AoL Develops Learners Who Are Workplace-Ready

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Tuesday, October 24, 2023
By Sadia Sheikh
Photo by iStock/shapecharge
Assurance of learning plans help schools achieve accreditation, improve their programs—and ensure the employability of their students.
  • To make certain that their programs are turning out graduates who have the skills that companies want, business schools should involve industry partners in AoL evaluations.
  • A school’s direct assessment might indicate that students are meeting AoL targets, but feedback from employers might suggest that students need stronger skills in certain areas.
  • Schools can secure industry participation in AoL by conducting stakeholder surveys, creating focus groups, and organizing events that bring together academics and practitioners.

One key component of AACSB accreditation is assurance of learning (AoL), the process by which schools demonstrate that students have achieved specific learning goals. Administrators can analyze AoL data to determine how to improve the learning experience, the curriculum, or the AoL process itself.

Once AoL measures are in place, “we can identify where learners’ performance sits and how we can support them in areas where they fell short,” notes Angelito Calma, senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Calma is responsible for the school’s quality assurance initiatives in relation to AACSB accreditation.

Unfortunately, many institutions find it challenging to implement AoL plans, as Karen Tarnoff discusses in an article for AACSB Insights. For instance, administrators sometimes view AoL merely as a data collection process, and as a result, they don’t act upon the information they collect. Even a well-deployed AoL system will be irrelevant if it does not bring about meaningful changes in educational programs and curricula.

AoL systems also will be irrelevant if they don’t measure learning that truly matters. To create an effective AoL plan, school administrators need to ensure that graduates have the skills that will make them workplace-ready. This means schools should work with industry partners to gather feedback on current market trends and in-demand skill sets.

What Do Employers Want?

As Calma explains, it is essential to ensure that students achieve specific learning outcomes, but it’s equally critical “to assess their learning needs to determine their employability. Academics provide a link between business schools and industry. They are a key source of feedback to the learner on what skills and competencies are required in professional capacities in the workplace.”

However, the skills and competencies that employers need are changing constantly, as companies develop new theories, implement process improvements, adopt emerging technologies, and deploy new software such as ChatGPT.

That’s why it’s so important for business schools to update their curricula and revisit their AoL goals on a continuous basis. If business schools focus on old and redundant competencies, ignore industry trends, and fail to seek practitioner feedback, AoL systems will not achieve useful results.

AoL systems will be irrelevant if they do not bring about meaningful changes in educational programs and if they don’t measure learning that truly matters.

By contrast, when administrators secure the involvement of industry professionals, schools can complement direct assessment with indirect assessment. Indirect assessment is important for two reasons:

First, it provides a very different picture than direct assessment. For example, a direct assessment might indicate that students have met targets on the competency goal of critical analytical skills, but conversations with employers might suggest that students are still lacking in this area. This discrepancy could signal that the curriculum is not aligned with the industry expectation for that competency goal.

Second, it helps administrators ensure that they have correctly set the difficulty level of the direct assessment. If the direct assessment is too easy, results will be higher than they should be, and that will be reflected in feedback from external partners.

Encouraging Industry Participation

However, it’s not always easy to secure industry involvement in AoL activities because working professionals have conflicting schedules and heavy work commitments. By using a variety of methods, school administrators can make it more likely that practitioners will provide their opinions:

  • Survey relevant stakeholder groups. As explained by Axel Borschbach and Timothy Mescon in another article for AACSB Insights, these groups include executives who are overseeing student interns; employers who have hired school alumni; and alumni who have been in the workforce for one, three, and five years. Schools also can obtain valuable information by surveying students who are completing internships.
  • Create focus groups and industry-academia liaison committees. To make it easier for businesspeople to attend, schedule some meetings in person and some online.
When administrators secure the involvement of industry professionals, schools can complement direct assessment with indirect assessment.
  • Organize events that include members of industry. Such activities not only initiate intellectually stimulating discourses, but also bridge the gap between academia and industry. Even if these events are not directly tied to AoL, they help strengthen relationships between schools and corporations.
  • For instance, the School of Business Studies (SBS) at the Institute of Business Administration Karachi in Pakistan recently held its second International Conference on the theme of “Sustainability: Global and Local Challenges.” The event gave attendees from both the academic and industrial sectors an opportunity to share their great interest in the ways that technology can enable sustainability.

  • Show corporate partners how the school has used their input. Industry professionals are more likely to participate in surveys and focus groups if they see that schools are using their feedback to modify AoL systems and improve programs.

Learning From Industry

Every time schools solicit feedback from corporate partners, they are likely to uncover important information about fundamental shifts in the way that business is being done today. This could lead administrators to revamp existing programs or design new courses that meet expressed needs.

As an example, today’s businesses are looking for managers who recognize the possibilities that arise from artificial intelligence and machine learning. Students must learn not only how to integrate digital technologies into business processes and operations, but also how to discern the perils and merits of new technology so they can make ethically sound decisions. Therefore, business schools should add technological proficiency and adaptability to their AoL learning objectives.

At SBS, we are meeting this need through new courses in our MBA and BBA programs. At the MBA level, a new course called Digital Business Transformation explores how technology can help recast business processes through the digital lens. This approach not only increases efficiency, reduces chances of errors, and simplifies complex processes, but also opens a new paradigm in digital business models. In addition, the course includes components that address practical uses for AI-enhanced technologies, the problems associated with transformations, and the typical challenges that organizations have faced when undertaking this journey.

At the BBA level, a new course on Technology and Process Automation introduces business students to the basic digital technologies that are essential for business transformation and furthers their understanding through case pedagogy.

Another way we expose our students to technology is by integrating it into our pedagogy through simulations, course projects, and blended learning requirements. For this purpose, professors are required to mention in their course outlines the technology applications and software they are using as learning tools.

When schools solicit feedback from corporate partners, they are likely to uncover important information about fundamental shifts in the way that business is being done today.

Administrators can gain additional insights into industry needs by following trends and reading business-oriented publications. For instance, as noted by the authors of a recent article in Harvard Business Review, more companies are running experiments and deploying scientific methods to determine their next steps. From information like this, administrators discover that they need to teach students the skill of experimentation and the way it fits the organizational perspective. They must help students develop their critical and analytical thinking skills so they can be prepared to experiment in the workplace, take calculated risks, and contribute to an innovative culture.

Employers also have signaled that they need graduates who can evaluate the societal impact of business decisions. After learning of this need, school administrators should ask themselves a series of questions: “Do our programs inculcate an understanding of social responsibility and ethics in our learners? Will our graduates be able to evaluate the ethical implications of decisions they will make as future managers? Are we training our students to be responsible and impactful leaders?” If their programs are not creating the desired outcomes, administrators should add courses that enhance the ethics competency.

Boosting Lifelong Learning

While AoL is a vital tool for business schools, it’s also useful for corporations that want to reskill and upskill employees. That point is emphasized in another article in Harvard Business Review, which notes that leaders should treat reskilling as a business investment. In fact, many employers realize that, to achieve desired organizational outcomes, they must spend money on learning and development programs for their managers.

To provide the right learning options, employers need to evaluate competency gaps, but many organizations do not have formalized assessment plans in place. They’re more likely to rely on annual appraisals of an employee’s key performance indicators, which focus more on organizational goals than employee development.

This provides business schools with an opportunity. To meet the training and development needs of professional learners, schools can use the AoL process to create assessment plans for corporate partners. They can gather insights from company representatives to identify what skills and competencies employees need, and they also can draw on insights gathered from interactions with other industry partners.

Then administrators can develop tailor-made training programs that provide workers with the required skill sets. To ensure that workers meet learning objectives, schools can create built-in or standalone assessment processes.

The Goal of Continuous Improvement

An assurance of learning strategy will be most successful when a school does not view it simply as an accreditation requirement, but as a roadmap that leads toward continuous improvement. With the right AoL plan in place, a school can ensure that its graduates are ready to enter—or stay in—the workforce because they have the skills that will allow them to create impactful contributions to business and society.

Sadia Sheikh
Assistant Manager, Accreditation, School of Business Studies, Institute of Business Administration Karachi
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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