April 29, 2012

Business Schools Don’t Need to Create More Content, Rather They Need To Curate More Situational Business Contexts

Think about going on an exotic vacation to an island in the Caribbean. You have never been to that island and you are keen to learn more about it. You read all the travel books, brochures and online reviews you can find. You talk to others who may have been to the island. 

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Is this a practical exercise? 
Most likely it is. 

But does all this content based inquiry substitute for actually being there feeling the heat on your face and the sand between your toes? 
More than likely, not. 

The only way to truly experience the island is actually visiting it. Traditional business education suffers a similar challenge. A professor dictates from the front of the classroom and students scrupulously take notes. 

Case studies are analysed, papers are assigned and exams are taken. New content points are learned, but they are often learned in a way that does not situate them in context. In short the content-driven classroom delivery format lacks the contextual richness of practical application and experience. 

Business schools today are overly invested in conveying content about tasks we have figured out how to do (productive learning) and under-invested in the development and sharing of insights around tasks we have not yet figured out how to do (generative learning). While productive learning focuses on teaching topical content, generative learning engages students in authentic situations that enable them to grasp an overarching business context. These two types of learning have very different form-factors and philosophical foundations. 

Productive learning is professionally instructed while generative learning is situationally constructed. Business education has excelled in providing productive learning. However, we have failed to help students ‘connect the dots’ by helping them make sense of the overall business context within which the modernday enterprise competes and creates value. In short, business schools don’t need to create more content but rather they need to curate more situational business contexts. 

What does this look in practice? 
As part of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business Cross Continent programme, students travel to six different locations around the world. In Delhi, we not only have a classroom session where students learn about the tensions and transitions in India’s dynamic economy. In addition, they head to the streets to interview different stakeholder groups and find out for themselves the reality on the ground via visits to companies and interactions with leaders from the region. 

They then come back and report on their findings and together they generate new insights based on their on-theground experience in the region. 
By ‘thinking outside of the classroom’ we have developed an educational form-factor that blends topical content and situational contexts to create a truly embedded and connected learning experience for tomorrow’s global leaders of consequence. 
(The writer teaches in the school’s Cross Continent programme, which features residencies in India, among other parts of the world) 


  1. Thank you
    The information you shared is very informative.

  2. The main reason behind the increase in management students is that it is the most highly paid job.

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  3. interesting post, pretty much covered it all for me, thanks.

    Business School


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