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Managers as students

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Reflective learning – new techniques and theories

On your MBA you will be studying across a whole range of subject areas and disciplines. In particular you will learn:

  • New techniques, for example, net present value, which allows you to compare current cost with expected future benefits, or return on investment, which compares actual or estimated returns with actual cost. Here you need to learn the formulae and rules. You also need to understand how they are used and with what significance, and gain practice in using them.
  • New theories, methodologies and models which explain complex reality or provide a framework for analysing problems or issues. Look at the theory or model in the light of your experience. Does your own evidence support the theory? Can the models throw light on the way you do things? What can/can't they account for/explain? Not only will the theories and models be easier to learn if you apply them to your personal experience, but you may also find ways of functioning better at work, or be able to suggest better ways of doing things to your senior management.

However, just as rote learning at this level is inappropriate, so is applying a particular technique just because you heard about it in your class on Wednesday evening. Is this technique the latest, is this theory based on sound research? If there is a chasm between classroom and work, is this because the theories promulgated at the former are old hat or has the latter not caught up with the latest thinking?

You will inevitably find it easier to apply what you learn in areas where you have functional expertise. Remember, however, that you are studying in order to expand your all-round knowledge of business, and aim to acquire a working knowledge of the material for different disciplines and functions – which you should be able to relate to the organization as a whole, if not your particular area. You should also find it easier to understand the language of colleagues!

If you have concerns that your experience is too particular to one organization, remember that many MBAs use case studies as a good way of embedding models and theories, and you will also constantly be exposed to the experiences of others on the course.