As well as conducting research and delivering training and development opportunities, SMART Partners is committed to supporting Participant Centred Learning in Management Education, particularly through apprenticeship and work-based learning, and the use of the Case Study method.

Current research into participant centred learning, as critiqued by the Academy of Management Learning & Education, identified that management education İs often criticized for being “repositories of multiple frameworks that are not tightly integrated and are aging rapidly” (Mahoney & McGahan, 2007, p. 86). Others have voiced concerns with regard to the lack of effectiveness of strategic management education (Jarzabkowski & Kaplan, 2015; Porter & McKibbin, 1988; Mintzberg & Gosling, 2002). Mintzberg (2004) argues that MBA faculty have too readily reduced management education to a kit bag of analytic techniques that are often inadequate and irrelevant to effective strategic thinking itself. Some observers note that “practitioners increasingly judge the field as irrelevant, and that judgment is reflected in student assessment” (Bower, 2008; p. 274).

This has led to increasingly frequent calls for more relevant and practically applicable management education (e. g. Bower, 2008; Mintzberg, 2004; Greiner, Bhambri, & Cummings, 2003; Rynes, Bartunek, & Daft, 2001; Starkey & Madan, 2001).  Furthermore, it is noted that teaching and learning approaches that might work in one educational context may be far more problematic in other contexts (Cataloa et al, 2015) and so the implications for knowledge transfer has to take geographic and cultural context into account. 

For almost 100 years there has been a growth in adoption of case study methodologies as constructivist oriented pedagogic tools employed in management education to promote students’ active participation so they could form their own learning (Heath, 2015; Saleewong et al, 2012; Sudzina, 1997).  Given the changing nature of management education, and the geographic spread of adoption of the case method, which has subsequently led to the adoption of differing approaches to case teaching and learning, there are more recent developmental approaches to a wider understanding of the use of the case method, including extensive use of the case as an online learning tool (Lee et al, 2009; Montiel, 2013; and Saleewong et al, 2012), using cases for managing risk and uncertainty in business (Petit, 2016); and for use in classroom management problem solving (Choi and Lee, 2008).

The case method has evolved from a US-centric approach to participant centred learning adopted for executive education and postgraduate learners, to being adapted and adopted for use with undergraduates (Velenchik, 1995; and Kennedy et al; 2001), and work based learners (Raelin, 1997) across the world.  Its adaptability as a tool for participant centred learning has significant value for learners because, as Hammond points out, as “case studies cut across a range of organizations and situations, they provide you with an exposure far greater than you are likely to experience in your day-to-day routine,” (2002; p1) and as Heath notes, the case study provides a slice of reality from within an organisational situation that enables students to experience “a willing suspension of disbelief” (2015; p70) as they immerse themselves into the narrative of the story, and the issues raised by the case, and in doing so they can meet many sides of themselves that they can take back to their own worlds once the playing is over (Clark, 1996).

It is without doubt that the case study has evolved as a champion of pedagogical tools for participant centred learning (Gragg, 1940), which has subsequently adapted for extensive use across a range of different pedagogic genres, making it a logical starting point for this research project.

One of the most significant contributions of higher education to economic development and innovation has been the development of work based learning and research (Costley, Elliott and Gibbs 2010). In the context of knowledge economies, the role of knowledge based on a binary distinction between creator and users has become blurred. The antecedents of the current push towards curricula that reflect employer, employee and skills needs are in the idea of ‘mode 2’ knowledge (Gibbons et al 1994) which is produced and valued outside the university and is not discipline based, and in the idea of experiential learning in which the learner is understood as ‘skilful’, that is, with tacit knowledge and skill that can be theorised and applied through work based projects (Elliott 1999). Such projects require the cooperation and collaboration of three key participants: the university, the employer, and the employee (Gibbs and Garnett 2007). Each is seen to contribute a distinctive perspective, each is necessary to ensure up to date, work-relevant, and innovative outcomes that are practical and useful for the individual (by enhancing knowledge, skill and qualifications), the organisation (by contributing to a highly skilled workforce) and the academy (by satisfying the demands of the knowledge economy and remaining competitive) (Boud and Soloman 2001).

Participant centred learning through work based research has been the principal mechanism for organisational development in the modern economy (Loon 2016). Through bringing together education and training the world of work is recognised as a valuable resource for the higher education curriculum (Basit et al 2015). For the learner, participant centred work based learning integrates the learner and the practitioner through engagement with work based practice (Elliott, Kadi-Hanifi and Solvason, forthcoming). Thus, education and training programmes are developed through collaboration between academics, trainers, and managers, to ensure that they reflect live issues, current topics, and the nuances of organisational politics. Key to this is the real time, real world work based project, that is designed to meet the needs of the employee, whether entry level, supervisory or managerial. The focus is upon insider research, learning from experience, reflection, theorising, and often acting through using an action research cycle approach to learn from and improve practice, and to bring about multiple changes in a complex work environment (Portwood 2007). Projects can be uni-or multi-dimensional, internally focused or comparative, national or international, resulting in an enormous diversity of scope, topic and research methods employed, sometimes described as ‘bricolage’ because the outcomes require practical as well as theoretical understanding (Denzin and Lincoln 1994). This perspective is the provenance of the current policy drive towards globally competitive and locally engaged translational research (OECD 2007).

The benefits for learners and organisations of this holistic approach are enormous. For the learner, participant centred learning in management education fosters a direct involvement and investment in the learning aims and outcomes – the learner owns the project, has agency within it, and it in turn shapes and builds the learner’s intellectual capital in the sphere of work. For the organisation, learning is achieved through accumulation of highly applicable and time relevant cases, comparative analysis, and in the longer term development of an organisational learning and research culture that seeks and supports creative and innovative ideas in product design, and entrepreneurship in seeking out and proving new market opportunities. Such an approach is valuable not only in itself in substantive problem solving but also, through the process of engagement in research, as a means of management development (Gill and Johnson 1997). All this is achieved through a recasting of entrepreneurship education as a research informed pedagogy that questions ‘taken for granted’ positions about what works, and brings action-orientation, autonomy and interplay between risk and responsibility to the centre of the learning process (Kyro 2015).

SMART Partners supports research, training and development to promote inclusive opportunities for participant centred learning in management education.

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