Hiding In Plain Sight: Using Industry Specific Online Immersion And Offline Student Excursions To Maximize Student Learning

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Immersion need not solely occur online or in virtual worlds. Our pedagogy immerses online students in an entrepreneur’s decision calculus to manufacture, distribute, market and sell craft beer. Tested in higher education, results indicate online student engagement and learning soared due to combining industry immersion and offline industry specific experiences.

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Mark Meckler is an Associate Professor of Management at the University of Portland's Pamplin School of Business. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy from Brandeis University in 1985, his M.B.A in hospitality management from Michigan State University in 1990, and his Ph.D. from Florida Atlantic University in 2001. Dr. Meckler teaches strategic management, management of technology and innovation and cross-cultural management. He conducts research in three main areas of management. His strategy and innovation work if focused upon organizational knowledge and the cognitive issues impacting organizational knowledge flows, strategy implementation and innovation; his organization theory research is on the relationships between events, socially constructed theories, truth and knowledge and the impact these relationships have upon the scientific status of organization theory. Finally, his work on behavioral aspects of strategy implementation focuses on the physiological contract and motivation at work. He has published in Organization Studies, Journal of Business Ethics and Journal of Management Inquiry.
Robert Macy J.D., Ph.D., holds his advanced degree from the University of Oregon, a Masters of Business Adminstration, also from the University of Oregon, a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Oregon School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Washington State University. He is an Associate Professor of Entertainment Management at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida. Robert has been an entrepreneur for over 30 years and a founder of companies ranging from professional service firms, to tech startups, to pioneering firms in interactive entertainment. As an attorney, Robert’s practice was focused on tech and entertainment startups from initial development through exit. He has served as an adviser and as managing director for several venture capital funds and on the board of directors for corporations and startups. Robert has served as the producer or executive producer on new media podcasts, twitch streams, and YouTube series as well as multiple jazz albums. Before coming to Rosen College, Robert was a faculty member at Penn State University where he developed and launched undergraduate and graduation programs, majors and minors in Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship. While at Penn State he also ran three research centers focusing on Innovation, Venture Capital and Negotiation. Most recently he was the Bill and Sharon Sheriff Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship at New Mexico State University where he launched new experiential programs in innovation and entrepreneurship and worked with the University’s Research Park to increase the entrepreneurial and commercialization efforts of the Mexico, Texas and New Mexico, Borderplex region. Robert’s research is largely focused on the organizational theory, strategic management and intellectual capital of entertainment companies. The primary context area for his research is video game companies, New Media, online communities and Esport organizations.
Sam Holloway is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the University of Portland. Sam is also a Visiting Professor at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Oregon, specializing in Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship, his MAT at Pacific University, as well as undergraduate degrees in Physics (Willamette University) and Civil Engineering (Columbia University). His research on business model innovations examines how strategy affects the design of organizational architectures and has been published in Academy of Management Journal, Strategic Management Journal, Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings, Academy of Marketing Science Review, and Journal of Strategic Innovation and Sustainability, among others. The Western Academy of Management (USA) recognized Sam’s research in 2016 when he received the Ascendant Scholar Award, one of four scholars selected nationally.

Extended Abstract

Executive Summary

Online pedagogy has immersion advantages. We follow Dede (1996, 2009) and define immersion as “a comprehensive, realistic, experience” that causes a learner to suspend disbelief that they are learning in a mediated or controlled space. Online education scholars refer to immersion as occurring due to instructors implementing technological immersion such as simulations, augmented reality or games (Savin-Baden, 2010). The challenges implementing technological immersions include technical investment, bandwidth, and instructor apprehension to new technologies (Bronack 2011) and high development costs. However, all students are immersed in a myriad of activities in their everyday lives – especially when they aren’t participating in their online courses. Why don’t more professors leverage these common everyday experiences to increase student engagement and learning in online environments? Real and rich immersion opportunities are missed despite being right in front of us as online instructors. Offline immersive opportunities are hiding in plain sight.


This paper presents a new approach to immersion that differs from technical immersion and instead utilizes industry immersion. We tested with an industry that many adult online learners are quite familiar with: The craft beer industry. Over a period of four years, the authors immersed students from higher education business schools, entertainment schools, hospitality schools, and executive education into the mindset, skillset, challenges and experiences of craft brewing entrepreneurs. The pedagogical proposition was that the beer industry is ubiquitous, the lessons generalizable and students could relate to craft breweries. Because many already frequented them, the immersion happened in normal life, driven by attention, framing and assignment tactics by the instructors. Tested in face-to-face classrooms, hybrid online (online and face-to-face), and asynchronous online classes, industry immersion of this sort increased student engagement, immediacy, and instructor happiness. Additionally, by engaging in a search for better teaching practices, the authors learned to extend traditional strategic management material to strategic business; marketing, finance, operations, controls, MIS, innovation, HR, hospitality and entertainment management; all as targets of strategic thinking and value creation practices. This education session will discuss best practices, teaching strategies and learning outcome/assessment improvements.

The Craft Beer Industry as an Immersive Context

The authors of this workshop are business scholars and teachers with research interests in leadership, strategy, entrepreneurship, beer business management, online gaming, and hospitality. The authors teaching experience includes over ten years teaching innovation, entrepreneurship, finance, accounting, leadership, law, and strategic management. They have spent the past ten years interviewing consumers, entrepreneurs, game designers, brewmasters, software developers, chefs and marketers about how they price, position, promote, and sell their wares in an increasingly interconnected market. The professors realized no curriculum (online or offline) effectively captured the reality of what typical entrepreneurs, small business owners and consumers are immersed in within their everyday lives. Specifically, the older business theories developed prior to the Internet treated small companies simply as smaller versions of large companies. Students did not get it, and worse, they did not believe the theories applied. Inspired (and a bit humbled) by our lack of knowledge in how to teach the current students’ realities, we rewrote the rules of strategic thinking in today’s interconnected and online consumption environment. The result was an integrated business curriculum we named Crafting A Strategy.

Crafting A Strategy’s strategic thinking curriculum is a result of ten years interviewing business owners about how business schools failed to teach students properly. We began responding to our findings by creating online continuing education courses, then later added immersive offline experience, like asking students to visit the crowded beer aisles in their local community grocers. We asked them to “take a walk in a beer entrepreneur’s shoes” and differentiate their favorite IPA among the 45 other choices on the shelf. Then, we asked students to visit a brewery or brewpub, noting that 83% of Americans live less than ten miles from a brewery (Brewers Association, 2017). Students conducted these off-line excursions in between regularly scheduled online classes. The results were so impressive that we began incorporating the beer driven curriculum into traditional face-to-face classrooms and hybrid online courses.

Much to our surprise, professors in non-business schools adopted our approach because “everybody knows what craft beer is.” One user summed up our approach: “Commerce today is so much more about managing the consumer’s experience and not simply on product design or pricing. Your curriculum is the only experience management curriculum available and, even though I don’t consume beer personally, everyone knows what craft beer is.” Immersion in everyday activities to reinforce the concepts and learning goals from our online courses kept the material real and the students engaged.

Pedagogical Challenges and Initial Propositions

As noted in Parker, Maor, and Herrington (2013), a key challenge for educators is linking student needs, pedagogy, and technology to deliver 21st century skills and encourage self-directed learning. Still, despite advances in technological immersion, there persists a significant gap in constructivist online teaching practices and actual practice (Lambert & Cuper, 2008; Maor, 2003; Oliver, 2005; Rotherham & Willingham, 2009). This issue is particularly acute in higher education, where learning management systems use technology to move brick and mortar classrooms online with very little change in the actual teaching (Hodges & Repman, 2011; Lane, 2008). Perhaps a high reliance on technology to solve the ‘distance’ problem in online education has blinded online educators to basic teaching approaches that directly address student needs and encourage self-directed learning.

As instructors, it is difficult to trust distant students to carry out self-directed assignments. Within business education, it is hard to use the case method online because cases generally focus on large companies like Boeing, Intel, Microsoft, or General Electric. While many of these companies are household names, the science of semiconductors is lost on a majority of students. Further, as discussed in Jain (2005), the popularity of case study teaching and using multiple industries (often a different industry each week) has become so ubiquitous that professors rarely challenge the multiple industry pedagogy. Our initial proposition was that if we held the industry constant throughout an entire course, students could focus their cognitive bandwidth on learning strategic thinking instead of silicon wafers technologies.

P1: Using a single industry focus will increase student learning in online business education more than a multiple industry focus

The next challenge was to design experiential learning opportunities that overcame the diversity of experiences among our distant students. Students take courses with a variety of identities, professional backgrounds expertise areas (Kebritchi, Lipscheutz, & Santiague 2017). Designing authentic experiences to fit each student’s professional practice would be impractical, thus we had to think about common experiences in which students may already be immersed. By selecting the craft beer industry as a common immersive context, we also control for many unobserved variables in both business design and consumer selection. Further, according to the Brewers Association (a nonprofit trade group that promotes and protects small and independent North American Breweries), 83% of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery. Thus, selecting these businesses addresses some learning style and accessibility challenges noted by online education scholars (Mupinga, Nora & Carole Yaw, 2006). This leads to our second proposition:

P2: Designing Offline Learning Tasks That Occur Within an Online Student’s Natural Environment Will Increase Online Engagement and Learning

Discussion and Conclusion

Counter to standard emerging best practices within online environments of using advanced simulation and gaming technology to enhance student learning, we looked for a lower technology, faster implementation and lower risk approach.

We attempted this by testing two pedagogical innovations. The first innovation was to focus on a single industry for online curricula and as a theme to integrate online and offline discussions. The industry chosen was the craft beer industry.

The second innovation was developing offline excursions for online students that regularly occur in their natural environments. By integrating pedagogy into a student’s offline every day activities, we noticed dramatic increases in online engagement, immediacy, and learning. Subsequent refinements to these approaches also produced two surprising results.

First, although our aim was to improve student engagement and learning, we found a significant increase in professor enjoyment. Multiple professors at universities across the USA indicated a single industry focus on the craft beer industry refreshed and inspired their own teaching practices.

A second surprise occurred when non-business higher education schools began adopting both the curriculum and offline excursion approach. Indeed, schools of entertainment and hospitality also adopted our craft beer related curriculum.

Although the curriculum was initially developed to teach strategic management, scholars from other disciplines clarified an additional value of a craft beer industry focus as a great teaching example for their own areas of expertise. For example, it is now being used to teach experience management. People visit craft breweries and brewpubs not simply for the beer, but for the experience of being in a space filled with enchantment. By responding to users, the craft beer focused content has expanded from strategic management to cover operations controls, leadership, culture, supply chain management, marketing, entertainment and information systems.