My Scholarly Reflections

This is where I tell what I think, so that I see what I say

Archive for April 2012

A problem in b-school organizational design: why b-schools are not like medical schools

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In my previous post (here), I cited Herbert Simon’s article to start off my musings on the ‘problem in organizational design’ of business schools. My inspiration comes from another blog here. I am going to back to the article to highlight issues with business school as a learning space. Herbert Simon states that “Business schools are a particular species in the genus known as professional schools” (p.2)  He then goes on to compare business schools with other professional schools in the medical and engineering domains, invoking parallels related to teaching and research. Business schools, he asserts, like med and eng. schools, need to combine science and professional practice in order to be effective.

Is this a fair comparison? In order to highlight issues in this comparison, business schools as learning spaces can be analyzed in terms of three aspects: content, pedagogy and credentials.

First, content. Med school content involves application of ‘hard science’ disciplines. The applications have been developed through rigorous scientific methods, standardised and widely accepted. This cannot be said about the content of B-school content. Of course, content related to such areas as accounting (backed by global professional bodies), and finance ( amenable to established quantitative methods borrowed from hard sciences) stand out. But there are problems, even in these domains (the comments on issues with business schools and particularly references to the famous ‘CAPM’ model in finance on this blogpost (here) are highly enlightening!). Path-breaking theories, such as ‘transacion cost theory’, taught in standard curricula have even been considered to be ‘bad for practice’ (see this by Ghoshal and Moran; Ghoshal’s highly cited article is also noteworth: Bad Management Theories are Destroying Good Management Practice, abstract here). There is a lot that can be said about content but space does not allow that, and the interested readers can do their own ‘googling’ to find out. The point is that b-school content, even the most fundamental one (‘efficient market hypothesis’ in finance, the marginalist principle in economics, and these domains are considered to be closest to ‘hard science’!!)  is controversial both with respect to its claims as ‘scientific truth’, and its claims to providing guidance to professionals. Medical and Engineering domains do not face this problem, even if they do, it appears to be not so severe.

Second, pedagogy. Medical and engineering education involves artefacts which appear to have high ‘fidelity’ to the real world. Medical schools are linked with ‘teaching hospitals’. Students often work on real human bodies. The tools used in med school are often the same used in the hospitaI. I was the other day watching a documentary which showed special ‘medical make-up artists’ who create almost life-like wounds on real humans (acting as patients) through special makeup. These actors with artificial wounds are used in role plays to teach students. Similarly engineering labs and instruments can be identical to the real world technical artefacts. And what do b-schools do? [ Professor Larry Michaelsen’s  ‘Integrative Business Experience’,is an exception, see his article on page 25, here (pdf)). B-schools have instituted similar activities involving ‘real life’ experience for students in businesses….but there are issues in those replications/adaptations…more on that some other time.

Third, credentials. Only med schools can provide the main qualification, approved and accredited by the national and international professional bodies (Medican Councils etc), including further examinations to attain professional membership. Engineering has a similar situation. Both med and eng schools are indispenable credentialling organizations without which professionals cannot in most circumstances practice. There is no competitor or alternative source of credentials. In business schools only the accounting domain has a similar situation. But accounting bodies have the potential to pose as competitors to b-schools. Would you prefer a CPA/CA/ACCA qualification or a Bachelor of Accounting? Of course parents and students would like to ‘hedge’ their options by first going for a basic degree and then a suitable professional qualification ( I have personally heard this line of argument from parents!). One thing is noteworthy though: Professional accounting bodies are the ultimate source of practice based knowledge in the accounting profession; this role is often legally determined to be assumed by those bodies, hence their exclusive domain. So which institution is a better creator/disseminator of knowledge in accounting: professional bodies or the b-school? Here is CPA Australia’s web portal; compare their ‘professional development’ programmes, and the ‘knowledge portal’ with a standard b-school offering in accounting.

I believe it is of utmost importance that I as a higher education professional think about the ‘core business model’ of higher education. and take a birdseye view beyond the daily grind of the ‘production line’. This is not to demean my profession in anyway, BUT to sharpen my own career focus in the profession, devise a strategy to strengthen my competitive advantage, and in the process, find out ways to suggest improvements in the business model.


Written by Amer Khan

April 28, 2012 at 11:15 pm

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There are a lot of take-aways and food for thought in this post for a learning experience ‘designer’ in the higher education space… designing learning experiences is an art which needs to go beyond mechanistic efforts to ensure ‘constructive alignment’. Its a creative craft more than anything else.


There is a reason I called my blog Design for learning. I am a designer. I studied design, qualified as a typographer and illustrator and then worked in design and advertising. Design is not a subject, it is a craft. The best way to learn about design, perhaps the only way is from a designer.

Design is learned through literal and associative meanings. It is a craft not a process and it takes years of practice in a specialisation. Design is one form of Art, and art is about creativity, imagination and reacting to the world. It doesn’t seek to reduce it to a step by step cycle or even explain it.

In design, creative brilliance is the bridge to success. Designers are competitive and don’t easily settle. They argue a lot with other people, they argue with themselves even more. What designers want from a working environment are leaders…

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Written by Amer Khan

April 26, 2012 at 10:43 pm

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This is a nice writeup which puts the limelight on a teacher’s emotional state; most of the T&L literature is too much focused on the learners!

GUEST COLUMN | by Jen Lilienstein

In late February, EdWeek’s Susan Sandler wrote about Personalization 3.0, or “a hybrid approach of humanity and technology…that uses technology to enhance teacher-student relationships, not replace them.”

Sandler references Theodore R. Sizer’s work (late founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools) who emphasized that, for students to succeed, they must be personally known at school and have strong relationships with the people there. But Sizer is not the only one who’s talked about the importance of quality learning relationships. In fact, learning theorists and pedagogists from Piaget to Vygotsky, Briggs-Myers to Lawrence, Dewey to Comer, Sousa, Willis, and Cushman. The list literally goes on and on.

Just like the product of a child’s IQ and EQ (IQ*EQ) has a significant impact on SAT scores and career trajectory, the product of a teacher’s EQ has a significant impact on his ability to positively impact…

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Written by Amer Khan

April 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm

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“business schools: a problem in organizational design”

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I will be devoting more of my upcoming blogposts to the business of business schools, and higher education in general. The higher education field, particularly the business education arena is in disruption mode, particularly in its birthplace-USA. For example, MBA, the crowning glory of business schools is hard to justify now as the ‘returns on investment’ and the legitimacy of MBA are being increasingly questioned (see this blogpost). There are other models springing up to provide an ‘apprenticeship’ style of education where students, under the wings of real entrepreneurs, learn the ropes of entrepreneurship (see this article which talks about an initiative: Enstitute – learning by doing). Their central idea makes great sense: who is a better ‘teacher’ of entrepreneurship: a university professor or a guy who has ‘been there done that’? Professors from top universities are launching their own online elearning presence (for example these Stanford professors; the comments on this link are equally insightful). The only major issue left now is robust assessment and credentialing mechanisms.

So essentially there are issues with the organizational design of business schools in terms of what they offer (the product or service, i.e. the content and the end product in the form a credential), and the processes involved how they provide that product (pedagogy, delivery technology ).Both are currently in the throes of major tranformation.

Interestingly, issues with business schools had been identified as far back as 1967 by Herbert Simon, the polymath Nobel Leaureate, also an important player in shaping the organizational model of the business school. The title of this blog comes form his article with the same title published in 1967 (here is the abstract). In this article, Herbert Simon’s problem in organization design of business schools included the increasing polarization between those, coming from scientific disciplines who want to take business schools towards the path of rigorous research, and those who are focussed on applied research relevant to practical business problems.  He predicted that the two groups would ultimately get divided into opposing and isolated camps so that scientists work on irrelevant problems while application oriented faculty might not be innovative enough. He mostly focusses on research in business schools, but some of his comments on teaching are interesting:

About the casual part time lecturer he said: “The outside lecturer is more often used than
used well.” (p.9)

About the lecturers who come with extensive industry background he said: “This man is likely to suffer from the further dangerous illusion that good business teaching consists in ‘telling the boys how I did it'” (p.7)

Written by Amer Khan

April 23, 2012 at 12:25 am

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when sh*# happens!

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Many moons ago, I used to be a tutor in a university in Australia. Big classes (+400 students), many tutors, and multiple lecturers! Every Friday afternoon all teaching staff used to congregate to discuss the week gone by. A tutor colleague of mine in that class was particularly noteworthy. A 6 foot 2 inches tall lady, ex-corporate hotshot; a victim of the post 2008 Global Financial Crisis redundancies. A sight to behold! Sometimes, she used to come to the meeting brooding and gloomy, and slouch on a chair…her long legs sprawled all over the place! Naturally, we all showed concern: “What happened?” Her response was always the same: “class no good this week….but hey! Sh*% happens!!!” After some time, we never waited for her response. We all chorused her pet response: “…but hey! Sh*% happens!!!” , followed by a  guffaw, and then all doom and gloom gone!

So who is there for you to confide in when ‘sh*% happens’? How do you share your emotions when things unravel? Who to share it with? Who should be the ‘sounding board’? or, to put it more dramatically, a ‘shoulder to cry on’ ?

Written by Amer Khan

April 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm

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