Evolving Expectations of Management Education

From Knowing to Doing

Overview

This focus shift will have a profound impact on the way we teach, the skills of the teachers, and the learners themselves.

In business and management curricula, the “knowing” component refers to the facts, frameworks, and theories that make up the core understanding of a profession or practice, while the “doing” component includes the skills, capabilities, and techniques that lie at the heart of the practice of management. The “being” component refers to the values, attitudes, and beliefs that form managers’ world views and professional identities. All three are important, as Datar, Garvin, and Cullen (2010) maintain in their assertion that “knowing” has little value without “doing” skills, while “doing” skills will be ineffective and direction-less without the self-awareness and reflection on values and beliefs that come from developing “being.”

Few people now question whether business schools should increase their emphasis on doing relative to knowing. Developing skills and capabilities, it seems, has become quite a bit more valuable than to sharing facts and frameworks. Content is now readily accessible, almost anytime and anywhere to almost anyone. And new research shows that technology has increased the importance of social skills relative to quantitative skills in the workforce—the latter being much more grounded in the doing dimension. Furthermore, a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald shared that the strongest wage and employment growth has been in occupations that require an understanding of mathematics and advanced social skills. As such, while machines may have taken over some tasks that humans had traditionally done, and Oxford University academics believe that nearly half of jobs in America remain “at risk” for automation, there remains a “potent defense amid the relentless improvement of robots: our social skills.” 

So what will shifting the focus from knowing to doing mean for business schools? First, the shift will have profound implications for how we teach. Management education will become even more experiential and less centered on “the material.” In his book Managers Not MBAs, Henry Mintzberg describes his approach as compared to other professors, saying that he puts more weight on experience-based learning while typical classes tend to favor more evidence-based learning. In the former, the instructor behaves more often as facilitator, enabling students to share and learn from their experiences. With the latter, instructors are at the focus, given their knowledge of the evidence and research.

Although not new to business schools, the movement in higher education toward “flipping the classroom,” where students learn theory and concepts before class (through video lectures, for example), leaving face-to-face meetings to focus on application and exploring new ideas, supports the shift of knowing to doing. Developing models like the flipped classroom also may help schools reduce the length of business programs and offer up new opportunities for assessment. This is not to say that online education is good only for sharing known facts and concepts; many professors are beginning to use online education to explore new ideas.

Developing skills is a much more personal experience than sharing knowledge. Shifting the focus toward doing will require pedagogies that include more assessments along the way, so instructors know more about their students and can take advantage of opportunities for customization and personal attention depending on student needs.

Second, shifting our focus will shape the knowledge and skills needed by our faculties. Faculty recruitment, evaluation and reward systems, and development systems were not built to support curricula more heavily focused on doing. They were built to promote knowledge creation and dissemination in a higher education environment largely centered on knowing, and, as a consequence, many professors lack the skills necessary to teach effectively in a doing-centered curriculum. This notion is explored with respect to doctoral programs in AACSB’s The Promise of Business Doctoral Education Report.

Third, shifting the focus to skills relative to content—to doing relative to knowing—should impact the types of learners we attract to our programs. Presumably, the predictors of success in knowing-centered curricula will not be the same as those required in a doing environment. Reflective skills, social skills, and the like will like be much more important in programs geared toward application and interaction. New assessment tools, such as GMAC’s Reflect, are being created to help schools in this dimension.

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