Executive MBA (EMBA) and executive DBA programs have been steadily gaining popularity in recent years. Not only do these programs provide senior-level professionals with quality higher-level education, but their flexibility and compressed time format allow professionals to balance home and work life with study.
Still, skeptics question whether the shortened and compressed format of EMBAs can realistically provide students with subject matter expertise needed in highly technical fields, such as financial analysis.
To address this challenge, Philip English, assistant professor of finance at Fox School, developed an innovative instructional method based on the strategies employed by executives in the business world.
“If executives need a financial analysis done, the CFO would have to detach somebody to them, or they’re going to hire a consultant. And then the lightbulb went off.”
English contracted qualified, senior undergraduate finance majors to act as subject-matter experts (SMEs) and paired them up with EMBAs for case study exercises. While the finance majors provided technical expertise, the EMBAs were responsible for the tactical and strategic analysis necessary to solve the cases by identifying the major problems, determining the type of analysis needed and directing the workflow of SMEs.
English’s instructional design ensured that EMBAs developed the necessary foundational skills in finance through their work with student SMEs while providing them an opportunity to apply managerial skills and direct financial analysis in a practical fashion.
This instructional design was well-received by EMBAs. One respondent from the EMBA cohort fondly recounted their experience, “We were able to not only get quantitative support for our assignment but more importantly, we were afforded a test drive of our abilities as managers to think critically and challenge our subordinates to examine different scenarios and options.”
The benefits of this experiential learning model extended beyond EMBA learning. English notes that undergraduate finance majors were also able to hone their skills as financial analysts during case studies. Several of these students were even invited to apply for internships and open positions at EMBA firms as a result of demonstrating their knowledge and expertise.
The academic benefits were also profound. The use of student SMEs did not substitute for EMBA learning of financial concepts. On the contrary, the cohorts in English’s design saw higher quiz scores by roughly half a grade compared to classes that didn’t use student SMEs to facilitate instruction.
Although this design is both innovative and effective, English mentioned challenges when it came to replication and sustainability. Notably, his scores were lower on Student Feedback Forms, despite students’ improved grades. English believes this was due to EMBAs attributing their learning more closely with the SMEs than the instructor.
He identified recruiting student SMEs as the biggest challenge to implementing the program and warned instructors of several other time-intensive tasks needing oversight.
“I had to monitor all communications, train the undergraduate analysts, mediate any disputes and make sure no liability issues arose,” says English.
Regardless, he believes the extra time and effort invested was worth it for his students.
“You did something that was very hard to do, that was more work to do, but it was more beneficial for them.”
English’s method centers graduate learning experiences on the relevant and practical skills students will use as professionals. He encourages educators to continue to invest efforts in thinking about elegant solutions to instructional challenges in order to provide value and benefit to both students and instructors alike.