How to slay the Dragon: Handling your readings in AIM

Photo credit: Mark Castaño

I have heard students complain about the voluminous readings assigned to them in AIM. They say that the professors think that they think that the subject they teach is the only course their students are taking. Simply put, the amount of readings is unreasonable.

There is some truth to these comments. The readings in AIM are not designed to be read page per page. During our orientation, AIM never intended to spoon-feed us, but rather give us an opportunity to learn. This promise is realized through the reference materials, which students are expected to “manage” in fulfilling the learning objective: to learn the targeted framework and apply them to the given case.

Since courses in AIM are divided into modules, each session is treated more like a seminar for practitioners than it is a college-level class. Most professors also conduct seminars and lectures for corporate clients looking for tools to aid them face their challenges.

The interplay of three readings

There are three (3) kinds of readings in AIM:

  • Textbooks or notes that teach the basic framework
  • Journals or articles that either critics or provides an update on the latest trends
  • Cases that challenge you to apply those frameworks to a scenario.

As a substitute to the textbooks or notes, some subjects require students to watch videos instead, either from the Khan Academy or YouTube.

The amount of time one should dedicate to the readings should depend on the subject matter. In math-related modules, students should focus on learning how to solve and apply the frameworks to practice problems. Formulas and numbers by themselves tell a lot of stories about the relationship and behavior of the variables, and a textbook explanation is hardly necessary. In other words, practice is more important than completing the readings.

This is the common pitfall of students who fail in Finance quizzes, since they try to read all readings that they do not have the time to try solving the problems. When asked, they say that they find it difficult to practice without solving problems without first completing the readings. That is true if you have a lot of time and had you been in college, but in management school, you need to work smarter. Hard work alone will not get you far if you are not to use your time wisely.

As you may have noticed, I said, math-related “modules,” because all courses are divided into modules and not every session is math-related. For modules that are not math-related, it will be wise to just focus on answering the question: In which part of the reading is the framework located? Usually, the introduction, side stories, and conclusion may not be as important as the discussion of the meat itself. This is akin to conducting research, where you just look for data that is relevant to the case.

And then, you have case readings. The cases have a pattern: They start with someone drinking coffee and thinking about what to do; then they move on to a history and background—of the company, the industry, and sometimes, the country. For some courses, such as human behavior in organizations, human capital management, and sometimes, strategy, they would introduce the background of some of the characters in the case. The meat of the case follows: what happened? what was the interplay between the characters? or the steps taken by the company and the challenges that they are facing? Finally, the case will conclude with the same person drinking coffee and pondering about what to present on the next board meeting.

By knowing the structure of the case, you can easily make sense of which parts are essential, and which parts you may just breeze through. The key figures you need for Finance, for instance, are often found on the second-to-the-last page of the case. In strategy, some cases require you to look at the change that occurred and the response of the company. In marketing, you can see where frameworks from other readings fit in parts of the case, which help determine both the business and marketing objectives.

Knowing the structure and interplay between the readings and/or film is not enough. It may help hasten your readings, but not to discount the fact that the tasks to be done are still a lot. So how do you actually manage your readings?

Read everything, or distribute?

There are two approaches to managing the readings:

(1) try to read everything; or

(2) assign the readings to the members of your learning team.

Under the first approach, we should be disciplined enough to know which parts of the readings to read, disregard the non-essentials, and feel content with going to the next reading without completely reading the previous reading material. With all members of the learning team being able to breeze through all the readings, discussions will be rich and more enhanced than the second approach.

The second approach is popularly termed, “outsourcing.” Here, each person in the team is given an assigned reading to handle. Everyone will disperse and meet at another point in time – usually in the evening – to discuss their assignments in class. Unlike the first approach, the second approach requires more time to thoroughly discuss the readings and concepts to other team members who have not previously read the material. The discussion time in the first approach is shorter; since all members are presumed to have read the entire material, and only the meaty issues are discussed in the group.

Key Takeaways:

Arguably, everything written here is abstract. When one is confronted with seemingly overwhelming requirements, s/he can easily lose sight of the bigger picture elaborated here. That is why your upper batch is here: AIM is not just a school; it is a small community where people are willing to help you get your group up to speed and provide focus and direction to the challenges that lie ahead.

As a management school, AIM attempts to simulate the business environment for managers – one with a lot of e-mails, reports, meetings, and the pressure to read updates on the latest trends and developments concerning your chosen field of expertise. The equivalent of these are the so-called voluminous readings, LT- and club-meetings, school-sanctioned seminars and events. We are expected to manage these challenges by working smarter and not harder.

Words by Joseph M. Dichoso (MBA 2017)


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