A more practical, hands-on learning experience that would help his students succeed in the real world of business is what Professor Will Durocher wanted to create. As Professor of Global Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (GBET) Program at Northern College, he knew students sometimes struggled to succeed in business after taking traditional college business programs that rely heavily on theory. Once students graduated and got a job in business, Professor Durocher knew they couldn’t always perform the tasks their employers set for them. The mismatch between theoretical knowledge and the application of that knowledge was a huge barrier to success.
It’s why Northern College’s new GBET program is a 100% practical learning experience, with students participating in the daily management of a real start-up company and lessons framed as on-the-job training.
With the acceleration of technology changing how organizations operate, the GBET program teaches a set of skills needed in business for the 2020s. The first year of the two-year diploma program begins with Business Fundamentals certificate courses, which form the common core of all Northern College’s business programs. In the second year, students begin their specialty courses.
A new business simulation and experiential model is used for 10 of the GBET courses, giving students on-the-job training, personalized coaching and just-in-time knowledge to solve the immediate problem being faced.
Professor Durocher works with his students to design, build and launch a real technology company. The students focus on the same project across multiple courses, working together to develop a business model based on real potential business opportunities currently in the marketplace. Professor Durocher takes on the role of CEO and CTO of the company while each student takes on a VP role based on their interests, including finance, marketing operations and technology. Professor Durocher treats his students as he would treat partners in trying to start a tech company. Together they create an initial strategy and have to figure out the company’s vision and mission.
In Fall 2020, Professor Durocher and his students developed a student engagement app focused on the post-secondary market. They created a pitch deck, sold the product to an actual customer, and will build the app in their programming course and manage it in the GBET’s management of technology course. Most of the GBET courses are used to build and develop this real and legitimate company.
In each class, Professor Durocher facilitates discussions about what actions students will take in order to launch the company. They operate and communicate like any real business would. For example, the VP of finance must complete financial projections. Professor Durocher’s goal for his graduates is that they’ll keep working in the company they created.
Benefits and Outcomes
Practical experience is the main benefit for students. They get a year of work experience at a company, in addition to getting their education. Instead of restricting their learning to what a company is theoretically, they acquire both the hard and soft skills that are needed in business but are not often taught. Students learn how to interact with senior management, manage a workload, renegotiate deadlines, plan and manage projects, collaborate effectively and work in a matrix structure.
Another benefit of the GBET program is the multi-finality model, in which students acquire different skill sets and knowledge based on their interests. For example, if a student is more interested in marketing than product development, he or she has the option to explore that specialty, which makes learning more personalized.
Feedback from students — many of whom are international students with an undergraduate degree but no hands-on practical education — has been very positive. With the GBET program, they are getting work experience in a safe learning environment. Professor Durocher also intends to write his students letters of reference when they graduate, treating their educational experience as a real-world experience.
Challenges and Enhancements
Professor Durocher says the experiential model is more challenging for a teacher than the instructor-centric model of lectures and test-based assessments. The experiential model is more dynamic and serendipitous — and because the stakes are higher leading a real company, there is more pressure on Professor Durocher to provide good judgement and leadership to ensure his students’ business venture succeeds.
Professor, Global Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology(GBET) Program
Timmins, Ontario, Canada