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Study Shows Management Students Not Learning with Scientific Method

Ken BrownWhat are business scholars teaching management students? Strangely, not much scholarship, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business.

The UI researchers studied the syllabi of more than 800 management courses offered in 333 MBA programs across the country to see how many taught Evidence-Based Management. EBM is an emerging movement within business education that teaches management principles derived from scientifically gathered evidence and analysis.

In that way, it hopes to encourage managers to develop into experts who make organizational decisions informed by social science and organizational research, instead of practices that are more likely to be learned from personal preference, experience, intuition, or conventional wisdom. EBM encourages the use of large samples, multiple studies, and rigorous data analysis to derive conclusions scientifically, sometimes debunking conventional wisdom or proving intuition wrong.

Sara RynesBut the study, by Ken Brown and Sara Rynes, professors of management and organizations in the Tippie College of Business, found that only 26 percent of those syllabi used language suggesting the importance of research evidence for management practice. Only two of the syllabi used the actual term "evidence-based management."

Those courses most likely to use EBM principles were taught by b-school faculty with Ph.D.'s, whose courses were three times more likely to be consistent with EBM than courses taught by faculty without Ph.D.'s.

MBA programs ranked in the Top 50 were also more apt to offer courses consistent with EBM principles.

Brown says reluctance by instructors to embrace EBM methods is problematic because management academics are producing research that's increasingly relevant to practitioners. Showing the scientific validity of their work helps instructors build credibility with managers, and gives those same managers tools that will help them continue to learn.

The study, "Teaching Evidence-Based Management in MBA Programs: What Evidence Is There?" was published in the journal Academy of Management Learning & Education by the Academy of Management. It was co-authored by Tippie doctoral student and incoming faculty member at Quinniapiac University, Steven Charlier.

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