a chair in theory and tell you a lot more about wood, types of chairs, design etc. This allows me to teach you a lot of things, and you gain knowledge about chairs, its history and how to make them. You can know all about chairs in a short amount of time and you would feel that you are getting value for money.
But you too can read a book (maybe not as many) to get the same knowledge.
You need a buyer who wants your knowledge instead of him reading a book. So you are substitute for his time. You are his google. You can use methods and tools that you learnt in different and creative ways. You are paid for your creativity.
If a chair needs to be made, your buyer will tell you to get it made and either you will micromanage the carpenter or try it yourself. The first chair created will be terrible. You may not be able to communicate to the carpenter and he will make a chair as perhis belief since he did not understand you or thinks you don’t know anything or does not want to listen to you.
This is what most of the business schools do, even the top MBA colleges in India.
I can ask you to make a chair and learn from your mistakes. Since making a chair is physical, it takes time. That means you will learn very few things in the limited amount of time but you have more expertise in these few things.
The buyer knows that you have made a chair and if needed you can make a decent chair. However, the buyer may not need a chair. Also you cannot be his Google so he has to spend time himself to learn something, or ask you to learn something and then tell him. Both ways, a lot of time is spent on too few things. You are being paid for your expertise. If the buyer wants a different type of chair, you may not have expertise in it.
If a buyer is clear he wants carpenters who can build a chair, he will want you. When he asks you to make a chair, you will have better rapport with the carpenters because you can roll up your sleeves and help build. You will also create more realistic project plans.
This is what most students want. But then what is the difference between engineering students and polytechnic students?
I can tell you where you can read the theory and then discuss how someone (the subject) else made a chair. You can go through the process, using your theoretical knowledge and making comments on the process. I can add practicality based on my experience. So you learn from my experience of making a chair, your thoughts about making a chair, and the subject’s process of making a chair. So you learn from two persons who have made chairs, and clarify your thought process. I can also ask you how else to make a chair, and that will promote creativity. Drawbacks are that you need to learn the theory yourself – as without this background, you will not understand what is going on, I need to have done this before, and you will get your hands dirty only virtually, not physically.
This is the case method, which requires equal participation from the student and me.
The buyer needs to know that you have seen how a chair is made, you have discussed with 2 carpenters what can go wrong, what went right etc. And you have a lot of knowledge about a lot of topics with some practical experience.
What is the right approach?
The answer to the above questions is debatable. Business schools generally follow the first or the third approach and so students barely get any hands on experience during their MBA course. But only hands on experience is also not the right approach. So the ideal MBA program should include a mix of all three approaches.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Prof. Chandra Kant, is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta and currently, a senior professor at Indus Business Academy, one of the top MBA colleges in India. He teaches, change management, business leadership and Self Management.