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How the complex definition of strategy can be communicated simply andeffectively to learners;

reflections from a threshold concept in business?


Business strategy conforms the definition of a threshold concept as the jewel of the

curriculum knowledge by which the lack of its mastery (Meyer & Land, 2003; Meyer

& Land, 2005), business students could not progress to be effective leaders. The term

strategy is ingrained in the world of management as a building block whereby once a firm

strategic orientation has been crafted, other departments of a firm such as human resources,

marketing and finance will align their goals respectively. I thereby choose to reflect on my

experience of teaching business strategy to non-business students, not only for its

predominance to the landscape of business studies, but because its characterized by being

troublesome as well (Meyer & Land, 2003). After offering my students an empathetic

third ear of listening to their perception of the term (Meyer & Land, 2005), I found out

that the definition of strategy left most of them overwhelmed and confused as it was defined

by their textbook in highly complex 4 sentences-long? I then preferred to save my students

the hassle of such stress and confusion by breaking down the complexity of strategy into

simpler constituting-words of; long-term vision and established at top-management category

whilst using a mind-mapping tool as simple as having each word written with a difference

colour. This technique stemmed from my belief that cognitive maps aid in the absorption of

complex and abstract concepts.


Additionally, to facilitate the learner understanding of strategy, I used to play the devil-role

and ask my students why is strategy NOT short-term? And what’s the difference between it

and a goal, then? Indeed, most students get perplexed with the latter question, so I used to

draw an analogy of a firm-strategy to a football team vision which aims to be crowned the

world cup champion, while goals are subsets such as assigning roles to the players of the

team set forth by their coach. As a result, I did find out that students effectively understand an

abstract concept after a familiar representation of their realities has been drawn

metaphorically to the concept at hand. Additionally, I utilized strategy as a tool of self-

reconstitution (Meyer & Land, 2005) when I urged students to reflect on how strategy

can be employed as a life-planning tool beyond the liminal paradigms of business. This was

exemplified when I delivered the case of the singer Madonna and how her strategy in her

career “was to maintain her youth forever” and so I evidenced how she employed various

tools in her life such as eating healthy to maintain her overarching strategy. As a result,

students’ engagement level soared when each volunteered in sharing his/her strategy for life

and how they work towards its execution.


A final method to facilitate the learning process of strategy was through conducing a business

simulation. Accordingly, I divided my class of 10-15 students into two teams of human

resources (HR) and production teams who should execute the L’Oréal strategy of inclusion

and diversity. The deep understanding of such a threshold concept was strongly evidenced

when the HR team stated that they will recruit a diversified workforce in terms of sexual

orientations and ethnicities, while the production team stated that they will create more than

20 shades of foundations to suit the wide spectrum of skin-colours from deep tanned to

vanilla fair; both teams, excitedly, showing that they are now fully aware of the meaning of


strategy and its execution in the business world. I thereby concluded that threshold concepts

in the field of social sciences could be understood by various shapes of knowledge-attainment

such as business-simulation and student engagement in the form of team-work (Meyer &

Land, 2005), besides, invoking critical thinking drills in learners whilst the tutor challenges

them by playing the devil role and/or breaking down a complex concept into smaller and

simpler themes using a mind-mapping tool. Also using a real-life analogy to facilitate the

students’ learning process has proven effective in seizing tutorials as portals to master a

threshold concept including the adoption of an extended discourse in the form of personal

reflections to infuse a depth of meaning to the concept. Months later, I felt certain of the

effectiveness of those pedagogical tools when my students interestingly reiterated those

specific examples when we were revising the concepts before their final exam. It was clear

for myself as a tutor in hindsight that strategy as a concept has been instilled in their

cognition, hopefully for years to come.


References:

Meyer , J.H.F. and Land, R. (2003) “Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge:

linkages to ways of thinking and practising”. In: Rust, C. (ed.), Improving Student

Learning - Theory and Practice Ten Years On. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and

Learning Development (OCSLD), pp 412-424.

Meyer, Jan H. F., and Ray Land. (2005) “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge

(2):

Epistemological Considerations and a Conceptual Framework for Teaching and

Learning.” Higher Education, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 373–88. Springer

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