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updated: 4/13/2017 11:24 AM

The rise of stackable knowledge

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  • BRYAN J. WATKINS

    BRYAN J. WATKINS

  • NEIL J. HOLMAN

    NEIL J. HOLMAN

  • Thinkstock illustration

    Thinkstock illustration

 

Today, companies need to adapt quickly to changing conditions.

Businesses and their employees need to be agile to survive.

They need to embrace change and modify strategy to handle anything from globalization to digital innovation.

These market forces are affecting business schools, too.

Increasingly, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program must meet the needs of working professionals who require flexibility and practical knowledge they can apply quickly on the job.

The business community also demands a variety of learning options and delivery formats that will serve to prepare employees to contribute to organizational goals right away.

The rise of stackable knowledge

The demand for fast results means that businesses and students need their learning to focus on exactly what they need, when they need it. This "just-in-time" learning can come in the form of training and development programs. Whether for technical or "soft" skills, programs can be designed to meet many needs.

While these programs are generally beneficial to the employer -- employees apply knowledge as soon they acquire it and continue to hone their skills -- the employee may not walk away from these hours of education with a tangible credential.

So, how do we ensure both employers and employees benefit from "just-in-time" learning?

Working closely with organizations to identify skill gaps, higher education institutions can offer credit for training and development programs. Broadening the recent "stackable credential" model, which allows students to enter and exit degree programs as needed, schools can build a more deliberate learning path that meets the needs of both the individual and organization.

When they discover another knowledge or skill gap that needs to be filled, they can stack another piece of knowledge on top of what they have already learned in a thoughtful, logical progression.

This is stackable knowledge.

Agile knowledge delivery

For stackable knowledge to be effective, more than the topics need to be on-point. The delivery matters, too.

Flexible delivery requires that in addition to traditional coursework, students and employees might participate in weekend workshops, in-house brainstorming sessions, and short, customized online courses that individuals can complete anywhere.

It also includes structured, real-world projects, facilitated by corporate and community leaders, that allow participants to practice new skills as experienced mentors guide the way.

Focus on long- and short-term business needs

Although flexible learning has become an essential component of business education, it does not mean that short-term solutions are the answer. Within each topic of stackable knowledge, students learn to take a long-term, strategic view.

And, as they continue to build their knowledge, piece by piece, they become even better at weighing the consequences of today's actions on future goals.

An MBA is a strong credential. Earning and presenting an MBA to an employer demonstrates that a certain level of skills and knowledge has been achieved.

Schools that deliver graduate business degrees stay relevant if they work with companies to assess their needs and set specific learning and behavioral goals that are clear and effective.

At Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, we are far along the path of implementing stackable knowledge into our business education programs.

For seventy years, we have been focused on a high-performance, results-oriented approach to business education, and agile content and delivery are the latest iteration of our philosophy. It is through our graduate degree programs and Corporate Learning Solutions that students and participants gain real-world skills to become broad thinkers and strong leaders.

• Bryan J. Watkins, Ed.D, is vice president and chief academic officer, and Neil L. Holman, Ph.D., is dean, educational programs and development at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

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