Different Teaching Philosophies in Business Schools

Many MBA applicants limit their search criteria for business schools to their rankings, their price point, their geographic location, and the employment prospects available after graduation. While all of those factors are very important, another factor that is often neglected is the teaching philosophy used at each MBA program. Not all MBA programs are alike, and there are a few different primary methods of teaching in the various MBA programs available to applicants.

Each school uses a different teaching philosophy, or a combination of different philosophies based on the particular professor's preference. The primary methods that business schools use to teach are the case study method, lecture and discussion, and the experiential learning and team-based approach. Additionally, as MBA programs evolve to better prepare students for the real world, many MBA programs now offer immersive business simulation competitions in which teams of MBA candidates compete against each other in virtual-business simulations.

While some programs may focus on just one of these teaching methods, many business schools now employ a combination of all of the methods mentioned above. There is a good reason for this – not all students learn the same way, and exposing a class to a variety of methods is one way to insure that every student has a great chance to learn the necessary management skills being taught. Also, getting students to adapt to a variety of teaching methods prepares them for the real world, in which there is certainly no standardized method of teaching or managing a large organization. With that being said, let's take a closer look at the different teaching methods.

  1. Case studies.

    The case study method is one of the oldest and most reliable ways of teaching business concepts. This method relies on using fact patterns from real-life business situations from the past, and it challenges students to engage real-life problems that business executives have had to face in the past. There are typically a variety of different options that the students could employ to resolve a business problem, and they are forced to analyze the pros and cons of each possible solution. Finally, students then discuss the various possibilities in both teams and in the classroom, with the professor eventually revealing what course of action the people in the case study eventually chose. The case study method has traditionally played the largest role in business school education, although lately critics of the method have emerged.

  2. Lecture and discussion.

    Lecture and discussion is the most traditional method of teaching across all of higher education, and therefore the most familiar to undergraduate students. In this method, the professor will typically lecture the class on a topic, and then field questions as they come up. While some classes such as strategy and economics lend themselves well to the case study method, other classes such as statistics and accounting lend themselves more to the traditional lecture and discussion model. Professors who favor the lecture method do so because it is much more time efficient, and it allows them to cover far more topics in a shorter period of time. The lecture method also benefits students who are more introverted and less comfortable participating in classroom discussions.

  3. Experiential learning.

    Experiential learning is a more recent development in business school education, and it reflects the growing diversity of students who are entering graduate management programs. Unlike both the case study method and the lecture method, which focuses on learning theories and concepts before applying them to real-world scenarios, experiential learning encourages students to learn by doing. One of the most popular experiential learning methods is the business plan competition. Many MBA programs now offer business plan competitions, in which teams of MBA candidates are responsible for authoring a comprehensive business plan complete with financial projections, marketing strategies, and return-on-investment analyses. These business plan are then judged by successful entrepreneurs as well as professors. In many business plan competitions, the winners are often funded by venture capitalists and angel investors.

    Experiential learning can happen in or out of the classroom by incorporating community engagement and education through:

    - community-based projects
    - problem-based simulations
    - team challenges

The best way to get insight into a particular school's method of teaching is to set up an interview with a faculty member through the admissions office. There are also a wealth of resources online today that detail the various teaching methods of individual professors at business schools. If you do have the opportunity to meet with a professor, here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • What do you enjoy most about teaching at this school?
  • How do you encourage interaction in your classroom?
  • Are you a member of any professional associations?
  • Do you do any industry consulting?
  • Does your school encourage interactions between students and faculty outside of the classroom?
  • Is each professor responsible for his or her own teaching and grading style?

In summary, the first thing you want to do is understand which teaching style is the best fit for you. Introverted students may gravitate towards lecture-based programs while more extroverted students may enjoy case studies and experiential learning programs. The next step is to do some research on your target schools and figure out what teaching methods they employ. While there are a number of factors to consider when choosing a business school, the teaching method used should not be ignored, so take your time, do your research, and make an informed choice to get the most out of your MBA experience.