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I want to start by talking to you about what is business education. Education in its most basic form is acquired learning. Learning itself will vary based upon what information the learner is acquiring.
In this material, we focus on business education. That is, the objectives of academic institutions in “educating” their business students. For more information on the topic material covered in business schools, look at our article, Structure of a Business Education.
I am reluctant to say that business schools, “educate their students”. In truth, institutions of higher education do not educate their students. They provide the environment, resources, and methods of exposure that allow students to educate themselves.
For purposes of understanding education better, we need to first define the term a bit better.
Education vs Training
Education, in it’s broadest form, refers to the acquisition of knowledge in the form of theory and concepts. Education results in familiarity, comprehension, and an improved ability to think or reason.
One part or a specific type of education is training. As stated, education is the broad acquisition of information, the ability to apply that information to varied contexts, and the deeper meaning behind the information.
Training is targeted education with the specific purpose of acquiring some level of skill, ability, or proficiency in a defined task or competency. Restated, education teaches you about things. Training teaches you how to do things. As such training is a subset or a specific element of education, but education itself is far broader in nature.
The reason I draw a distinction between education and training is for the purpose of helping you to understand the purpose of education in the context of school or formal education.
Some schools focus on training. That is the curriculum is oriented toward the acquisition of practical skills.
For example a technical college offering courses in welding seeks to provide instruction that will allow the student to become proficient in a task. This is more akin to training. The education received is directly related to the ability to do.
I should note now that many technical colleges now offer general and specialized business degrees. This is particularly true for business fields that require knowledge of a technical nature, such as computer or systems skills.
Bachelor’s Degree in Traditional 4-Year Colleges
In contrast, four-year, baccalaureate-granting colleges, particularly liberal arts colleges, focus more upon a broader understanding of education. The bachelors degree in liberal arts seeks to create a more well rounded individual. The purpose is to introduce varied theories concepts facts. The ultimate goal is to assist the individual in learning to think. This means the ability to apply information in diverse ways in diverse contexts to achieve varied results.
In the United States the system of higher education has traditionally focused upon the well-rounded liberal arts education. Early colleges and universities did not grant specializations or college majors. Rather, colleges serve to make the individual into a more well-rounded and capable person.
There have always been schools and programs dedicated towards training. Eventually the aspect of preparedness for a particular career field has creeped into higher education. The result was the introduction of college majors and minors. This allowed an individual, after completing a certain number of general education courses, to focus on a particular field or industry of study.
While the concept remains that these individuals should expand their knowledge understanding and ability to apply the various theories and concepts to the practice of a particular field area or concentration, colleges now in place a renewed emphasis on practical ability. This is a result of the demand from constituents such as students seeking specific career fields, societies seeking individuals ready to perform tasks within the community, and governmental entities seeking overall economic development resulting from an educated and technically proficient workforce.
High School Education
The idea of separating education for those who seek ability to apply information learned to a specific context and education for the purpose of general understanding is present in secondary and postsecondary education. Many high schools offer courses that are technical or skilled track; while also offering classes aimed at preparing individuals for later attending four-year bachelors degree granting institutions.
Benefits of the Well-Rounded Education
One thing that can be noted about the more well-rounded individual, this individual is generally better able to understand others. Her ability to communicate and exchange ideas with individuals from diverse backgrounds is higher. She can relate to individuals of different ethnic backgrounds cultural backgrounds socioeconomic statuses, etc. some would call this attribute worldliness or emotional intelligence. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that these individuals can demonstrate empathy or understanding for the position understanding beliefs of others
Going forward we will talk about education in the context of a wider understanding of concepts and theories, as well as acquisition of skills and ability. The reason this form of education is so important regards its impact on the individual. A well-rounded education allows for personal growth. Individuals are able to think more broadly on topics and grasp underlying meaning in situations. As previously discussed, educated individuals tend to be more empathetic. They have a greater ability to relate and ultimately communicate with others. This broader type of understanding allows for greater contributions to society. Also, it can meets the needs and expectations of employers.
Do Employers Want Educated Employees?
Employees generally want skilled employees to complete and undertake tasks. Traditionally, employers gravitate toward trained individuals for labor, skilled labor, and technical services positions.
They prefer individuals with more well-rounded understandings for management positions. These preferences relate back to the purposes behind education and training.
The well-rounded individual, in contrast to an individual trained on a job function, does not simply learn how to do something and accept that method as the correct way. Rather, she is more prone to ask the questions, how do we do this? Why are we doing this? Should we be doing this at all? Are there other ways of doing this? Are there other things we should be doing? To summarize, an educated individual is well-rounded. She can think outside of a particular context to draw broader implications, greater understanding, and better able to develop novel approaches to any task or undertaking.
Employers however tend to gravitate toward individuals with well-rounded educations. The reason regards the ability of an educated individual to think broadly. Ultimately, employers prefer individuals who are better able to understand the broader context of situations to manage other employees and to strategize novel approaches to situations.
Understanding Business School Education
In business education there is a distinct mix between learning theory and applying skills. Generally, educational institutions seek to introduce varied theories and concepts to students. They primarily focus upon comprehension and exposure above technical proficiency. That is not to say that schools do not expose to students to specific skills or require tasks that augment skill or ability. This too is an important part of education. Schools however understand that individuals will acquire skills through repetition and practice. Most of this repetition and practice will take place on the job. As such, it is more important to expose a student broadly to wide and varied concepts. These are things that are more difficult to acquire with on-the-job training. For example, if a individual learns to do a task a specific way. That is generally how they will accomplish that task into the future. An individual who has a broader understanding of the theory behind a task, that is, why we are doing the task what is the purpose of the task, it is more likely that the individual will develop new novel approaches to that task.
Business schools straddle the fence between introduction of concepts and knowledge and practical training. My students commonly complain that they are not learning practical things or are not learning how to do things in their courses. I try to encourage them that the theoretical knowledge that they acquire in their classes will ultimately be equally or more valuable than the procedural steps behind completing a specific task. This is often difficult for the students to understand, particularly when they lack the context necessary to appreciate the ability to think outside of the predefined box of, “this is how we do things around here.” With this in mind, educators develop a business school curriculum designed to provide extensive exposure to concepts and theory, while introducing or providing exposure to the procedural aspects of business practice. Again, this is done with the understanding that students with a solid foundation (theoretical and conceptual understanding of business practice) can quickly learn the procedural methods for carrying out tasks. Once they master these learned methods, they will be better equipped to improve business performance by applying their deeper understanding of business practice.