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Two Sides of a Coin

Donald G. Perrin

I have the joy of teaching a face-to-face course in Management Science for the California Lutheran University MBA program (CLU) and an online course in Employee Training and Development for University of Maryland University College (UMUC). I am interested in the way specific pedagogies developed for each course influence the other. The CLU course is a three-hour class each week for 11 weeks. The UMUC web course is 24X7 for 11 weeks in a condensed format or 15 weeks in a semester format. The content and goals of these two courses are very different.

Management Science at CLU is a core course based on mathematical decision models used in business and industry to optimize resources, save time, reduce cost, and maximize profits. Assisted by computer software, these models support complex decisions based on objectives, variables, and constraints. Nine textbook chapters provide tutorials, case studies and problems related to decision sciences, new product development, price-setting, product mix, manufacturing, transportation, scheduling, network design, simulation, and forecasting. Key elements of each chapter are demonstrated and discussed in class and assigned as homework. Evaluation includes a take-home open book mid-term and a final group or individual project presented as a live and written report.

Employee Training and Development for UMUC is an adaptation of ADDIE instructional design model (Assess, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) to training in business, industry, and government. The textbook is descriptive and encyclopedic. Each chapter is a step in the ADDIE process. Practical aspects are taught and discussed online as students develop their own training programs week-by-week. Every student produces two training programs during the course and generates a third in the final proctored exam. The examination is a performance test that simulates a training request from management.

The common element in both courses is that students engage in the higher levels of learning – analysis, synthesis and evaluation – and their performance is observable and measurable. Both courses focus on development of a process or product with return on investment. The final project is part of the student’s portfolio. Both courses have rubrics and performance criteria. Students do additional work until they demonstrate proficiency. Final grades are A for exemplary work or B when all requirements are met.

Different subject matter and skills require different support systems. The CLU course is quantitative analysis and decision making supported by computer software; the UMUC course is creative writing to motivate and instruct learners and achieve specified learning outcomes. The CLU text is a step-by-step development of each topic supplemented by live lecture-demonstration-discussion and tutoring; the UMUC text is a resource actualized through web tutorials, conferences, and peer learning. CLU has 15 live students per course; UMUC has 30 online. Both courses have high completion rates.

So, what is it that flows from the UMUC learning model to CLU and vice versa?

First and most important is the concept of flexibility. Flexibility in classroom learning requires knowledge of each learner’s goals and what learners need to succeed. Scheduled on-campus classes are impractical for many adult learners because of time, distance, and real life demands including job, family, health problems and other crises. Many of the traditional controls imposed on adult learners are counter-productive to performance, retention, and graduation. Penalties for absence or late assignments ignore the realities of modern living.

Fear of making mistakes crimps creativity. Learning from mistakes is a legitimate way to learn. It is an important component of exploration, discovery and research. It is also an important diagnostic for prescriptive teaching and learning to meet specific learner needs.

What flows from the classroom to distance learning? It reminds us of the uniqueness and importance of every student. They entrust us to help them in their preparation for life’s journey by guiding them as they develop the knowledge, skills, and aptitudes that will make them successful in their future lives.

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