Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

Project-Based Strategic Management Education: A Client Perspective on Key Challenges

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

Project-Based Strategic Management Education: A Client Perspective on Key Challenges

Article excerpt

Introduction

Project-based pedagogy with industry clients offers students practical learning opportunities linking conceptual knowledge and skills with the reality of business dynamics and complexities. To build a sustainable applied educational model, a meaningful partnership with students, faculty, local business clients, industry liaisons, and the educational institution is a must. Several studies have explored ways to develop healthy pedagogical designs for applied-learning and investigated students' reflection on their applied pedagogical experiences (e.g., Kraft & Goodell, 1991; Thompson, & Edwards, 2009; & Gaumer, Cotleur, & Arnon, 2012).

In addition, it has become critical for universities to offer students project-based learning opportunities to provide a workforce with practical experience. These opportuni - ties are also meaningful to universities to accomplish their strategic objectives for student engagement and establishing community relationships and development activities. Given this, project-based learning appears to be beneficial to the student and educational institution; however, the perspective from the small business client on the benefits derived from their experiences must also be taken into consideration (Wolf, 2010). Carnegie has a prestigious award that recognizes higher education's commitment to community engagement in which project-based learning falls. Building on Driscoll's (2006) defined importance of community engagement for universities, Carnegie Community Engagement Classification defined community engagement as those activities and collaborations between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity (Carnegie Foundation, 2013). It seems we are measuring the benefits from project-based learning but not from the client perspective; and given Carnegie's definition of community engagement, we cannot claim to have accomplished engagement without acknowledging first the benefits to all parties involved.

To build on this repository of knowledge in developing project-based pedagogy with industry, this study reflects on over four years of collaborative experience with small business clients and analyzes 140 complete client survey responses to understand their experience participating in a project-based learning context as part of the Strategic Management capstone program at WCU.

Small Business Challenges

Small businesses, defined by Small Business Administration (SBA) as companies with less than 500 employees or $7.5 million in average annual receipts, have consistently served as the economic foundations creating jobs, encouraging innovation, and fostering competitiveness to stimulate economic growth. Although small businesses are more flexible and adaptive to changes, global competition continues to exert pressure on them (Moutray, 2008). Technology advancements shifted the economic structure, innovation, governance, and trade and gave new meaning to "global village" and "global competition" (Markman, Devinney, Pedersen, & Tihanyi, 2016). Thus, more than ever, strategic innovation is the driving force for sustainable competitive advantage (Taneja, Pryor, & Hayek, 2016) demanding the integration of business knowledge and technical knowledge in small business education (Penley, 2001).

Business strategic innovation is closely related to leveraging, securing and organizing resources (Achtenhagen, Ekberg, & Melander, 2017). Small business owners need a clear understanding of the competitive environment and organizational resources and capabilities while cultivating an internal strategic focus to improve performance (Harris, Gibson, & McDowell, 2014). However, with limited marketing budgets, dated marketing techniques (Jelfs & Thomson, 2016), staffing, time, resources and expertise, small businesses cannot afford competitive intelligence programs for long-term strategic planning (Prescott & Miree, 1998). …

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