Graduates, perhaps at no other time in an economic cycle, require the ability to integrate and transfer their conceptual understanding to novel situations in a practical way.
The context in which one learns is a formative experience in promoting knowledge transfer. If knowledge is taught in one dimension then it intrinsically places a barrier to adaptive and flexible learning and its application. Alternatively, knowledge acquisition taught in multiple contexts promotes a student’s ability to assimilate, analyse, articulate and implement action plans. This ability to extract knowledge and abstract the concepts and principles relevant to any given situation is undoubtedly promoted through a more flexible multi-context presentation of knowledge. Furthermore, in a management and leadership development context it presents information in a form that will be more relevant to executive work patterns and operational requirements.
In an educational sense this requires commonality of experience and the conceptual frameworks of the learners and their tutors to ensure that the ability to move easily between the cognitive elements being described and the desired practical outcome is achievable.
At the centre of Educational Academy’s (ea) philosophy lies the concept of an integrated curriculum and this is particularly relevant to the demands of a modern career. The programme has been designed and developed from its very inception with this principle at the core of its curriculum. The ea students may come from widely differing backgrounds and be seeking to qualify experience as a formal qualification, looking for career progression or indeed career preservation. What ever their background they will bring their own level of personal contribution to the learning environment and ea’s global faculty will facilitate the translation of their knowledge and skills base across multiple context and concepts to develop the strategic corporate leaders of tomorrow.
It is hard to find a comparable offer in the UK whose curriculum and pedagogy is organised using ea’s truly integrated approach to knowledge transfer that seeks to integrate learning, contemporary leadership models, sector expertise and the pressure of corporate life into a single life changing experience.
An article in Business Week by Stefan Szymanski about the effect of “silo” thinking on business schools curriculum highlights that they tend to teach individual disciplines such as accounting, finance or organisational behaviour. This approach tends to develop a pedagogy that places heavy reliance on facts rather than provide insight or perspective on linkages between areas of potentially associated consequences. Hence faculty find it difficult to find common threads on which to link subject areas and curriculum. While tutors may be held in deep regard for their detailed insight and research into particular business issues these tended to develop within a framework re-enforcing isolated thinking from the business process and ignore the broad concepts of cycles and processes across the business as a whole.
A NEW PARADIGM
A new paradigm is required to prepare executives in different forms of thinking and analysis that place greater emphasis on long term sustainability rather than short term profits. It also asserts a longer term view of employment practices and employee reward, development and loyalty rather than always seeking to implement down sizing or off-shoring as the natural and obvious way to ensure business viability. The future ability to deal with the global financial crises will not rest simply on better regulation to prevent it from happening again but it will be that the executive decision makers will have far greater skills in analysing complex multi-contextual issues such that they can build responsive and adaptable businesses.
Thus business schools need to re-invent their approach to learning and trust in the individual to grow and develop their understanding through learning within a multi-contextual and multi-dimensional curriculum. This will build a generation of more reflective, more socially responsible and more multi-dimensional executives rather than simple dogma driven through classical business school teaching around single business models such as profit maximisation. No longer is such a simple business model relevant in a post Enron or post global financial melt-down society.
Business may be viewed as a way of life but business is only part of what makes up our civilisation and society. A cohesive and integrated approach to social and human capital development are essential in laying the underpinning foundations for the development of society together with their faith structures and the charity of thought and support for others. Therefore, it is time to revise corporate faith structures solely based around profit maximisation and greed because of their implied corrosive association to society and culture and bring a more tolerant and sustainable attitude to the integration of business within a modern society.
INTEGRATING A CURRIULUM
As we move forward towards this new paradigm, ea has for over ten years has built it’s curriculum on these principles with its team specifically seeking to build an integrated approach to learning. These build on concepts of the business as a system  dependent on its environment or sometimes referred to as a Business Ecology model.
Such approaches require executives to build on the nature of the inter-relatedness of business and society through their corporate and personal feedback mechanisms to re-enforce or limit the role business in society. The basis for using a truly integrated approach to work has a long history and work done by Roedel et al. indicates improvements in students test results when comparing tradition and integrated curriculum.
The use of concepts maps to represent how people organise their knowledge and the edges and concepts that link them can assist in looking at how a subject can be developed and knowledge transferred efficiently.
Why should an integrated approach to curriculum development be an important element in facilitating knowledge acquisition by the learner? The basis appears to be based in the fact that as children we learn within multi-dimensional frameworks that teach us the relationship between word, letter, colours, moral parameters and societal boundaries. MacNamara (1982) in writing about early years learning highlighted a stage he referred to as the “discovery phase” where concepts are learned through patterns, objects or regularities in events etc. Intuitively, a class room could seek to re-create this discovery phase to develop new aspects to conceptual learning. Thus concepts can be defined as perceived regularity (or pattern) in events or objects, or records of events or objects, designated by label.
Clearly patterns and regularities could be used as the basis for rote learning rather than meaningful learning. Meaning learning builds a pathway to knowledge and wisdom as a result of the learner:
- Being conceptually clear about the learning that has taken place and in any prepared material and able to articulate these clearly;
- Having sufficient prior knowledge is present on which to develop the necessary frames of reference and to develop further the critical thinking of the learner;
- Should be motivated to learn and must want to engage and contribute to the process and how this translates into learning and knowledge acquisition.
This suggests that for meaningful learning to occur the students must grasp the basic concepts that underpin the knowledge being transferred and be able to express them in a coherent way.
Thus an integrated curriculum and the methods used to assess the learners’ progress can be developed to promote a positive and motivating learning experience that provides maximum opportunity to elaborate a range of conceptual frameworks and meaningful learning.
Boud (1993) suggested that in order to turn experience into learning you require the following interrelationships to develop.
Every learner comes with their own experiential background. In creating an integrated curriculum the learner plays an equal role in contributing to the success of multi-dimensional and multi-conceptual frameworks through their ability to interpret and relate these experiences to academic frameworks being developed or used.
Through participating in the integrated process learners and tutors contribute to the creation of learning and social environment that involves their contribution to the course, team working and active participation in course work.
In delivering an integrated strategy the learning outcomes for the programme should relate to the individual learners learning strategy such that their experience of the programme satisfies their expectations, places demands on them to translate their experiences into relevant and appropriate intellectual rigour in answering and participating in class work, and draws together the tutor and the learners knowledge and experience in a mutually beneficial process of knowledge transfer.
Therefore, in preparing for the creation of the integrated curriculum it is important to ensure that staff are able to share a common vision, accept ownership of the integrated curriculum to be developed and understand how they will contribute and what is expected from them professionally.
At this induction stage academic leadership should provide an integrated rationale and a common vision to staff for the programme, provide an opportunity to formally share their background, knowledge and skills with the year group, articulate the knowledge and skills they seek to develop, learner strategies for taking control of their learning in the context of their professional responsibilities on the programme
In the creation of an integrated curriculum the candidate selection process also plays an important element to forming the foundation for a powerful integrated approach to learning. Thus candidates recruited to the programme must consider their prior knowledge ad how this can contribute to the programme and bring their knowledge and skills into play to support their learning.
Critical thinking at the induction stage is essential to ensure that students buy into the integrated learning process and understand what it entails. Therefore it is important that through the recruitment and induction process they become familiar with what it means to study within an integrated curriculum, what their responsibilities are and that they are prepared to sign up to these as well as their obligations to their eventual study group and year group colleagues.
During this induction and recruitment process potential candidates will have been encouraged to reflect on their developmental needs around personal skills, professional skills and technical skills.
CONCEPTUAL MAP OF AN INTEGRATED CURRICULUM
All these activities above should have informed and re-enforced the integrated nature of the curriculum from the staff and students perspective. In developing an integrated curriculum the delivery team will set out clear aims, responsibilities, curriculum development roles and administrative functions for the team.
From these concept maps it is possible to see the integration of the programmes.
Map A demonstrates the relationships between topics taught within the Strategic Management module and how each topic and subtopic can be seen to relate to others in the module.
Map B highlights the relationship between the core module topics of Strategic Management and Operational management and their coverage of general business principles along side the more specific pathway for Banking & Finance, covering Banking Management and Islamic Finance. The relationship across specialist programme becomes clear as do the inter-relationships within topics and across topics.
The integrated pedagogy maximises the use of interactive styles of learning to promote knowledge transfer, knowledge transformation and reflection on of knowledge acquisition.
Building a portfolio of case studies, problem based learning, seminar and group working students are able to undertake autonomous learning while benefiting from study group activities.
Using this integrated form of learning promotes the development of skills to assimilate information across multiple contexts and to apply the concepts built up in innovative and creative ways. Integrated assignment work and the associated formative and summative assessment systems then becomes a routine style of review and reflection of subject matter and its analysis.
HOW BUSINESS BENEFITS
From this paper the nature of an integrated curriculum should be seen to reflect the nature of normal business processes. Individuals rarely encounter single dimension issues and it unlikely that their response will impact on only one element of the business operations. Thus an integrated approach to learning and corporate development is an integrated approach to delivering a sustainable business.
Business is a complex inter-related and multi-dimensional system and most conventional business models seek to simplify and reduce business solutions to point interventions. In contrast a new paradigm might be a more natural learning and development strategy that reflects “real business” and indeed personal challenges. This will embrace a business model that accepts complexity and builds executive training and skills development in a way capable of handling and processing complex multi-level conceptual models and converting these into well analysed solutions capable of being implemented.
Such an approach to continuous professional develop minimises the risk of silo thinking, avoid group thinking , provides a systems approach to operating business and relinquishes old profit maximising models for ones that transform their attitude to business based on trust and shared values capable of building sustainable businesses.
Therefore, an integrated curriculum underpins an integrated corporate and individual development process that can only enhance business success and transformation.
 Szymanski, S., (2008) http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/content/dec2008/bs20081228_087566.htm
 Senge, P. M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline. The art and practice of the learning organization, London: Random House.
 Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G. and Smith, B. (1999) The Dance of Change: The Challenges of Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations, New York: Doubleday/Currency)
 Abe, J., M., Bassett, D.A., Dempsey, P.,E., Business Ecology: Giving Your Organization the Natural Edge (2008), Butterworth Heinemann.
Roedel, R.J., El-Ghazaly, S. , Reeds Roads, T. and El-Sharawy, E. http://www.foundationcoalition.org/publications/journalpapers/fie98/1351.pdf
 Macnamara, J. (1982). Names for things: A study of human learning. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.
 Boud, J. (1993), Experience as a base for learning. Higher education research and development, Vol 19 (1) 33-44
 Janis, Irving L. (1972). Victims of Groupthink. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
 Ahlfinger, N. R. & Esser, J. K. (2001). Testing the groupthink model: Effects of promotional leadership and conformity predisposition. Social Behaviour & Personality: An International Journal, 29(1), 31-42.