The Importance of Context in Teaching and Learning Business Management

Apr 14, 2023
Author Paul Hoang 1

Paul Hoang Business Management Subject Leader

One of my favourite educational quotes is from Ignacio Estrada, who said “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” Business Management teachers have always taught prescribed content, such as break-even analysis and motivation theory. However, what and how we teach may make little sense to our students unless we are able to apply contexts that are meaningful, tangible and engaging for them. A new IB Business Management syllabus (FA 2024) is now being taught, the triangulation of concepts, content and contexts is integral to the course and in line with IB teaching and learning pedagogy.

The importance of context for student learning

When giving workshops, I use an anecdote I call “Square Roots of Fractions” to explain the importance of context for student learning. Several years ago, in my capacity as Vice Principal, I was observing a Year 8 top-set Mathematics lesson. The teacher introduced the topic and lesson objectives – something along the lines of “By the end of today’s lesson, you should be able to find the square root of fractions.” There were about 18 students in the class, and being top-set Maths students, none of them had any problem comprehending the content and skills required to find the square root of fractions.

As I walked around the room and asked each pair of students whether they knew what they were doing, everyone said “yes” and showed me they understood how to do the calculations. However, not a single student was able to explain exactly what they were doing; yes, they were doing the maths, but no one could actually tell me what the purpose of it was beyond “it’s what the teacher told us we are doing today”.

As educators, we have to be worried about such feedback from our students. They may know what they are doing, but where is the educational value in this if they do not understand why they need to know how to find the square root of a fraction?

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How do we know if our teaching is actually meaningful (for our students)?

Applied to Business Management, the thinking is no different from why we teach the motivation theories of Deci & Ryan or F.W. Taylor in Unit 2.4. How are these applicable to our students and their world (beyond covering a lesson objective or a syllabus)? How can we engage our students better when delivering abstract topics such as Unit 3.9 Budgeting or Unit 5.7 Crisis Management?

When planning your DP Business Management course, do spend some time considering how you might be able to engage students in their learning, beyond just getting through the contents of the syllabus. Consider the use of inquiry-based learning and concept-based learning around the CESC key concepts (creativity, ethics, sustainability, and change) to facilitate this. An example, for Unit 3.9, is provided below.

ATL Real World Activity – Investigating Budgeting in Your School

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Task: Investigate the role of budgets and variance analysis as a strategic planning tool at your School. Consider how budgets and variance analysis are used in the school for:

  • Financial planning
  • Financial control
  • Flexibility (in order to meet organisational goals)
  • Financial prudence
  • Formality (i.e. accountability)

Schools are businesses. Fee-paying schools operate as cost and/or revenue centres. It can be useful to ask a member of your senior leadership team and/or the business (or finance) manager to give a talk about the role of budgeting and variance analysis at your school. Why not invite them into the classroom to add real context to this topic?

Students could be asked to (sensitively) investigate some of the following:

  • The overall annual budget of the school
  • The budgets allocated to the various departments within the school and the reasons for this (perhaps due to historical spending patterns by the different departments in the school and/or perhaps based on school culture)
  • Budget allocations as an indicator of the school’s strategic priorities, such as the amount of money allocated for teacher training and professional development (such as attending official IB Workshops)
  • Procedures for submission of annual budgets by budget holders
  • Procedures for the annual review of budgets and variance analysis
  • The extent to which students (might) have a say in the allocation of budgets at the school
  • How budget holders are held accountable for their spending
  • The role of the school’s governors, directors and/or owners in the budgeting process

Very importantly, remind students of the purpose of this task – that budgets and variance analysis have an important role in the strategic planning of an organisation, such as an IB World School. Student responses could be presented in the format or order outlined above:

  • Financial planning
  • Financial control
  • Flexibility
  • Financial prudence
  • Formalities (accountability)

A great way to use journalling to support the Business Management curriculum is to set aside time each week to consider real-world examples of the theory that students have encountered. This could vary from noticing the ownership structure of a shop that they worked in to the impact of an interest rate decision on business costs. Students can brainstorm and share things that are connected to what they are learning and in their real lives. As a revision exercise they could then work in groups to consider if they have “met” all of the course content in real life.

The more real-world experiences, like the activity above, that are integrated into the course the more alive the content will seem to the students and the greater engagement and understanding your class will have.

You may even consider taking this a step further, and integrating it into a CAS project by encouraging your students to undertake an authentic learning experience such as the Young Enterprise, which would give them the experience of opening and running a business.

If you are interested in having a conversation about the IB Business Management or IB Economics courses, you can connect with me on MiniPD, and don’t forget to visit the ManageBac Subject Pages for more information.

Further resources

Further suggestions and exam practice questions can be found on InThinking Business Management:

For case studies in crisis management, please take a look here:

Padlet for IB DP Business Management resources:

Young Enterprise International JA Worldwide – Young Enterprise & Young Money (

About the Author

Author Paul Hoang 1

Paul Hoang
Business Management Subject Leader

Paul Hoang is the Subject Leader responsible for our ManageBac Business Management Subject Page.

ManageBac Subject Pages offer a collection of curated, subject-specific resources to support best practices in teaching and learning. You can access Subject Pages via your ManageBac account – check in regularly for new materials, advice and ideas.