As you likely know, a business school is not the only manner of obtaining a business education.
Before we go down the road of discussion options for a business education, its important that I make the distinction between education and training.
Education is generally about the acquisition of knowledge, including theory, concepts, and procedures. Training concerns instructions on how to complete a task. In the broad sense, business education includes elements of education and training. We use this broader definition for the remainder of this article.
We explore the distinction between education and training in, “What is a Business Education”.
Options for Business School Education
While completing a business school program of study does offer some distinct advantages (you can read about those advantages in “Do You Really Need a Business Degree?”), there are numerous alternatives to a traditional business degree.
The alternatives to a business degree can be grouped based upon their characteristics, as follows:
- Self Study
- Training Programs
- Experiential Learning
Let’s take a look at each of these individually.
Self study is a broad category. Here, you undertake the effort to identify learning resources and use them appropriate to acquire business-related knowledge.
We categorize self study into the following resource-based categories:
Business Texts – The traditional method is to read business books, periodicals, websites or other publications. I’ll refer to these resources collectively as business texts. Business texts come in three major categories:
- How-to Books,
- News and Newspapers,
- Popular Books, and
- The Internet.
Textbooks are put out by both major and independent academic publishing companies. Though, you can increasingly find open-sourced, free textbooks written by professors and practitioners. Textbooks tend to be heavy on theory and research findings. Textbooks also frequently include topic explanations, practice questions, discussions, and illustrated examples. Examples of major textbook publishers include Engage, McGraw-Hill, Emerald Group, Macmillan Learning, Pearson Higher Education, Rutledge Taylor and Francis Group, Wiley, Wolters Kluwer.
Journals are outlets or publishers of academic research on specific topics. The academic research can be Basic or Discovery Research (which is generally exploratory or scientific in nature), Applied or Integrative (which is generally prescriptive or practitioner-based), and pedagogical (which involves teaching and learning methods for a particular topic). Business journals are generally broken down by areas of subject-matter interest; though, there are numerous journals that have very broad coverage of business topics. Some well-known business journals are The Harvard Business Review, Journal of Management, Journal of Marketing, The Journal of Finance, The Accounting Review, Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice, etc.
How-to books are a shortened forms of textbooks. They shorten or remove much of the theoretical concepts and focus on the practice-based elements of a topic. They generally included fewer practice questions and discussions; but, they often have more thorough illustrated examples of practice-based application of business concepts. There are many companies and individuals that produce “How-to Books”. Some examples of well-known how-to guides include: the “For Dummies” series; Barron’s series; Harvard Business Review series; and the Entrepreneur Magazine series.
A major source of business knowledge that many overlook is magazines. They tend to target practical information about business practice, promote business tools, and feature interesting businesses. Not only are they useful, they are generally written to be entertaining for the reader. Research has shown that this type of entertaining information is easier to digest and retain. Some of the most notable magazines targeting business-minded individuals include Fast Company, Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Inc.
Next on our list of self-learning resources is the News & Newspapers. While print newspaper circulation has dramatically declined in recent years, there is still a very strong readership of business-related newspapers. Much of the newspaper content has transitioned to online outlets and on air news services that focus entirely on business matters. The most well-known business newspaper is the Wall Street Journal. The most popular website and television business news outlets are CNBC and Bloomberg.
Popular Books on business are a common jumping off point for individuals interested in learning about business. There are countless books on the market, mostly written by industry practitioners who have achieved some level of notoriety, outlining their thoughts on business practice. These books span the curriculum of business school offerings – including, management, leadership, marketing, finance, accounting, economics, etc. Some of the most popular business books of all time include: How to Win Friends and Influence People, Good to Great, The Lean Startup, Think and Grow Rich, Drive, etc.
Lastly, the Internet is a treasure trove of excellent business information. There are numerous private and public websites that offer unlimited information any any discernible area of business practice. Some web-based businesses focus on providing training and education to its clients or users. For example, LinkedIn Learning has become one of the most popular paid learning platform for individuals – including those interested in business. YouTube contains thousands (if not millions) of videos providing information on business theory and practices. Many private websites of experts and enthusiasts provides learning material, how-to guides, case studies, etc., all designed to aid you in learning business. In fact, that is the underlying purpose of this website.
Many for-profit and non-profit groups offer business training. Many non-profit business training programs are affiliated with major business schools. Some non-profit groups focus on promoting economic development in a region. Some notable organizations offering business training include the Small Business Administration (SBA), SCORE, Chambers of Commerce.
There are many for-profit organizations that make money by offering business training courses and certificate programs. Some well-known for-profit business training organizations include: Skillsoft, Franklin Covey, Toastmaster International, IMD, Fundera, 360 Training, etc.
Finally, the most common method of acquiring business knowledge is through experience. Throughout history individuals have learned business through trial and error or practice.
Across the world, millions of individuals (many or most without a formal business education) start new businesses. While the success rate of new business ventures is somewhat low, it is apparent that these individuals learn a great deal about business practice from their collective experiences.
Others learn business practice through their experiences or work in an established business. Many employers allow labor-level employees to learn business practice (and ultimately enter into management roles) through management training programs. Some employers have training school built into their employee on-boarding process.
The educational systems in many countries depend (or historically depended) upon experiential learning to train its workforce. These systems use apprenticeship programs.
The modern equivalent of these programs is the use of internships and cooperative arrangements between schools and industry or government organizations.
See our article on “What is an Internship?” for more information on the role that internships play within business schools.
Final Thoughts on Options for Business Education
To summarize, there are numerous options available to someone interested in learning business practice. In fact, there are so many options that they can be overwhelming. That is one of the primary benefits associated with a business school program. It provides an organized structure and approach to acquiring business knowledge and skills.
You can find more information about how business schools are organized in our Structure of a Business Education Article.