Moving towards research-based learning
In education, there is a key aspect that is vital to nurture and further any subject of study and it is research. Often neglected and probably even less understood, the importance of research cannot be over-emphasised. But this could be changing, with many business schools now seeking to adopt research-based teaching models in Indian B-schools.
In research-based learning, research is regarded as a theme which underpins the curriculum at many levels. The intention is to help students build strong intellectual and practical connections between the academic and corporate world. “Business schools have re-designed their curriculum to specifically highlight cutting-edge research findings, the scientific method of enquiry, the tools for data collection and analysis. Most importantly, the focus is on the implications of academic research on modern-day society.
A classic example for instance is this — large MNCs such as Unilever and Procter and Gamble, having recognised the huge potential for their shampoo products in India, struggled to sell their large bottles as they were impractical and far too expensive for those who lived on daily wages. To make their products more affordable and accessible, these companies built C K Prahalad’s ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ theory and conducted research on consumer behaviour, pricing, product design, packaging and distribution efficiency.
The result was single-serve packets of shampoo, which were affordable and accessible. This revelation went on to become the norm for a variety of other products (jam, coffee, aspirin, skin cream),” explains Shalini Urs, chairman and founder, Myra School of Business.
The parliamentary committee recently found that fruits and vegetables products, worth more than Rs 50,000 crore, were being wasted each year due to lack of proper storage and processing facilities in the country. In a country where millions go to bed hungry daily, this is unacceptable. Companies are now increasingly utilising tetrapack packaging technology to curb the loss. From orange juice and milk to grains, can now stay fresh for longer, manufacturers can save money on storage/refrigeration, ensure the product reaches global consumers, and employ more farmers.
“By identifying a societal need and then directing scientific data towards engineering research, executives were able to make important decisions which eventually created value for shareholders, the economy, and society. Our faculty draws on their personal research experience to design courses. By sharing examples and anecdotes about tackling topical problems with their students, they supplement theoretical coursework and narrow-case-studies in powerful ways. Subsequent discussions between students and experienced faculty allow them to brainstorm solutions for real-world problems together,” says Urs.
A research paper published by the Academy of Management Learning and Education suggests that faculty members’ research productivity and their students’ earnings after graduation are positively linked. After all, the intellectual advantage of research-based learning gives an individual tremendous value in a corporate environment.
“However, there is one important caveat to all this. As business schools move towards this research-based learning model, it is imperative for faculty to be constantly engaged with the needs of the industry through consulting experience, and not limit themselves to theoretical research from the ivory tower,” adds Urs.
Currently, the importance of research to economic, environmental, and societal progress is not heavily recognised in India. However, as the global trend towards research-based learning continues in medicine, engineering, psychology, law, and business, students will begin to understand the research principles of objectivity, respect for data and evidence, the importance of considering alternative perspectives, tolerance for ambiguity, and the importance of considering alternative perspectives.