Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Communication Instruction in MBA Programs: A Survey of Syllabi

Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Communication Instruction in MBA Programs: A Survey of Syllabi

Article excerpt

A survey of syllabi of MBA communication courses suggests that the "typical" MBA course focuses on skill development and integrates both speaking and writing, often with emphasis on speech. It builds problem solving and strategic communication skills through experiential learning gained in workshops, case studies, or field experiences. Current trends favor integration of communication courses into a unified core.

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EXACTLY WHAT KIND OF MATERIAL is covered in an MBA communication course? How does this material differ from that taught in core management courses? Is there such a thing as a "typical" course? To answer questions like these, we requested communication course syllabi from the MBA schools ranked in the top two tiers in the March 1992 issue of US News & World Report. Although some schools have been deleted from or added to this list by both US News & World Report and Business Week in the past three years, we believe that the schools identified in 1992 provide an excellent sample of premier schools across the nation. A comparison of these syllabi reveals some interesting trends.

According to our findings, only 5 schools of the 53 polled currently offer no communication program as part of their course of study. One of these schools, Northwestern University, is in the process of designing a communication curriculum. Of the 48 schools offering communication programs, 5 offer informal programs. These informal programs vary dramatically in scope. For example, the University of Florida links its communication program to the placement office, teaching communication skills as an adjunct to the job-search process by having students critique corporate presentations and interviews. At the University of California at Los Angeles, communication is an informal component of core classes with no separate syllabus.

The majority of the formal programs (35) focus on skill development. Skill development, as we use the term here, does not suggest remediation, nor is it meant to suggest that the programs offered are without a theoretical foundation. Almost all of these programs concentrate on enhancing skills. Several instructors state clearly on their syllabi the premise that their students do know how to speak and write effectively. They and their students view enhanced communication skills as providing a competitive edge in the workplace. To achieve this goal of skill enhancement, programs draw on a variety of business and rhetorical theories. The focus, however, is on applying theory. In keeping with this focus, most skills-based courses emphasize problem-solving models and the application of strategic communication skills.

The bulk of the skill development courses (21) integrate writing and speaking, but the focus is often on oral skills. An additional 12 schools teach writing and speaking as separate courses. Two schools present only oral skills. Although interpersonal and group dynamics are appearing more frequently on course syllabi, most courses stress the development of formal presentation skills.

No school requires a communication course that focuses solely on organizational communication. The University of Notre Dame, however, does use an anthropological approach in teaching an elective intercultural communication course (Notre Dame's two required courses focus on skills development). However, six schools present a hybrid course, combining organizational communication, managerial communication, and oral and written skill development in relatively equal measures.

Whether their focus is organizational communication, skill development, or some combination of the two, all schools emphasize experiential learning through the case method, field projects (which allow students to consult with local organizations, identify and resolve problems, and present their findings to members of these organizations), or workshops and laboratory experiences.

A number of schools have either recently emerged from revision, are in the process of revision, or will undergo revision within the next several years. …

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