Facilitating Lasting Learning

My BBA 407 (Strategic Management) course is sort of a capstone course for final year business students. The class provides a framework to students to facilitate thought about corporate strategy development and implementation. That framework works best when students can readily draw upon principles and concepts that they learned in earlier classes ranging from financial statement literacy to the role of supply-and-demand in clearing markets.

However, each semester, a subset of students lacks proficiency in those earlier principles and concepts. Examples include an inability to read financial statements provided from actual companies in their SEC filings, difficulty in recognizing that profit maximization is not the same thing as revenue maximization, and a lack of understanding that firms can set price or production figures, but not both given the realities of the demand curve.

Almost all of those students ultimately go on to pass the course. In part, a share of class time is devoted to review of that earlier subject matter. Nevertheless, even as most of those students meet the requirements of the BBA 407 course, their passing the course does not necessarily indicate that they possess deep and lasting knowledge of the subject. Indeed, given their earlier content knowledge gap, there is risk that, over time, the knowledge and intellectual framework that was developed and nurtured in the course will also be lost perhaps largely on account of its having been constructed on a shaky foundation from the onset.

In the context of the increasingly demanding environment in which Higher Education finds itself, the knowledge loss that takes place after a student has moved on from a course represents a problem in need of a solution. The question as to what knowledge (content, methodology, or intellectual framework) a student should possess and retain following his or her receipt of a college degree is an increasingly important one, both for a student’s opportunities for professional advancement and for prospective employers.

The academic literature offers a reasonable consensus on the factors that promote lasting learning. Such factors include, but are not limited to, high motivation and sustained attention to course material among students and clear goals and a sense of deliberate purpose among instructors.

Assessment of student learning and institutional effectiveness can play a valuable role in promoting the pursuit of lasting learning. Assessment of student learning can provide a sense of verification that lasting learning is, in fact, occurring in the basic concepts that are building blocks for a student’s academic progress. Assessment of institutional effectiveness can help an institution understand whether it is offering the kind of administrative and student support activities that are conducive to such learning.

A good starting point for that effort entails gaining an understanding at both the program/departmental and institutional levels as to how courses and various course content/student learning goals fit together. It requires the identification of basic or core concepts that are most important in facilitating student learning in successive courses. Once such concepts e.g., financial statement literacy, are identified, then collaboration within programs and departments can promote opportunities to reinforce such concepts as a student moves through his or her academic journey, so that initial student learning is solidified and ultimately made permanent. To assure that such a process is operating with a reasonable degree of confidence and consistency, assessment plans can be used to measure and re-measure student learning in those concepts among student cohorts. At the same time, institutional assessment can be tailored to focus on elements of administrative and student services that could support such learning.

Such an approach would require effort. But in an increasingly knowledge-intensive economy in which pressure for colleges and universities to demonstrate that they provide value to their students is growing, some focus on the development of lasting student learning can help demonstrate that institutions of higher learning are advancing their academic mission. Evidence of gains in lasting learning and overall student outcomes can also serve as a point of differentiation when it comes to working with accreditors, public officials, and reaching out to parents and prospective students.

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