Real life learning and assessment – creating an authentic experience

When I was in sixth form, many, many years ago I participated in the Young Enterprise scheme. We worked with a local business who produced manufactured steel tubes, the upshot of which was that our first product was a desk tidy, consisting of a slab of varnished wood, several coils of fine tubes and a whimsey (small porcelain animal, very popular at the time). I was the sales manager and, while I can’t say my own contribution was in any way outstanding, we won our area competition.

I’d love to say it is the reason I now teach marketing, but that would be stretching the truth somewhat. However, the experience did stay with me and when I finally got the chance to develop my own module I wondered if it was possible to replicate the experience.

I wanted the teaching to become an immersive experience to increase engagement and give the assessment a more practical, real world application. So, the module allowed students, in groups, to run their own notional businesses, making fortnightly decisions and receiving formative feedback on each. The four product categories used were based on small and large businesses, with local operations, that offered industrial visits and the opportunity to quiz senior managers about how they operated. Amongst the fascinating facts learned were that the mark-up for popcorn is 1000% and that cinemas rarely make profit from ticket sales.

The students were given a mark for each of their formative decisions (not used towards their final summative grade) and these were posted each week on a cumulative basis. This introduced a competitive element within each product category and there was a small prize for the most successful business at the end of the year. The first assessment was an individual report or exam (not the last time I’ve used an alternative assessment) based on the business environment. The second was a group presentation on how the group was achieving competitive advantage.

As an external examiner I’ve always been impressed by courses and modules that integrate interaction with real businesses and organisations and I extended this to a final year module where we ran a live project for the local police creating ideas for their anti-drink/drive Christmas Campaign and I created a second assessment, that provided for submission to the Design & Art Directors New Blood Awards, an annual competition using briefs from a host of real companies. It opened the students’ eyes to activities beyond the University and created extra engagement. I still use that option now, along with an alternative first assessment (I did say it would crop up again) of the Chartered Institute of Marketing “The Pitch” competition, in which students create a presentation on a brief through a set of narrated Powerpoint slides, with a live presentation for the finalists.

I’ve also worked on a second-year advertising module that was provided live briefs via a local agency, which have included diverse companies from a haulage firm specialising in pallets, to a well known premium car brand. In the final year, I now run a marketing module that has two alternative assessments for assignment one. The first involves a report for a local brewery assessing the local market, undertaking a competitor analysis and defining future trends all with the support of the sales and marketing director. The other alternative assessment involves the X-Culture Project, offering students from all over the world to work together in a virtual team on a brief from a real broad range of businesses looking to address a real business problem or identify a new opportunity.

From all these experiences, students have developed of an understanding of marketing that goes beyond the text book and beyond the classroom. They’ve become more confident in their understanding because they’ve had the opportunity to apply their knowledge in real-world situations and working with organisations that are steeped in the industries that they aspire to enter. It has often created more incisive debate and enquiry, particularly where there is a competitive element, and it’s given students the opportunity to add to their CVs and the stories they need to be successful in applications and interviews.


Roger Saunders is Associate Professor in Cumulative Innovation and Module Leader in Marketing and Advertising, Leicester Castle Business School.