How to make theory-practice transfer more practical

By Klaus Walter

Students at Business Schools often complain about lectures that are too theoretic. On the other hand, many Business Schools around the world wonder which state-of-the-art learning methods will be most effective in helping students to gain practical management experience.

Klaus Walter holds a Diploma in Business Administration from Kiel University of Applied Sciences (Germany). He works as self-employed lecturer and management consultant. In October 2016 he started to teach in Ireland.

Klaus Walter holds a Diploma in Business Administration from Kiel University of Applied Sciences (Germany). He works as a self-employed lecturer and management consultant. In October 2016 he started to teach in Ireland.

One traditional way is to discuss case studies. However, insight into practice may be considered low here since case-related decisions have already been made.

Another option for students to gain practical experience is internships. Internships accompanying the course of studies provide a theory-practice transfer only to a limited extent, since the students are usually only used for tasks without specific decision-making relevance.

Now, how can lecturers provide correct answers to the following sample comments from students?

  • I would like to know how decisions on going global will affect a company in the following financial years (Business Management student).
  • During my studies, I would like to be able to make the most important decisions for a production company (Business Engineering student).
  • I would like to learn how to manage a mountain resort in the Alps without travelling to the Alps right now (Tourism & Hospitality Management student).
  • I would like to experience the principle of “learning business by doing business” already during my studies (any other student).

A smart solution is a business simulation game. Business simulations are representative models of an entire company or a department in a company. Participants take over the leadership of a (virtual) company and experience first-hand typical conflicts of interest encountered in business management. They learn how to apply business methods by using many sources of information to make typical business decisions, as well as how to deal with uncertainty and time constraints within a team during the decision-making process. With the use of simulation games as an interactive method of learning, business theory and practical (simulated) experience can be optimally combined. Through (virtual) experiences and simplified learning processes, cloud-based management simulations offer a high degree of transferable knowledge and skills.

Just like pilots in a flight simulator, participants in a simulation game play specific situations over a period of several financial years without going into real danger. The effects of business decisions in the years that follow are clearly reflected in the simulation as well as the implementation of corrective measures.

The simulations can be included easily in various courses and modules. Typical formats are single 2-3 day activities, e.g. Going Global crash course for International Business Management students, or comprehensive semester courses based on a blended learning approach, e.g. Entrepreneurship, Business Planning or Business Plan Development including a business simulation. In addition to general business simulations, industry-specific and topic-specific simulations are available.

How it works

State-of-the-art business simulations are cloud-based. Normally the students are divided into teams at the beginning of a simulation. Each participant is primarily responsible for ensuring the success of her/his own business and for meeting her/his own targets. At management meetings the team members also decide together on strategies and projects that are to be implemented collectively to secure the future of the (virtual) company as a whole. In addition to team spirit, the conflict of interest is essential and the participants need to solve it with their negotiating skills.
A methodically conceived business simulation game only works, however, if a suitable concept of application is in line with the respective target group and the learning goal. This can be quite different for every university, college, school, institution or company.

Tailor-made programmes

My lecturing services usually include tailor-made programme preparation, organisation, course implementation and evaluation. In October 2016 I carried out a cloud-based business simulation at Griffith College Dublin. Six teams from different faculties competed against each other. As management teams, the participants led their company through a total of five business years with great enthusiasm and ambition.

Conclusion: The use of tailor-made business simulations will ultimately be a USP for any educational institution.

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