MBA lessons #1

Back in January I promised to publish some regular posts about progress on my MBA in the hope that they would be useful for other potential students.

It’s now September and so far I haven’t published a thing, but I make no apologies.

The course is demanding and to do well and get the most value from the learning experience takes a significant time commitment.

So in the competition between study, work and family time this post has sadly been the loser until now, but hopefully I can make amends with some reflections on the first nine months.

So far I’ve completed modules on accounting, economics, organisational behaviour, and I’m now studying operations management, marketing and statistical modelling and analysis.

The curriculum is broad, but it also goes into quite some depth on each topic, so the learning experience is comprehensive. As you would expect in a business qualification though, there is an emphasis on developing the ability to apply the knowledge gained in a professional context, with plenty of academic rigour thrown in which you can read about below.

The experience has ranged from frustrating, difficult and stressful, to thought-provoking, stimulating and plain good fun. Overall however it’s been a hugely rewarding experience so far, and long may that continue.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

1. Plan your time: Whether you’re studying full-time or part-time, the work schedule can be extremely demanding. Especially, for part-time students like me who are trying to balance study with a full-time job, falling behind is easy to do and when that happens it can be difficult to catch-up. The way to avoid this happening is to begin the course with a really clear time planner that enables you to plan your study schedule for the semester ahead. I’ve seen these break the workload down week-by-week and even day-by-day, depending on the student’s situation and working style. It can also be worthwhile to specify when you will make time for lesson reading and note-taking, and when you’ll attempt tasks and exercises as it’s when you actually apply the material that the learning really sinks in.

2. Keep practicing: Whether you’re being assessed by exam or coursework, completing practice exercises as you work through the course makes a big difference to the quality of your learning. The benefits in an exam situation are pretty obvious: you’ll be able to recall information, apply concepts and construct a comprehensive, logical answer much more quickly if you’ve had plenty of practice. When it comes to writing coursework, if you’ve already had experience applying the concepts you’re being asked to demonstrate in a lesson exercise, you’ll find applying them in the final assignment comes much more naturally. Crucially, you’ll also be more adept and linking different topics together, giving you a much more sophisticated grasp of the topic as a result.

3. Develop your style: The MBA course aims to give skills and knowledge you can apply in a professional context. Nevertheless, it’s an academic qualification and so the assignments you produce need to demonstrate the appropriate level of academic rigour to succeed. This means not only sharpening your skills of analysis and interpretation to determine the best business recommendation to make on a problem you’ve been set, but also justifying your recommendations with solid academic research, theory and evidence, and thinking broadly and reflectively about the problems posed to you so you can arrive at a truly nuanced answer. If you’re studying a topic in which you have some direct professional experience, it’s easy to forget the second part of this. Years of experience in a particular field mean that often we instinctively ‘know’ the right answer, but we forget how to set out our justification. It’s this skill an academic course forces you to reawaken.

4. Don’t get spooked: Particularly on part-time programmes with an emphasis on self-study, it’s easy to get spooked by the progress of others in your cohort. While you might be feeling satisfied one minute that you’ve completed Lesson 4 of Accounting, the next you’re in a state of dismay when you discover a fellow student is up to Lesson 8! As I quickly discovered, everyone has their own individual style of learning and works at a different pace. Some people like to study several topics simultaneously, others prefer to take a more sequential approach. Some prefer to complete the reading for an entire topic before attempting practice questions, while others like to blend the two. It’s your course and you need to work at a pace and in a style that’s right for you. Time planning, once again, is important here, but so too is reflecting on how you learn and focussing on the techniques that will get you the skills and knowledge you’re looking to gain.

There are plenty more lessons I’ve learned from the past nine months and no doubt many more to come.

As I begin to focus my mind on the end-of-semester exams happening in December, I’ll share some further thoughts  on my experiences so far.

If you’re thinking of embarking on an MBA and you have any questions, then please do let me know and I’ll think about how to cover them in my next post.

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