25 Jul 2020 20:54 IST

Practitioner-led learning in B-schools is the key

Experiential learning imparted by industry veterans can bring a deep understanding of real-world issues

The ‘India Skills Report’ shows that the employability of management graduates improved from an abysmal 36.44 per cent in 2019 to 54 per cent in 2020. While this is a massive improvement, it still means that a substantial 46 per cent of fresh Indian MBAs are not skilled enough to be considered employable, much less capable of being business managers who can make strategic decisions. The sub-heading of the report ‘Reimagining India’s talent landscape for a $5-trillion economy’ clearly suggests that the perception of industry about the talent landscape is not great, to say the least.

While it is easy to lament the state of affairs, governing boards of B-schools need to first identify the root causes and then work towards addressing each of them systematically. This is particularly true for the times we live in, where ‘disruption’ is not some unique event but a business routine. For example, the digital and big data revolution is transforming almost every business function, and industry is adapting to this transformation rapidly. Is management education adapting and evolving as rapidly? At most B-schools, the answer would be a ‘No’.

Three crucial elements

To cater to the needs of new-age industries like fintech, e-commerce, ed-tech, and for competitive advantage in traditional businesses with applications of AI, ML, SaaS, blockchain ., B-schools need to rethink three crucial elements to remain relevant:

* Periodicity of curriculum overhaul has not kept pace with ever-changing industry requirements. Worse still, pedagogy rarely gets looked at, as it is accepted as institutional legacy and little effort is made on the mindset aspect of developing lifelong learners.

* The faculty pool largely comprises career academicians with limited to no industry experience. Few B-schools stress the importance of research, and even fewer give primacy to applied research that can be translated into new business models.

* Practical and hands-on learning components are missing in business education. Students need exposure to real-world business problems, first-hand experience of complex operations of various industries, business incubators and monetisable opportunities gathering dust in journals and research papers.

Practitioner-led learning

A tangible way to address the gaps is to emphasise practitioner-led learning, an approach where industry insiders teach a dynamic curriculum in a ‘flipped classroom’ model, with a large component of experiential learning. Veteran leaders, executives, businessmen and policy-makers with decades of industry, entrepreneurship, governance and teaching experience bring a deep understanding of real-world issues, which feeds first into the design of what is taught (the curriculum) and how it is taught (pedagogy).

The coherence between these two aspects provides students with a knowledge of the theoretical framework and its practical application. Imagine learning policy-making from a senior civil servant, big data analytics from a consultant with decades of implementation experience across industries, or corporate finance from an investment banker with experience in clinching multi-million-dollar deals.

Today, technology is central to business; hence, B-school students must undergo hands-on bootcamp-style tech courses to prepare them for the growing technology interface in all aspects of business. Bootcamps in AI, ML, SaaS, blockchain, cryptocurrency, cybersecurity delivered by industry practitioners who have lived the issues, breathed the challenges that come from the interplay of multiple real-life factors, and yet delivered compelling results, will provide the competitive edge for students entering the job market.

End of the day, theory can be learned from a textbook, or from open online courses. However, lasting learning comes from veteran practitioners who can guide and mentor students. Benjamin Franklin sums it all up aptly in his quote “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I will remember. Involve me and I learn.”

( The writer is the CEO at the Masters Union School of Business. With over 20 years of cumulative experience across industry verticals, in corporates like Reliance, ICICI, Tata and Ambuja, he is also a veteran in the higher education domain. Previously, he was at leadership positions at ISB and SRM University.)