Maximising learning through focussed group work in BBA/MBA courses


While it is possible to derive maximum benefit through group work learning in any course, it is far more easier and relevant to use group work as a method of teaching in the BBA and MBA courses. Some nuances of doing this effectively and on a mass scale, is sought to be explained in this article.

Introduction

Across branded B schools in India, where they also conduct the BBA course in addition to the MBA course, I had observed how effective group work learning was in practice, both as an Adjunct Faculty Member and as a special invitee from the industry. Every three or four students were given tasks related to learning through group work. For example, if the topic is 360 degrees appraisal, four students would be assigned the task of preparing a good PowerPoint presentation on the concept. The entire exercise was thrilling as the presentation would then become a record for the entire group of students at that point in time.

It should be noted that there is a big difference between group discussion and group work. In a competitive situation like the selection of management trainees, Group Discussions are used to identify leadership potential and communication/presentation skills of the candidates. Group work does include group discussion, but here the logic is to elicit as much data as possible and then extrapolate it to different contexts. There is no competition between BBA/MBA students as such. What is more important is that the group evolves its own methods of coming up with innovative presentations and analysis of data pertaining to any topic.

What really matters in terms of effective teaching in the BBA/MBA courses is to adopt an integrated approach to group learning. How does this work? It can and should work immediately after the first semester and the integrated approach should cut across all functional disciplines to the maximum extent possible. It is also essential that such group learning should be anchored in the real-world context. How does one get this done?

The best methods of getting this done is through a) Utilizing the group to do research on business events b) Extrapolating learning to various contexts through case-study discussions c) Utilizing loop learning to consolidate d) Arriving at fresh insights and e) A periodical Review of all integrated learning.

Utilizing the group to do research on business events

Every major political event is a superb learning platform for group work learning. Many colleges have already started online classes for both BBA and MBA students. Let us take one specific example of such group work learning for BBA students. Let second-year BBA students in groups of six, research what will happen to Indian business organization's in one State if the Chinese goods were to be boycotted. There is a lot of data that is available on the internet. If the college is in Andhra Pradesh, let the group learning be specific to that State.

For the MBA students, the learning should be spread across the impact on all the five States. For example, the group has to just visit a nearby cell phone shop to understand the drop in sales of Chinese mobiles. Another group can visit the local dealer of all electronic goods to study the impact, when the shops open for a few hours. The learning is always open-ended and subject to change in Government policy. At the macro level, any studies are now on and many articles have already appeared in many business newspapers like The Hindu Businessline.

The trick is to force the BBA/MBA student to do group work and this is now possible even through video calls, as almost every student would have a smart phone. Gone are the days when students learned only through textbooks. Today, the maximum learning is going on only through the anchoring of any event or concept in the light of business events and strategies of huge business organizations.

MBA students can also learn from the two different types of organizations. let us consider two types of organizations. The first type are the zero debt or limited debt organizations. The second type pertains to organizations like the Ambani and Adani groups and the Essar group, which have huge debts. What strategies have these two types of organization's used? Let the group start working on two different groups of organizations. Let us cover, say forty different organizations, spread over eight groups of seven students each. Imagine the massive amount of data collection and the learning that is likely through the sharing of knowledge between group members. The scope is extremely high.

Extrapolating learning to various contexts through case-study discussions

The most important point here is that the discussion is not between members of a group alone. Each and every member is given the freedom to explore different possibilities and contexts for further exploration of knowledge.

In the branded colleges and the B schools, the teachers of the BBA/MBA keep on asking "what if" questions. One such "what if" question is still fresh in my mind. The learned teacher had given the students the topic for the group work, as "socio-economic impact of small loans". The students were assigned to meet a bank manager who gave the students some leads. The mandate of actually visiting the homes of the borrowers were given to the students. Most respondents lived in very small houses. None of them lived in slums.

The teachers immediately came out with four "what if" scenarios. The first was to ask them if they had any other source of income. The second was to go deep into co-operation between peers in the same business. What if this was a reality. The third was the prediction related to more demand. And the final "what if" question given by the teacher was to find out the scope for more loans. In a way, this data collection immensely helped the bank to lend even more. The students were not aware of this at the beginning. So, the knowledge goes on expanding through coming up with different "what if" scenarios.

Utilizing loop learning to consolidate d) Arriving at fresh insights

In one of my earlier article, I had discussed the relevance of loop learning. This can be used extensively in the above examples as well. The loop is a very comprehensive method of learning in which several loops go on emerging with data collection and the scope of the loop itself keeps on expanding.

A Periodical Review of all integrated learning

In those days, in the early 1980s, at Loyola College Chennai there was no internet or the computers in a big way. Everything was done manually. However, we were always asked to submit small reports and even these reports were reviewed once a month. If the teacher found some mistake, we would have to repeat the group work again. Life was extremely tough in the MSW degree, especially in the first year. However, the scope of the integrated learning went on increasing day after day and the cumulative knowledge was very high. Co-operation between the group members was quite high in those days. The biggest advantage of the BBA/MBA course is that new concepts keep on emerging and the relevance of any concept or creative idea is always tested in the real world of business.

Most specifically, the concept of organized retail, with the most advanced technology, has already happened in India. Simultaneously, the likes of Amazon and Flipkart have also started making waves. The entire range of services -- both online and offline is growing day-after-day. The actual learning experiences emerge from the real-world experiences and the scope for group work learning goes on increasing day after day. The students have ample opportunities to explore the strategies of the King of organized retail, Mr. Kishore Biyani. Such examples abound.

Conclusion

If we were to understand the dynamics of the group work learning in the BBA/MBA courses, the scenario will include whatever has been discussed above, in one form or the other. Some details have been discussed in the aforesaid paragraphs. We can actually expand the scope of group work learning by leaps and bounds in all BBA/MBA colleges.


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