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Teaching Methodologies

It is primarily important to realize that good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. This therefore requires a highly motivated and enthusiastic individual to be entrusted with a teaching role. Good teaching for adult learning is also about listening, questioning, being responsive to participants and treating them as individuals. Also, each class or group is different, so any instructor attempting to roll out a standard approach irrespective of the audience will definitely fail irrespective of the methodology adopted. One must remain flexible, ready to experiment with new ideas and must possess the confidence to react and adjust to changing circumstances. A good instructor cares and nurtures his/her participants and strives to develop their minds and talents.

Other aspects of teaching that are often ignored are style, humor and the notion that learning must also be fun.

For ages education was mainly focused on memory. This faculty has been taxed to the utmost, while the other mental powers had not been correspondingly developed. Students have spent most of their time laboriously crowding their mind with knowledge, very little of which could ever be utilized when actually needed. In a way I was a product of this approach to learning in my younger days. Studying poems by heart, remembering definitions of terms, formulae and so many other things which have long been forgotten over the years was the standard approach. Having said this, on a global scale, traditional teaching methods, where students are expected to remember through memory are still noticeable especially in Asian countries like China and Vietnam. It is indeed a challenge, even at MBA level in these countries to expect students to use critical thinking and to develop their own ideas and conclusions; it conflicts with their educational background where teachers / professors were never challenged and therefore they are afraid and uncomfortable to express independent thought.

The three primary teaching methodologies used in a typical MBA program would include; lecture and discussion, case study, and experiential learning. Each of these methods caters to a different learning style, and has specific skills and topics which it develops best. The goal at most business schools is to optimally combine these methods so as to best prepare students for the variety of challenges they will encounter in the business world.
Lecture and Discussion
Lectures and discussions are the typical traditional university methods of teaching theory to students. Nearly all students would have encountered these methods during their educational path and will be familiar with the processes: The professor leads the class, explaining theories while students take notes. In addition to the lecture portion, time is usually dedicated to discussion of the subject or a question and answer session will follow. Most MBA courses fall into this lecture-and-discussion format, with some putting most of the emphasis on the lecture and others focusing more on discussion. While MBA students can customize their business degree by choosing specific electives, most programs have a core curriculum of required MBA courses that will be delivered via the lecture-discussion method. Although lectures can be seen as the direct delivery of information from professor to student, there are drawbacks to the method that discussion may not be able to offset. Nonetheless, lecture and discussion remain the backbone of MBA courses.

Despite their status as the main building block of education, lectures do have their drawbacks. Even with a good lecturer leading a class, some students — non-auditory learners, students with short attention spans, weak note-takers and others — may have difficulties picking up the material. Having the chance for discussion, however, allows students to provide feedback and ask questions about concepts they may not have understood during the lecture. Active participation in discussion sessions can help students overcome some of the drawbacks of the lecture method of teaching. Also, this method does not necessarily teach critical thinking or real-world applications.

This method emphasizes student participation and leadership rather than professor-led lecture and discussion. In a typical MBA case study, students analyze a business scenario, consider the possible options for action and attempt to recommend the best solution or plan. This methodology prepares MBA students for actual situations they may encounter in their future careers as managers and leaders. Cases teach them to make measured decisions, consider a problem from various angles, and work effectively with their peers as leaders and teammates. This method places the emphasis on participation rather than instruction; in fact, professors can simply act as moderators, steering student-dominated discussion and debate, asking appropriate questions and judging the class’ performance.

Because case discussions often place students in groups to work together in crafting the best solution, this method encourages teamwork and collaboration. The case study method molds students into decisive leaders and team members. These advantages have made MBA case studies essential to business schools across the globe. In fact, some business schools have made case studies the dominant part of their curriculum.

Experiential learning attempts to apply theories to real-world situations. This is not to say that all experiential learning occurs outside the classroom, but rather that its method is to use real experiences — even if those are examples or simulations — to educate business students. Unlike the lecture and discussion methods, which focus on theory, experiential learning examines these theories in a more practical context, encouraging students to learn by doing. Examples of experiential learning include team challenges, simulations, field work and extracurricular activities. Theories should not be thought in a vacuum; they must eventually be applied to real world situations. Thus, many MBA programs include experiential learning courses in their curricula to help students apply abstract concepts in real world settings and to prepare them to take action.  This methodology must always be applied as a supplement to other methods and never exclusively. This method provides excellent networking opportunities, connecting students with one another, and with established companies and business practitioners. Undoubtedly, this method requires a lot of administrative support as it might require collaborations with businesses and the planning of activities. The larger a class, the harder it becomes to manage this approach.

Two major problems are tied to traditional training methods; Cost (absence of staff, training facilities etc...) and Timeliness (Access to experts, finding knowledge, remembering). We need to ensure that training methods are adopted to teach people who need to learn at the speed of business.

Charles Jennings informs us that learning is a 70 – 20 – 10 approach. We learn about 70% of what we know through experience and practice on the job, 20% through other people and through conversations and networks and only 10% from formal instruction. This undoubtedly challenges the straightjacket approach of traditional formal classroom teaching within work environments. Unfortunately the human brain does not retain as much as we would wish it to. One month after formal instruction the brain might retain only 25 % of what was learnt unless that learning is put into practice. The shocking part is that 50% can be lost within an hour. As a lecturer myself, I notice this phenomenon when delivering relatively long lectures. By the end of a 3 hour session, asking students questions on what was covered in the first hour could draw blank faces or at best one word responses as others scramble through their notes trying to remember what exactly was covered. So how can people’s performance improve if they are forgetting what they are learning?

Based on the research of Edgar Dale, the originator of the “Cone of Learning”, after two weeks we tend to remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear (watching a movie, a demonstration), 70% of what we say (discussions, talks, presentations) and 90% of what we do (doing the real thing).

In on-the-job training it is so much easier to put participants to task and expect them to practice what has been learnt. In fact it is essential that this is part of the training plan in the first place.

This is why it is extremely challenging to make participants “do things” within University environments as ultimately there is no “job” where the participant can go and practice. Simulation and role-plays are the next best substitute.

Technology is making us educators all re-examine the structure of our schools and universities, the kinds of knowledge and learning they reward, and how that learning can be tracked. We are at a turning point:  technology is here to stay.  The only thing that is certain is that we will have to adjust to how it changes us.

Technology has definitely played a key role in my international lecturing experiences.  Distance is not an issue anymore. Communication with students before and after formal classes, organizing skype discussions, group emails, using Moodle as a platform to circulate reading material, receive assignments and post questions to students in forum discussions have revolutionized the way we can interact globally. I have been able to supervise geographically distant students as they work through their thesis papers as well as having students browse the internet in class to seek information on specific topics being discussed has proven to be extremely engaging for people who today have been brought up in a digital world.

People no longer have any excuse that they cannot learn something that is important for them to learn. No longer can we say that we do not have access to information or that we do not have time to attend classes. Learning can happen in so many different formats. As long as we are willing and motivated to learn we will find the best platform and methodology to suit our needs.

Educators must also keep up with the times, ensuring that their classes are stimulating and truly encouraging students to want to learn. The results can be extremely rewarding for both student and instructor alike.

Last modified onSunday, 18 May 2014 19:56
David J Dingli

David J. Dingli is the managing consultant of Resource Productivity Consulting Services, a management consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, operational efficiency improvements and management development & training. ( He is  also an Assistant Professor with Maastricht School of Management, The Netherlands and has lectured at MBA level in 27 countries throughout Asia, Africa, South America and Europe.

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