7 (new) criteria for choosing the management course that’s right for you

30 March 2016 -


Too many managers are using the wrong criteria for judging which management courses they should attend. Here, business psychologist Adrian Furnham reveals what you should be looking at to get the most out of your training or study

Guest blogger Adrian Furnham

Management education is big business. There are now around 100 university-based business schools in Britain alone, all eager to attract high-fee-paying MBA students. There are also dozens of short courses, seminars, conferences, breakfast meetings, symposia and the like, aimed at the lucrative management training sector.

Most senior people, in both private and public sector, are “junk-mailed” it seems almost daily, to attend crucially important, state-of the-art courses. Organisations often have a generous training budget, particularly in good times. So courses mushroom to fill the perceived need.

But choosing a good course is a difficult business.

Most people work on about three factors: reputation, personal recommendation and price. They are quite insufficient as criteria. People and institutions often have reputations they do not deserve. It takes a long time to gain a good reputation but rather less time to lose it.

Equally, individuals may have reputations quite out of line with their ability to teach.

People who write good books may not be able to instruct or enthuse well. People who appear on the television a lot may do a brilliant sound-bite or ask tough questions but can they sustain a day long training session?

Personal recommendation seems sensible as long as you can separate content and style.

There are radical differences in how individuals like to teach and learn. Some like the MBA-styled high interaction method based on case studies. Others prefer the formal lecture that starts with theory and evidence. Still others like “learning by doing” or observing in the “shadowing” sense. Certainly what is taught is relevant to the teaching method but what a friend enjoyed or benefited from may not benefit you.

And price is also a poor criterion. Price is usually determined by what the market can stand, not the value of the course. There are many constraints that need to be taken into consideration, such as the cost of buildings, staff and so on which have little relationship to the content of the course.

Some very expensive courses have a simple formula. First make sure that accommodation, meals etc are first class. Next, wheel in a few world famous lecturers. Three, make candidates work very hard with difficult assignments and case studies to prove that they both need education and are lacking in skills. Next, encourage the students to bond and to share their experience. Finally, pass everybody, give them fancy certificates and enrol them in the alumni association.

Furnham's fundamentals of a good management course

So, if reputation, recommendation and price are insufficient, what should you look for? There are at least half a dozen relevant criteria:

Staff: Who is teaching on this course? What are their educational and experiential qualifications? There are many management teachers or gurus who have one sort of experience but not the other: highly published dons who have never managed anything or anybody; or early-retired managers eager to improve their pension, or who find teaching less stressful than actually managing. The former know the theory, the latter the practice.

Educational Philosophy: Is it examined? What is the post-course follow-up? What is the balance between individual and group work and why? Has the course changed much in the past and why? What is the mix of educational methods: video, seminar, case study?

Skills Vs Knowledge: Is the course essentially about learning about something or how to do something…or both? If it is skills learning, how are they best taught?

Massed vs Distributed Learning: We know that if a course lasts for five days it is educationally better to have five Mondays in a row than Monday to Friday one week. People learn better and more efficiently when they have homework exercises between course parts/modules.

Course attendees: People attend courses to network. Many say they learn as much from others on the course as their teachers. Everyone has experience of the great course because of the quality of other delegates: their ability, experience, desire to have fun, contribution etc. So we need reassurance about the quality and number of the other participants.

Possibility of follow-up: What happens after the course? Does it lead to anything specific? Is there an advanced course? How can you make sure the learning is retained and practiced?

Recognition: Is the course recognised as worthwhile by a professional body, by your industry or your organisation?

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Adrian Furnham is a business psychologist and author of 80 books and 1,000 scientific papers. He is an adjunct professor at the Norwegian Business School. Find his website here

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