[Continued from last week…my learning from a Workshop on Emerging Pedagogies in Management Education]
Simulations with a behavioral angle
I found that the simulations that bring in a stronger behavioral element would be a good complement to these more cerebral or analytical competitive games. Two products caught my eye in this context – one from Knolscape, an Indian company started by INSEAD alumni, and the other a non-computer simulation called Malgudi Express. One Knolscape product based on theories of situational leadership requires you to choose managerial styles to work with a set of subordinates with different performance histories, strengths and weaknesses of their own. While some of the academics in the room raised valid questions of cultural relativism, I thought that just the process of thinking through what style would work with a given employee would be a good learning for a sensitive manager.
Malgudi Express (MX) is based on a simulation developed earlier at the Institute for Rural Management Anand (IRMA) called Narayanpur Express. MX gives a flavor of how the rural economy “really works” and provides insights into why, for instance, a farmer may take a loan from a traditional moneylender rather than a formal banking channel despite its high financial cost. City-bred MBAs tend to thrust their own rationality on to the farmer without realizing that the farmer has to deal with substantially higher risks than most city dwellers ever face!
Most of the multi-player, multi-round competitive games are developed outside India. I was amused to find that most of them assume mature economies with modest inflation, stable interest and foreign exchange rates, and don’t allow for economic shocks or other large macroeconomic changes. They reinforce the mindset of managers in developed markets rather than preparing them for the rough and tumble of developing ones. And, for students in countries such as ours such macro conditions could be quite misleading indeed.
While the multi-round games need longer time-frames (either in a workshop over 2-3 days or a round per week over several weeks), some games are designed for quick execution. HBS Publishing (a subsidiary of Harvard Business School) offers a Start-up Game that can be played by upto 80 players in an hour in which participants play different roles such as founders, investors and employees. This game is intended as an ice-breaker for an entrepreneurship course. Some of the faculty present at the WEPME workshop were concerned about whether any learning is possible in such a short time, but it appears that the game is only designed to expose participants to the pulls and pressures faced by the different stakeholders of a start-up, and doesn’t claim to be the last word on running one.
Knolscape also offers simulations that can typically be completed in half a day. I assume this reflects the fact that many of its simulations are designed for a corporate audience. In fact, the company is hot on co-creating new simulations with academic and corporate partners. As a result, the company has a wide product range.
ET Cases, a subsidiary of the Times of India Group, has some interesting ideas including video cases (we saw some glimpses of video cases on an F-commerce pioneer called Gifting Happiness, and the successful food chain, Bikanerwala. They are also creating cases around interesting articles that have appeared in the past in the Economic Times. Both are valuable initiatives, though it seems to me that the video cases need to be strengthened by a data supplement or at least an industry report if they are to be effective vehicles for class discussion.
Accounting is a bugbear for MBA students, particularly those who come from an Engineering background. How do you make learning accounting fun? That’s a challenge Abhijit Phadnis took on some years ago in response to a request from the Aditya Birla group. In collaboration with Skilldom, an animation and simulation design company, Abhijit has created a 49 “episode” animated film that covers the basics of accounting and finance. It’s got rave reviews even from experienced accounting professionals.
Session Chair of one of the sessions Manju Ahuja of the University of Louisville quoted Maya Angelou: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” to emphasise the importance of bringing emotion into the learning process.
At least two of the companies (EnParadigm and GTL Ventures) offer simulations that are a part of workshops and not standalone or playable through the internet. EnParadigm emphasized the importance of end-to-end learning and focuses primarily on a corporate audience. GTL offers a Blue Ocean Strategy Simulation developed by StratX in the form of a boot camp plus a practical simulation with a similar rationale.
One of the challenges in case teaching is getting everyone in the class engaged. Given the limited time available in the class, it’s not possible to give airtime to everyone, and there are often complaints from students who feel that they had prepared well but were not allowed to speak. There is also the issue of transparency of evaluation of class participation. Creatist is an active learning platform designed to address these challenges. It has two important features – (1) Quickcheck, that gives the opportunity for the instructor to pose a question to the class that everyone answers on their tablet; the answers get recorded for the instructor to review immediately and later, or can be projected on the screen and (2) Poll, the opportunity to take a quick feedback from the class on whether they agree or disagree with a particular course of action. Some faculty expressed concern on students getting distracted if they are sitting with a tablet in front of them connected to the internet!
Other solutions presented included ones that are, strictly speaking, not simulations. WizIQ provides technology for virtual classrooms and streaming videos. Another presenter provides a solution for automatic lecture capture on video so that students can refer to the video later.
The workshop gave us a good sense of the potential of simulation. At the same time, there is a need to avoid over-hyping its virtues. Some of the speakers went as far as to say that simulation is the solution to all the quality problems in management education (faculty quality, standardization, etc.). My sense is that simulation is an excellent complement to the other methods we currently use in the classroom.
On the other hand, the sharp criticism from faculty about the shortcomings of different products may not be warranted either. Most of these tools should be helpful as long as one understands both their benefits and limitations. Any tool is as good as the users, so it’s up to faculty to utilize the simulations well. Faculty need to dive in, and learn. But one thing I am reasonably confident of is that students will find simulations a welcome addition to what is currently being done in the classroom.
I particularly liked one point that Ramkumar made – that it is important to close the loop, i.e., face the consequences of one’s actions, for learning to happen. The case method, by its very Socratic approach, remains somewhat open-ended, and doesn’t close the loop. But, a good simulation such as a multi-round game, makes you face up to the consequences of the decisions you make.