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Knowledge and skills transfer between MBA and workplace

Melvin Prince (Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA)
David Burns (Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH, USA)
Xinyi Lu (University of New Haven, New Haven, Connecticut, usa)
Robert Winsor (Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California, USA)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 13 April 2015




This paper aims to use goal-setting theory to explain the transfer of knowledge and skills between master of business administration (MBA) and the workplace.


Data were obtained by an online survey of MBA students enrolled in at four US graduate business schools. These were a public and private institution in the Northeast region, a private sectarian institution in the Midwest region and a private institution in the Pacific region. All students worked while attending the university. The sampling frame consisted of each school’s MBA enrollees. Questionnaires were distributed to a random cross-section of part-time students at each graduate school of business representative of returned by 144 students. The profiles of responders were consistent with parameters for the entire MBA student population.


The research shows that multiple goals of reciprocal knowledge and skills transfer may be in harmony and mutually reinforcing. In principle, each goal is more likely to be attained with greater economy of effort than might be surmised. Additionally, the same forces may act similarly to facilitate attainment of two well-integrated goals, in this case transfer between MBA studies and work, as well as between work and MBA studies.

Research limitations/implications

The present study involved participants from part-time public and private MBA granting institutions in the USA. The study tested and extended goal-setting theory and introduced the innovative concept of reciprocal transfer. Future studies should seek to generalize the findings to a broader population of part-time MBA students, especially from other nations. Despite its strengths, the findings of this study need to be interpreted in the perspective of some limitations. The current study did not measure transfer climates in either the organization or university settings. Transfer climates undoubtedly have an important bearing on transfer outcomes.

Practical implications

Review of the present study suggests that a positive MBA environment is needed to influence motivation to learn and perceptions of the MBA program’s utility, thereby promoting transfer of knowledge and skills to MBA studies from the workplace. A supportive work-to-MBA-studies transfer climate will lead to more active learning of course content that has greater relevance for achieving career goals. Potentially generalizable from the organizational transfer climate literature (Rouiller and Goldstein 1990; Rouiller and Goldstein 1993), positive transfer from work to MBA studies will occur when appropriate situational cues and consequences are present in the program.

Social implications

A constructive implication suggested by the findings of this study would be the intervention and transfer management by educators to structure and strengthen the university transfer climate of their part-time MBA programs. Traditionally, the concept of transfer climate has been primarily applied to employee workplace training activity and job performance. The university culture of the MBA student might emphasize and reward continuous learning from workplace experiences. Opportunities at the university should be provided for the exercise of newly acquired workplace skills that reinforce MBA learning experiences.


This is the first study that shows how learning goals and performance goals are integrated in the context of a new concept, i.e. reciprocal transfer of knowledge and skills between MBA and workplace settings. It also demonstrates, for the first time, the impact of learning and motivation for MBA studies and perceived utility of MBA program on the extent of transfer of learning and skills from the workplace to the university setting.



Prince, M., Burns, D., Lu, X. and Winsor, R. (2015), "Knowledge and skills transfer between MBA and workplace", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 207-225.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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