Academic journal article Management Accounting Quarterly

Applied Learning in Graduate Business Education

Academic journal article Management Accounting Quarterly

Applied Learning in Graduate Business Education

Article excerpt


In 2000, W. Steve Albrecht and Robert J. Sack surveyed accounting faculty and practitioners to determine what each group believed were the most important forms of learning activities. They found that a majority of faculty members (52.7%) believes that assignments with real companies are a useful learning activity and should be encouraged more (see Table 1 and Table 2 for the results). In fact, in terms of usefulness, field-study projects ranked second only to internships. Yet despite the academic and professional consensus on these projects, only 40.8% of faculty respondents indicated that they use applied-learning activities to complement their classroom instruction.

On the professional side, the Institute of Management Accountants has adopted the banner of "business partner" to emphasize the changing roles of finance and accounting professionals in today's organizations. (1) This theme is supported by members of the profession and by studies like the 1999 Practice Analysis of Management Accounting, Counting More, Counting Less: Transformations in the Management Accounting Profession, which reported a change in the management accountant's duties and responsibilities from traditional activities to "business partnering" activities and predicted that this evolution would continue in the future. (2)

The changing role of today's finance and accounting professionals is echoed in the repeated calls for changes in accounting education. According to Albrecht and Sack, many accounting programs are deficient in several areas, including content, pedagogy, skill development, and technology. (3) These deficiencies can be seen at the professional level, where some accounting and finance professionals find it difficult to make the transition to the business partner role. (4)

By working together, IMA members in industry and educators can recruit applied learning projects that will benefit the educators, their students, IMA, and its professional members. IMA already collaborates with and supports educators via student chapters, faculty enhancement programs, case-writing competitions, case-solving competitions, and scholarships. Working together to develop and/or recruit projects for educational use, therefore, is simply an extension of the current partnership.


In 1996, Texas Wesleyan University began its MBA program in Fort Worth, Texas. To help distinguish its graduate program from those offered at other local universities, Texas Wesleyan chose to develop an "applied emphasis" curriculum, which required students to complete at least 36 hours of course work successfully in order to graduate. Included in that program were four core courses that required students to complete an applied project: Accounting Analysis for Decision Making, Marketing Management, Research Methods for Decision Makers, and Strategic Management. A sample list of projects conducted by students for these courses is shown in Table 3.

Incorporating applied projects into the curriculum provided numerous benefits for students, professors, and the participating sponsor organizations. First, applied projects allowed students to experience what we call "just-in-time learning," giving them an immediate opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations. Students learn an analytical method or model in lectures "just in time" to apply it to their project, providing immediate reinforcement of classroom subject matter. This contrasts with more traditional approaches where students may not have the opportunity to apply their learning until a later time, often well after graduation.

The applied approach also exposes students to a wide variety of organizations and industries. Many of the projects involved nonprofit, government, and citizen activity groups, which enabled students to develop an understanding of the applicability of business models to a broad spectrum of organizations. …

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