Learning Business Topics

Context and Current Events

There are two main ways to learn business topics: problem-based and team-based learning.

Learning Objectives

Discover how problem-based learning leads to a more effective and fulfilling experience for students learning business topics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Problem-based learning is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject in the context of complex, multifaceted, and realistic problems.
  • PBL is a learning method that can promote the development of critical thinking skills –students learn how to analyze a problem, identify relevant facts and generate hypotheses, identify necessary information/knowledge for solving the problem and make reasonable judgments about solving the problem.
  • The goals of PBL are to help the students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration skills and intrinsic motivation.
  • In the workplace, employers use team -based learning to teach and develop their employees.

Key Terms

  • self-directed: Directed independently by oneself without external control or constraint.
  • workshop: A brief intensive course of education for a small group; emphasizes interaction and practical problem solving
  • critical thinking: The application of logical principles, rigorous standards of evidence, and careful reasoning to the analysis and discussion of claims, beliefs, and issues.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject in the context of complex, multifaceted, and realistic problems. The goals of PBL are to help the students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration skills, and intrinsic motivation. Working in groups, students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that can lead to resolution of the problem. In PBL, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their group and organize and direct the learning process with support from a tutor or instructor. The role of the instructor is to provide appropriate scaffolding and support for the process, modelling of the process, and monitoring the learning. The tutor must build the students’ confidence to take on the problem and encourage them, while also stretching their understanding.

The six core characteristics of PBL are as follows:

  • PBL consists of student-centered learning.
  • Learning occurs in small groups.
  • Teachers act as facilitators or tutors.
  • A problem forms the basis for organized focus and stimulus for learning.
  • Problems stimulate the development and use of problem solving skills.
  • New knowledge is obtained through means of self-directed learning.

Advocates of PBL claim it can be used to enhance content knowledge while simultaneously fostering the development of communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and self-directed learning skills.

PBL may position students in a simulated real-world working and professional context that involves policy, process, and ethical problems that will need to be understood and resolved to some outcome. By working through a combination of learning strategies to discover the nature of a problem, understanding the constraints and options to its resolution, defining the input variables, and understanding the viewpoints involved, students learn to negotiate the complex sociological nature of the problem and how competing resolutions may inform decision making.

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Current Issues: Accountants must stay up to date with current issues in reporting and disclosure.

PBL can also promote the development of critical thinking skills. In PBL learning, students learn how to analyze a problem, identify relevant facts, generate hypotheses, identify necessary information/knowledge for solving the problem, and make reasonable judgments about solving the problem.

Principles

  • Problem-based learning: Use problems encountered in the course of work as the context for learning.
  • Point of the Wedge: Push responsibility combined with support to the most junior person possible
  • Teach, Don’t Tell: Use inquiry (i.e., Socratic Method) to teach rather than just giving the answer or solving the issue
  • Owning the Client or Project: Individuals have a heightened sense of accountability and motivation because they have their own client or project with support from more experienced team members

Routines

  • Rounds: Meetings where a less-experienced team member presents an issue or challenge and recommends a course of action.
  • Team Workshops: A team member leads a developmental event for other members focusing on a specific technical or service topic.
  • Shadowing: Less-experienced team members accompany a more experienced member to a meeting that he or she would not normally attend.
  • Observation and Feedback: A specific activity is observed, and coaching is given using the Socratic Method.
  • Lessons Learned Forum: A thorough review and discussion using mistakes and successes as a situation to learn from. This is similar to an After Action Review.

Making It Work

The mission of a teaching hospital is to develop doctors. While businesses earnestly espouse a desire to develop their people, such activities are too often seen as separate from work and something that interferes with getting work done. Businesses are not as motivated as teaching hospitals to develop people on the job. For that reason, the transfer of approaches used in teaching hospitals to a business context might have failed if not for the fact that the new processes create side benefits that motivate the business team members.

Business Cases and Examples

The teaching approach of presenting students with a case and putting them in the role of a decision maker is known as the case method.

Learning Objectives

Identify how case studies can lead students to a deeper understanding of business topics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The case method is similar to the case study method, but the two teaching approaches are not identical.
  • The length of a business case study may range from two or three pages to thirty pages or more.
  • Typically, information is presented about a business firm’s products, markets, competition, financial structure, sales volumes, management, employees, and other factors affecting the firm’s success.
  • Students are expected to scrutinize the case study and prepare to discuss strategies and tactics that the firm should employ in the future.

Key Terms

  • case method: A teaching approach that consists of presenting the students with a case, and putting them in the role of a decision-maker facing a problem.
  • case study: An intensive analysis of an individual unit (e.g., a person, group, or event) stressing developmental factors in relation to context; also called a case report.
  • dilemma: A circumstance in which a choice must be made between two or more alternatives that seem equally undesirable.

Case Method

The case method is a teaching approach that presents the students with a case and puts them in the role of a decision maker facing a problem (Hammond 1976). The case method overlaps with the case study method, but the two are not identical. “Case studies recount real life business or management situations that present business executives with a dilemma or uncertain outcome. The case describes the scenario in the context of the events, people and factors that influence it and enables students to identify closely with those involved. ” — European Case Clearing House, Case studies. ”

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Business Case Discussion: A lot can be learned from the contents of a business case.

Typically, information is presented about a business firm’s products, markets, competition, financial structure, sales volumes, management, employees, and other factors affecting the firm’s success. The length of a business case study can range from two or three pages to 30 pages or more.

Business schools often obtain case studies published by the Harvard Business School, INSEAD, the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, the Darden School at the University of Virginia, IESE, other academic institutions, or case clearing houses (such as European Case Clearing House). Harvard’s most popular case studies include Lincoln Electric Co. and Google, Inc.

Students are expected to scrutinize the case study and prepare to discuss strategies and tactics that the firm should employ in the future. Three different methods have been used in business case teaching:

  • Prepared case-specific questions to be answered by the student. This is used with short cases intended for undergraduate students. The underlying concept is that such students need specific guidance to be able to analyze case studies.
  • Problem-solving analysis. This method, initiated by the Harvard Business School is by far the most widely used method in MBA and executive development programs. The underlying concept is that with enough practice (that is, hundreds of case analyses) students develop intuitive skills for analyzing and resolving complex business situations. Successful implementation of this method depends heavily on the skills of the discussion leader.
  • A generally applicable strategic planning approach. This third method does not require students to analyze hundreds of cases. A strategic planning model is provided, and students are instructed to apply the steps of the model to between six and twelve cases during a semester. This is sufficient to develop their ability to analyze a complex situation, generate a variety of possible strategies, and select the best ones. In effect, students learn a generally applicable approach to analyzing cases studies and real situations. This approach does not make any extraordinary demands on the artistic and dramatic talents of the teacher. Consequently, most professors are capable of supervising application of this method.

History of Business Cases

When Harvard Business School was founded, the faculty realized that there were no textbooks suitable to 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. Of course, the professors could not present these cases as practices to be emulated because there were no criteria available for determining what would succeed and what would not succeed. So the professors instructed their students to read the cases and to come to class prepared to discuss the cases and to offer recommendations for appropriate courses of action. The basic outlines of this method are still present in business school curricula today.

Application of Knowledge

A business game (also called business simulation game) refers to a simulation game that is used as an educational tool for teaching business.

Learning Objectives

Justify the use of business simulation games in the process of applying business knowledge

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Business games may be carried out for various business training such as general management, finance, organizational behavior, and human resources.
  • In business simulation games, players receive a description of an imaginary business and an imaginary environment and make decisions (on price, advertising, production targets, and so on) about how their company should be run.
  • There are several important steps to a business game, including: the theoretical instruction; the introduction to the game, where the participants are told how to operate the computer; and debriefing, which is the most important part of the simulation and gaming experience.

Key Terms

  • distribution: The process by which goods get to final consumers over a geographical market, including storing, selling, shipping, and advertising.
  • debriefing: The report of a mission or project, or the information so obtained.
  • simulation: Something which simulates a system or environment in order to predict actual behavior.

Applying Knowledge Through Games

Business games (also called business simulation games) refer to simulation games that are used as an educational tool for teaching business. Business games may be carried out for various business trainings such as general management, finance, organizational behavior, and human resources. Often the term business simulation is used with the same meaning.

An exterior view of a street business called GAME.

Business Game: Business game (also called business simulation game) refers to simulation games that are used as an educational tool for teaching business.

Business strategy games are intended to enhance the decision-making skills of students, especially under conditions defined by limited time and information. They vary in focus from how to undertake a corporate takeover to how to expand a company’s share of the market. Typically, the player feeds information into a computer program and receives back a series of optional or additional data that are conditional upon the player’s initial choices. The game proceeds through several series of these interactive, iterative steps. As can be noted, this definition does not consider continuous (real-time) processing an alternative.

In business simulation games, players receive a description of an imaginary business and an imaginary environment and make decisions – on price, advertising, production targets, and so on – about how their company should be run. A business game may have an industrial, commercial or financial background (Elgood, 1996). Ju and Wagner mention that the nature of business games can include decision-making tasks, which pit the player against a hostile environment or hostile opponents. These simulations have a nature of strategy or war games, but usually are very terse in their user interface. Other types of managerial simulations are resource allocation games, in which the player or players have to allocate resources to areas such as plant, production, marketing, and human resources, in order to produce and sell goods.

The Simulation Gaming Process

Business simulation game developers regard their artefacts to be learning environments. When arguing for this, they most often refer to David A. Kolb’s influential work in the field of experiential learning. During the last decades, ideas from constructivism have influenced the learning discussion within the simulation gaming field. The activities carried out during a simulation game training session are:

  • Theoretical instruction: The teacher goes through certain relevant aspects of a theory and participants can intervene with questions and comments.
  • Introduction to the game: The participants are told how to operate the computer and how to play the game.
  • Playing the game: Participants get the opportunity to practice their knowledge and skills by changing different parameters of the game and reflecting on the possible consequences of these changes. Permanent contact with the participants is advisable, as well as keeping the training going to maintain a positive atmosphere and to secure that the participants feel engaged.
  • Group discussions: Each of the participants is given a possibility to present and compare their results from the game with the results of others. The participants are encouraged to present their results to others. The teacher should continually look for new ways of enriching the discussions and to help the participants find the connection between the game results and the problems in the real world. The quality of this group discussion plays a relevant role in the training as it will affect the participants’ transfer of knowledge and skills into the real world.

The last phase in the list above is usually called debriefing. Debriefing is the most important part of the simulation and gaming experience. We all learn from experience, but without reflecting on this experience the learning potential may be lost. Simulation gaming needs to be seen as contrived experiences in the learning cycle, which require special attention at the stages of reflection and generalization.