How to teach MBA students well| THE Campus Learn, Share, Connect

Hello, my name is Carl Sherwood from the University of Queensland. I’ve been invited to share some tips for teaching MBA students. My advice draws on the academic literature, having been an MBA student and from teaching MBA students business economics for several years.

Having taught at university for over 20 years, I’ve found teaching MBA students to be the most challenging. At the heart of this, I believe, lies their high expectation of getting value for money from receiving an exceptional learning experience. 

So, why is this such a big deal when teaching MBA students compared to other students? It’s really about understanding who these students are.

Let’s think about a typical MBA class of, say, 30 students. There’ll be a range of professional backgrounds that include engineers, lawyers, HR managers, along with various small-business owners. I’ve even had a commercial avocado farmer. They usually have several years work experience, are highly motivated, expect good marks and see themselves as customers that expect good service – I mean, good teaching.

It’s also the case that the opportunity cost to an MBA student of putting their career on hold is typically higher than most other university students’. They see time as money, expect teachers to be well prepared and not waffle. They usually can accept the occasional teacher mistake, but they quickly detect underperformance and can vigorously complain.

So, knowing what makes an MBA student tick reveals why I believe you need to be at the top of your teaching game for these students. Close enough will usually not be good enough to deliver the exceptional learning experience they expect.

So, knowing what MBA students expect in value, how can a teacher deliver an exceptional learning experience? I believe the key is to exploit the students’ wealth of practical work experiences. Most students are eager to share what they know. Through vigorous class discussions and debates an active learning environment helps promote sense-making of new concepts.

MBA students also like to adopt what they learned today into their business tomorrow, when they can, so design assessment to be authentic rather than use exams. For example, let students choose their own context for a task to demonstrate their learning of particular concepts. They’ll instantly find learning relevant and value the learning experience.

And MBA students are expected to be able to critically analyse problems using theory to provide recommendations by the end of their programme. So, teachers should encourage students to develop an integrated view of their learning by showing them how to make connections to other courses in the programme. For example, supply and demand in economics can be connected to concepts in finance and marketing. Bringing a holistic learning approach to your teaching will help create a learning experience that MBA students value.

There are teaching advantages in meeting MBA students’ expectations.

First, it brings an awareness that you need to deliver an exceptional learning experience, something that is crucial to help make your teaching experience enjoyable.

Second, it provides opportunities to collect practical examples from MBA students during class discussions that you can use when teaching other undergraduate or postgraduate courses.

And third, delivering an MBA course successfully is rewarding and can help with being recognised as an excellent teacher.

Yet, there are disadvantages too. Since your MBA course is part of a coordinated programme, time and effort are needed to become familiar with other courses’ content and their teachers, so as to not replicate things. Students will recognise your efforts, though, and reward you for it.

You’ll also need to deal with MBA student feedback, which can be very critical. But if you take their feedback constructively, it can usually help improve your teaching.

In summary, my point is that MBA students can present teaching challenges. To address this, teachers need to understand who these students are, what they value and what their expectations are. By implementing strategies that create exceptional learning experiences, most teaching challenges become less daunting. You’ll find teaching MBA students becomes energising and one of the most rewarding teaching experiences.

This video was produced by Carl Sherwood, a senior lecturer in the School of Economics at the University of Queensland.

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