How do today’s MBA programs manage to produce some of the world’s most successful alumni? It all starts with an intense curriculum that helps students develop strong skills in traditional areas of business such as accounting, ethics, finance, macroeconomics, marketing, management, microeconomics, operations, and statistics. Now, experts say that a growing component known as “experiential learning,” is key to helping students put these skills to work.
In broad terms, experiential learning encompasses a range of activities from internships and service learning to research and study abroad. However, MBA programs tend to separate these activities, assigning experiential learning its own category as it typically involves leaving the classroom to help solve real-world business challenges. These focused experiences are now considered one of the strongest features of MBA programs and they are fast becoming a required part of the curriculum at top schools. The Booth School at University of Chicago and Haas School of Business at University of California-Berkeley (Berkeley Haas) are just a few examples.
Though local experiences are readily available, global options are fast becoming the norm. As such, experiential learning course options are often plentiful—especially at top business schools. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University has more than 1,000 experiential learning opportunities for MBAs and Berkeley Haas has numerous out-of-classroom opportunities that offer MBA students the opportunity to build on their skill sets by solving a specific business problem, developing business plans in emerging markets, or analyzing a business to help identify areas that need improvement. For example, “students in the Emerging Markets course work in groups to develop a business concept and plan for a venture of their choosing in a developing country. And in High-Tech Marketing, student teams examine products and offerings of actual technology companies and analyze the life cycle and effectiveness of their strategies,” says Haas.
Kellogg MBA students have worked on strategies for South Korean manufacturers and growth analysis for a digital media firms in Asia, and NYU Stern students have worked on overseas urbanization projects as far away as Ethiopia, among other places.
UC Denver says, “well-planned, supervised and assessed experiential learning programs” such as these “can stimulate academic inquiry by promoting interdisciplinary learning, civic engagement, career development, cultural awareness, leadership, and other professional and intellectual skills.” These experiences provide “opportunities for students to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results” and “engage intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially, or physically.” Students will learn from “natural consequences, mistakes, and successes.”
eLearning Industry says experiential learning is the “future of learning,” because it:
- Accelerates Learning
- Bridges the Gap Between Theory and Practice
- Produces Demonstrable Mindset Changes
- Increases Engagement Levels
- Delivers Exceptional Return on Investment (ROI)
Experts also say that besides giving MBA graduates an edge, no matter which career they choose, experiential learning experiences often lead to more impactful career choices. According to a recent Global-Workplace report, top management consulting firm Bain & Company surveyed 1,500 MBA students and graduates and found that more than 50% planned to prioritize impact over financial rewards in their future careers.
Besides this, experts say MBA students who engage in experiential learning experiences develop the “soft” skills today’s employer’s value. Collaboration, decision-making, drive, innovation, operational thinking, resilience, interpersonal intuition, strategic vision, strategic self-awareness, and valuing others are at the top of the list. Experts say these skills will help shape graduates’ success in the workplace and in life.
What Employers Have to Say
Not long ago, nearly three-quarters of employers (73 percent) surveyed would like colleges and universities to emphasize more the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings through hands-on experiences.
More than four in five employers believed that completion of a supervised and evaluated experiential learning activity such as community-based project would be very or fairly effective in ensuring that recent college graduates possess the skills and knowledge needed for success at their company.
More than two-thirds of employers (67 percent) believed that a faculty supervisor’s assessment of a student’s experiential learning project would be very or fairly useful to them in evaluating college graduates’ potential for success.
Four in five employers (79 percent) wanted colleges to place more emphasis on community-based field projects that teach students to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.
-Peer Review and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).
To find schools with MBA programs that provide experiential learning opportunities, search our listings here.
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"New Research on Internships and Experiential Learning Programs." Association of American Colleges & Universities. Peer Review, 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 06 Sept. 2017.
"The Wharton MBA Curriculum." The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. Wharton University of Pennsylvania, 2017. Web. 06 Sept. 2017.
"What Is Experiential Learning?" University of Colorado Denver (UC Denver), Experiential Learning Center. 2017 The Regents of the University of Colorado, 2017. Web. 06 Sept. 2017.
Wolf, Paige. "10 Important Soft Skills You Can Get with an MBA Degree." George Mason MBA Programs Blog. The School of Business at George Mason University (GMU), 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 Sept. 2017.