Success in Education—It's All about Learning from Experiences
Ever since I was 17 years old, I wanted to be a college instructor. After completing my first bachelor’s degree in a little over three years, I wanted to be finished for life with college. That lasted four years and then I returned for life. After earning five degrees—with more than 500 credits to my name, plus assorted noncredit classes—I figured it was time to start sharing what I learned and experienced in my life. I began teaching for national research universities, small local colleges and other online schools, ultimately reaching over 5,000 students in more than 300 classes.
In 2001, I joined the faculty at University of Phoenix, teaching management classes for the MBA program. These classes focus on getting students up to speed on the skills and resources they’ll need to succeed in the business program. Students raise their skill levels to the level that’s expected in an MBA program through the use of well-designed assignments and activities. I also give assignments that help students get comfortable with accepting and incorporating feedback from a critical thinking perspective.
Motivation at the Root of Learning
I’ve recognized different motivations among students who enroll in our MBA program. There are those who want or need the degree to pursue their next start-up business; those who hope to earn a promotion at work; and those who may have been through different jobs and are eager to see where an MBA can possibly take them.
Whatever their motivation, the one thing I’ve found is students want to know how the information they’re learning affects them. It requires the ability to take academic theory and apply it to the job they’re working within—thereby creating something they can use the very next day. So I encourage them to focus on what they want to do in their professional life—or what their motivation was for initially coming into our MBA program—and how to accomplish that.
Building on Knowledge with Experience
A centralized curriculum is used across all University of Phoenix locations and prepares students for the next class in the sequence. Nothing is taught in silos. Within the business program especially, it’s largely about building a vocabulary that you can use in your work every day, covering everything from spreadsheets to business law to HR. The idea is to provide a good foundation in an MBA, as well as a framework around which to have productive conversations and make informed decisions.
Using a centrally developed curriculum is helpful for faculty members who are just starting to teach a class, considering their busy professional lives. It provides a structure and a set of assignments that give an idea of how to conduct the class the first time through. Once they’ve taught a class, they can take what they’ve observed or learned and incorporate it into the next class. I believe this process improves classes over time.
By not having to spend so much time constructing the courses, faculty members have the freedom to extrapolate from their own life experiences. These real life lessons can add richness to the class. I incorporate some small-business fundamentals MBA students can learn from and use. Many are based on my own rather Bohemian career path. My wife and I have experience running a diversity of small businesses, ranging from insurance to greeting cards to website development to Fortune 100 consulting work. Because of that varied experience, I know firsthand what contributed to the success and failure of ideas, and I can assist students in knowing where the opportunities and pitfalls lie.
An Environment That Fosters Learning and Interaction
It’s fun for me to see the interaction that evolves among my students, particularly those who are on very different rungs of the career ladder. For example, in the same class I’ve had someone whose experience is primarily retail shift work, as well as someone who’s a department manager at a major company. At first, the dynamic that played out between them highlighted their perceived difference in career level. However, as the course progressed, they found common ground to learn equally.
This shows that new ideas and knowledge can come from anyone, no matter their position. Learning comes from experience, no matter what form that experience takes. I see it play out in my classes every day. And that’s one of the things that stands out about the University of Phoenix School of Business—it fosters a unique environment that enables learning and interaction to take place.
This article originally appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, UOPX Campus Viewpoints section. To review our current faculty articles, visit: https://chronicle.com/campusViewpoint/University-of-Phoenix/29/.