Why Experiential Learning is Vital to the MBA

Experience is the best teacher. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, people learn about 70% of their jobs informally through experience, 20% through relationships, and 10% through formal training methods. Unfortunately, a 2012 Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board survey found that there’s a huge gap between how people learn and how they’re taught. It reported that more than 80% of learning continues to be instructor-led, a far cry from the recommended 10%.

The good news is that many MBA programs are looking to change their students’ experience. Top programs such as the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago are focusing on experiential learning and taking their students outside of the classroom and into businesses.

Why Is Experiential Learning Necessary?

The business world is continuing to grow more competitive and exacting. It’s no longer enough just to have an MBA. To compete in the job market, MBA graduates need to have had experiences that set them apart from their fellow B-school students. And that’s where experiential learning comes into play. According to a 2015 study from the Graduate Management Admission Council, nearly one in four graduate business students prefers experiential learning, and MBA programs are listening.

The truth is that the case studies and lectures that used to dominate MBA classrooms aren’t very useful. In the world today, there’s no such thing as a cookie cutter problem. While case studies are great, they cannot substitute learning that occurs from a direct, personal encounter in business.

The reality is that the issues faced by one business could be a world away from the problems their competitor faces and those problems could be opposite of the methods taught in the classroom. Experiential learning solves this issue by encouraging students to work directly with companies so they can learn to solve problems as they arise, no matter what they are.

“Business problems have become a lot more unprecedented, a lot more complex,” Krishna Erramilli, the Associate Dean at Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business told the Chicago Tribune. “To train our students to be successful in the 21st century, they must be able to go into a company, look at that problem and analyze the problem from multiple functional perspectives.”

Types of Experiential Learning in an MBA Program

There’s no limit to how MBA programs can incorporate experiential learning into their curriculum. Some schools offer more blatant opportunities, like the addition of a 10-day global learning experience, while others seek to add experiential learning to every classroom experience. Some of the most popular experiential learning options are:

  • Summer Internships: There’s no doubt that the summer internship is the most popular and effective form of experiential learning. It takes students and places them directly into the work environment so they can implement what they learned in the classroom over weeks of work.
  • Immersion Experiences: Another typical opportunity MBA programs offer is a real-world, immersion experience. These are typically 1-2 week trips where MBAs head overseas to consult with real companies on real problems.
  • Experiential Learning Courses: Other MBA programs offer courses, which are focused on providing out-of-classroom activities to enhance the learning experience. The courses typically invite business executives or nonprofit organizations to partner with the classroom to add real-life experience to the curriculum.
  • Case Competitions: Most recently, case competitions have evolved to include real businesses with real problems. These new competitions don’t present a designed problem but instead partner with living breathing companies to give MBAs an opportunity to solve actual business problems and to present their solutions in front of executives and judges, just like in the business world.

4 Best MBA Schools for Experiential Learning

  1. Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia: At the Darden School, MBAs can participate in International or Domestic Field Experiences, consulting projects, and leadership clubs to gain real-world experience.
  2. Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago: The Booth School focuses on providing MBAs with two experiential learning projects: the Marketing Lab Course Projects and the Management Lab. Both projects partner MBAs with faculty and business mentors to help students apply what they learn in the classroom.
  3. The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University: Kellogg offers more than 1,000 experiential learning opportunities. MBAs can take part in the Asset Management Practicum, Venture Labs, NUvention Courses, and more.
  4. Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley: The Haas School requires experiential learning as part of the curriculum. MBAs can choose from a list of experiential course options and even add on electives for additional hands-on experience.

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About the Author

Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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