Any business school that has gone through the accreditation process understands that there is a standard body of core knowledge that should be covered as part of the curriculum. This core knowledge consists of those fundamental concepts that serve as the foundation for the functional business areas that comprise the majors offered as part of an accredited program. However, how something works in theory is not necessarily how it is applied in practice.

To bridge the gap between theory and practice, many professors use case studies to infuse a dose of reality into the teaching. The challenge with using cases is that often they look at the past rather than toward the future and are subject to the limitations and biases of both the case writer and the professor who selects it. Others adopt simulations which place the student in an active role that enables them to adapt to various scenarios that mimic the functioning of a real company. While this gets students closer to a real decision-making role, simulations are only as effective as the vision of its creators, the technology used to build them and the resources available to keep them current and up to date.

All that being said, the gold standard to this point for bridging that gap has been an internship with a real corporate mentor doing real projects with a real company. In the right set of circumstances, the student has an opportunity to not only gain an inside look into how business is done, but they are also able to gain some valuable soft skills that will prepare them for later success. However, in the wrong set of circumstances, the internship may be nothing more than a wasted opportunity as the responsibilities assigned and the tasks performed look more like busy rather than substantive work.

The addition of Practice-based Learning (PBL) to an AACSB curriculum is not meant to detract from any of this. Rather it is designed to help strengthen the bridge between theory and practice. It is designed to augment an existing curriculum and teaching modalities. It is aimed to bring a heightened sense of realism that assists students in the development of those skills, tools and competencies that will enable students to develop a better understanding of what is required for success once they graduate. We think of PBL as taking place in specially designed courses and experiences that brings an even greater sense of realism to the business curriculum.