Premier Business Schools use a mix of five methods of teaching:

  1. Lecture method,
  2. Case study,
  3. Computer simulations, and
  4. In-company projects.
  5. Field Immersion
  1. Lecture method – In this classical teaching method, the teacher gives long-drawn lectures and the students listen and take extensive notes. Students generally participate in the process, only infrequently, when they can understand that they have not understood something. The teachers, and not all of them, take a few steps to make this method more beneficial – they can dictate what they consider important or give names of a few books that students can refer to for additional reading. Some teachers make the process more interactive or interesting by asking a few questions to force the drowsy students to pretend that they are alive and throbbing. The Lecture Method is more suited to learning basic, technical disciplines such as finance, operations, and accounting, which are more easily learned by attending lectures, reading structured textbooks and doing relevant exercises. At the same time, any over-reliance on the Lecture Method by a B.School is not desirable.
  2. The Case Method or Case Approach – Devised and used by the Harvard Business School since its founding in 1908, the Case Method has proven its ability to develop the elusive Business Perspective that all Business Schools claim to inculcate.

When the Harvard Business School was started, the faculty quickly realized that there were no textbooks suitable for a graduate program in business. Their first solution to this problem was to interview leading practitioners of business and to write detailed accounts of what these managers were doing. These detailed accounts were called cases. Nowadays, cases are generally written by business school faculty with particular learning objectives in mind and are refined in the classroom before publication. Cases are often accompanied with additional relevant documentation such as financial statements, time-lines, and short biographies, often referred to in the case as “exhibits”; multimedia supplements such as video-recordings of interviews with the case protagonist; and a carefully crafted teaching note.

Pristine Case Studies start with reading a case, which is a write-up of a real or hypothetical situation at a company or other organization, and determining what one or another of the participants is best advised to do and why. Complicated cases can require scores of pages of background reading and many ex­hibits. The ex­hibits may describe the cost of components used in products at various production sites, the com­pany’s financial results over the last couple of years, profile of the protagonists, operational bottlenecks, financial constraints, etc. Students are expected to analyze the case from the perspective of what would be best for the company, for one or more departments, and for one or more individuals, and determine how best the various options could or should be realized. This involves a great deal of analysis, much of it of a “what-if” variety. (“What if we transferred all our truck manufacturing to our Venezuela plant, shut the Scottish facility, have a tie up with a Chinese concern to bring down manufacturing cost and get a handle to penetrate the Chinese market and at the same time exit the French market which has high labor and tax cost? Would this make sense? What are the likely production, marketing, operational, organizational, and, ultimately, financial effects of this policy?”). Class participation is so important to the learning model at HBS that 50 percent of a student’s grade in many courses are based on the quality of class participation. This requires students and faculty to work closely together. During a case discussion, the teacher acts more as a facilitator and moderates the case discussion. The teacher, may at the end of the discussion, summarise and put across the various solutions that emerged during the discussion and may even tell about the solution which was used by the actual protagonists and the pros and cons of implementing that solution.

The Case Method is good at teaching students how to structure the analysis of com­plex problems, set forth options showing what they plan to do, and sell the chosen option to a group of doubting, difficult peers. In this learning method, students also get exposed to the different ways of solving the same problem by their peers who have different perspectives. The bright side of the Case Method is that B.School students during MBA get a chance at cracking the problems that they will not be exposed to till they reach a senior level of management. This helps in developing a macro or big picture perspective at an earlier stage of career. The idea appeals to the recruiting corporate as well, as they can get managers who can hit the ground running. The drawback to it is that it is not suited to learning basic, technical disciplines such as finance, operations, and accounting, which are more easily learned by attending lectures, reading structured textbooks and doing relevant exercises.

The following points are generally made in favor of the Case Method:

  • It is realistic in simulating the real world, rather than just theorizing about it.
  • It compresses many career experiences into a short period of time.
  • It encourages peer learning and students benefit from the perspective of others. B.Schools rich in student diversity can exploit this better.
  • It fosters high involvement on the part of students.
  • The nature of the case method requires active class participation, and thus develops presentation skills and the ability to “think on one’s feet.” It thereby helps build confidence in oneself.
  • The case, and its lessons, are highly memorable-and thus of value when one encounters a related problem in the future.
  • Students have the chance to see what people in different jobs and industries actually do.
  • The overabundance of material forces students to develop efficient time management techniques and to learn to choose what analysis to do and what to skip.
  • Students get a clear idea about the relevance of the knowledge they are picking up at the B.School. They learn to research, prioritize, imbibe and apply the knowledge.
  • It encourages students to think like general managers, examining a problem from an overall, “big picture” perspective.

The following are among the points made against the case method:

  • It is inefficient for teaching theory that underlies the material.
  • It tends to overlook the human side of management.
  • It encourages ultracompetitive behavior in the fight for class “air-time” (a particularly important problem for students with a reserved nature and for those whose English is not truly fluent).
  • The packaged information in the cases obviates the need for students to go out and find or develop their own data.
  • The general management perspective that students tend to adopt for case analyses results in their not being prepared to work at a lower level when they graduate.

A consensus view appears to be that a substantial use of cases, especially to teach advanced marketing, strategy, finance, and organizational development, is highly desirable. For one thing, the drawbacks of the method are minimized in those settings; for another, at least some use of it helps develop the ability to mine cases for the most relevant information, package it quickly, and respond to wide-ranging questions in a coherent and powerful manner. In addition, the advent of multimedia cases has breathed new life into the method. Having in­terviews with key decision-makers, facility tours, and the like available for view­ing enlivens and enriches the case experience.

The biggest criticism of the Case Method is that the individuals and professional organizations which prepare cases for B.Schools normally are under pressure to provide cases with more data and analytics to jack up the price of cases. In real world, to the contrary, managers have to take decisions based on less information, and at times seek more information by conducting a survey. So cases may be dumbing down the real situation, even if the intentions are right. GSB, Columbia has taken a step in the right direction by providing students with cases having less information to base decisions on. This lead by Columbia is catching up and a new creed has developed.

  1. Computer Simulation

Kids learn better when learning is a game. A relatively new teaching method is something akin to a computer game or a computer simulation, in which students can run a company, act as head of a department, or organize a worldwide survey and get quick feedback about the appropriateness of their decisions from the results of the game. Team com­petitions, in which students are divided into teams of four to six, are common, especially for the (often required) business strategy course. Teams feed their de­cisions about a host of variables into the computer at set times. The outcomes of the competition depend not on what has happened in the industry in the past, but on what the respective teams have chosen to do. For example, if nearly every team decides to boost volume, cut price, and push for as much market share as possible, the winner might be the team that has decided to focus on a high-price, high-quality (and thus low-volume) niche that it alone will occupy. It makes sense for some disciplines but not in others.

  1. In-Company Projects

Placement departments after developing good ties with corporates often hook up positions in projects at the recruiting corporates. In-company projects, long been used in Europe and the United States, are now increasingly being used in India as well. Students get a chance to put into practice their newly acquired skills in a real company. Good projects require that students tackle suitably important issues, not just make-work or trivial problems. The usual problem is not student dissatisfaction with projects, but finding enough companies willing to hand large projects over to students. From the company perspective, such projects require getting students up to speed on their com­pany and industry, and then sharing confidential data with them, as well as soothing the employees who would otherwise have had their own chances to make a mark with the same project. Not surprisingly, most schools suffer from a dearth of ideal projects. The exceptions tend to be the most prestigious schools that are also located close to the headquarters of numerous major companies.

  1. Field Immersion Experience

Field Immersion Experience involves delivering in a group project in an unfamiliar environment and with peers from a different culture they have never worked with before.

Most Global Business Schools are striving towards a single objective – to take students out of their comfort zone and place them in a position where they have to act and make decisions, rather than learn theoretical aspects (as in Lecture method) or discuss theory (as in the Case Approach). Business is conducted in a global arena and leaders are expected to have a global perspective. In order to be effective, global managers have to be as comfortable in Mumbai as they are in Mombasa or Manhattan.

Since 2011, Harvard Business School has started an innovative learning methodology called FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development). During Field Immersion, Global Intelligence of students is increased by making them lead in a global setting, in a place they have never been in before.

The HBS FIELD is a required first year course that spans a full academic year. One of the modules under this takes place in 14 different emerging market countries and provides a clear shift from location specific topics to a more global experience oriented field.

The University of Chicago Booth Business School sends about 300 students on 25 international trips. London Business School in April, 2013 sent 71 second year MBA students to Mumbai to soak in the business culture of India’s financial capital and learnt from Farhan Akhtar the intricacies of the multibillion dollar Bollywood industry and its impact on the nation.

IRMA and XLRI have very well structured field immersion programs.

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