A pragmatist solution to the relevance gap of business school education
and Thomas Ahrens
Within the context of business school education, the purpose of this paper is to propose a conceptual foundation in making academic knowledge more relevant to managerial practice through the use an off-shoot of pragmatist philosophy, Bridgman’s “operationalism,” in order to integrate theoretical knowledge with managerial experience.
Drawing on practice theory and Dewey’s theory of education, the paper argues that operationalization of concepts into a set of actions brings theory closer to experience. An example from decision-making during World War II illustrates the approach.
Facing future uncertainty, managerial practice strives to achieve goals in particular contexts. Knowledge is prospectively useful in situ when it is a source of fertile suggestion in perplexing situations. By presenting concepts as actions, students should find it easier to develop cognitive skills that can combine experience and knowledge for addressing novel decision-making situations.
The research presents an application to decision-making. More research is needed to determine how the approach can be extended into other domains of business education. Empirical testing of the effectiveness of the proposed method in different contexts may explicate how the method can be implemented, developed, and improved further.
The debate on how to educate future business leaders has addressed concerns over the relevance of abstract knowledge, business practices, legitimacy, and professionalism. It has also been marked by a lack of prescription for improving business school education. The current paper addresses this lack and will facilitate the development of teaching pedagogies that are more relevant to managerial practice in business education by providing a solid theoretical foundation.