One example is a model that brings working professionals with contemporary experience in their fields into the classroom. Leading by example, faculty members give students first-hand interaction with individuals who have achieved success in their professional pursuits.
In some cases, the model facilitates informal mentoring relationships, and in others it simply provides students with tangible knowledge about how experts in their industry have attained professional success.
Smart Business spoke with Elden Monday, state vice president for University of Phoenix’s local campuses in Pennsylvania, about how students reap maximum rewards from a learning model that equates educators with role models, and not only tells but also shows students how to “walk the walk” toward a more successful career.
How do students benefit from having working professionals as teachers?
The result of this practitioner faculty model is that students get the best of both worlds, with instruction in theory and real-world applications by faculty who are experts in their fields. In other words, the faculty is facilitating learning from books and other resources, but they’re also showing students how their education can be applied at the office.
The setting closely mimics a true work environment in which more experienced professionals are grooming junior executives. The learning format better equips students to interact with and learn from their managers. Furthermore, lessons become more believable when they are delivered by someone who has been in the trenches, so to speak, and has personal experience with the way theories and concepts plays out in the real world.
Does this approach have an impact on the relationship between student and teacher?
Absolutely. I think there’s a much higher level of respect when a faculty member can demonstrate a thorough grasp of the material and a true understanding of how the information applies. The bond is strengthened when an instructor can help students clearly see how the course material is relevant to their personal career paths.
Natural mentor relationships also commonly evolve as students encounter instructors who are senior leaders in the student’s industry.
In what other ways does this model foster leadership by example?
Throughout the course, students exchange ideas, relate their learning to their work experience, and discuss the relevance of their learning to themselves, their employers and their communities. This learning environment offers participants a forum for discussion of the issues relevant to specific regions and industries.
Students also become leaders in their own right, sharing their individual experiences. Smaller classes combine individual and group activity to foster teamwork and meaningful discussion among students who bring varied experiences and learning styles to the classroom. This environment provides students with a place to practice, try out new ideas, validate their assumptions and test their communication and leadership skills. In turn, this active involvement contributes to the building of self-confidence.
Is there a specific student audience that is best adapted to this kind of learning?
Working students and especially those pursuing graduate degrees are generally already employed and have been for some time. Employers have higher expectations of these experienced workers, who need to be able to address challenges head-on, with an elevated level of experience and confidence. A faculty with real-world experience is well-prepared to offer advice that students can immediately put to use solving workplace challenges.
What should business managers know about practitioner faculty learning environments?
For managers whose employees are enrolled in this type of learning environment, the impact is obvious very quickly. We often hear from managers who see marked improvements in skills and workplace contributions just weeks into a student’s curriculum.
With a practitioner faculty model, students learn skills they can immediately apply to their jobs. Understanding the bridge between theory and practical application is a critical element of the learning process, and professionals who are using their knowledge in a contemporary work setting are more prepared to help students discover this bridge than someone whose experience is limited to a textbook.
ELDEN MONDAY is the state vice president for the Pennsylvania campuses of University of Phoenix, a national leader in higher education for working adults, offering both campus-based and online programs. Reach Monday at email@example.com or (610) 989-0880, ext. 1131.