October 16, 2018
Learning by Doing: Disruption in Higher Education
Learning by Doing: Disruption in Higher Education

Robots are taking our jobs. Sound familiar? It can seem like these sensationalist headlines are everywhere these days. The fact of the matter is, such a statement is completely unfounded. Yes, we are seeing a growing wave of automation and yes, we are in the midst of a technological innovation revolution. But we are not all going to suddenly become unemployed. Instead, this wave of disruption only emphasises the need to be innovative ourselves, especially in our higher education systems and business schools.

Learning by doing is one way by which to change this. Learning by doing enables us to improve our outputs simply through experimentation and innovation, as opposed to by adding in more workers, more capital or, indeed, more costs. The concept fits neatly with the Susskind father and son duo’s theory that a degree of tasks will become automatable. They argue that the worker will then be able to put more effort into other tasks, or indeed into a new job altogether, making us more productive overall.

As a society, we must learn to innovate better and work more productively in order to ride this wave of technological innovation. Incorporating lean working practices such as agile and sprint into high education systems is one new way by which to better prepare business school graduates for the world that awaits. But what we do we really mean when we throw around this terminology?

In fact, sprint working fits perfectly with learning by doing’s approach of small incremental changes. Whilst sprint and agile methodology originate in product development, their application in the business world is becoming increasingly relevant and, hence, they are a natural and necessary fit in business schools’ curriculums.

A sprint is defined to be a five day (or longer) process “for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers.” A traditional waterfall approach to working means that a company will design and then create a product before testing it with its target audience. Such a methodology is both slow and highly unproductive.

Sprint and agile methodology, on the other hand, enable the team to test and innovate bit by bit. Rather than discovering a product’s incompatibility or flaws at the end of production, each prototype is tested throughout the process to reveal its effectiveness. As such, adjustments can then be made accordingly.

The concept of learning by doing, in simple terms, means learning how to do a process or use a technology better. It subsequently negates the need to invest more financial capital into a project and therefore is an efficient way to minimise costs. When learning by doing, a team should be learning from the past whilst innovating for the future.

At the end of each sprint, there is a review and retrospective process before planning the next sprint. During the review, the team reflects upon the previous sprint and what has been achieved. They can assess the feedback gained from customers, coworkers and the like, and review whether they achieved everything intended. The retrospective process enables the team to review how they have been working together from an internal point of view, and how they can perhaps be more efficient. They should discuss what went well and what did not.

These two processes ­the review and the retrospective ­then feed into the planning of the next sprint. This means that the business is able to constantly hone and improve its processes as it adapts and innovates in a rapidly changing environment. The organisation is able to test customers’ feedback and reactions before the product is released for sale and the money has been spent. Essentially, the team is learning by doing.

But how can we bring innovation into business schools? That’s where practical training comes in. Whether it be through fieldwork, internships or hypothetical role play, we are increasingly seeing business schools and higher education sending their students out into the ‘real world’ to learn for themselves.

Stepping out of the classroom and off campus enables students to get a feel for how businesses actually operate. They are able to immerse themselves in a business environment and put practical theory into action. Which, as many of us know, is always a process of trial and error. By business schools educating their students in this more practical manner, they are able to take productive efficient labour practices with them into the workplace, ready to ride the automation wave.

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