Experiential learning approaches enhance scholastic learning and foster higher order thinking skills in preparing future business leaders.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” — Confucius
We learn best by doing — ask any cricket coach; the only way you master a sport is by strapping on the pads and going to bat.
Of course there is value in reading and watching the game but with repetitive, unimaginative study too often, those illustrative practices become little more than blunt weapons with which to beat any natural creative spark out of the student.
Education becomes little more than memorising equations, formulae and concepts; regurgitate them in exams and valiantly keeping score. And as we all know you can’t read the perfect game.
Involvement drives engagement; that’s why in my eight years as a Business School Professor I have become increasingly aware of the responsibility I have towards my students to prepare them for the world of business away from descriptive practices.
Conscious of the reality of the classroom, I teamed up with two progressively minded organisations, the Muthoot Group and Delhi Daredevils, to focus upon the problem of how to develop a novel experiential teaching tool.
Brand Battle Simulations took the practice of ‘war games’ a technique used by the U.S. military to prepare their troops for the multiply eventualities of combat and applied it to the world of business. As in a typical war game, student-teams take roles to simulate an unfolding crisis or gauge the possible reaction of competitors to a critical strategic move.
When recently teaching Brand Management, I invited the Directors of the Muthoot Group and the CMO of Delhi Daredevils to form control groups charged with presenting individual teams of up to 10 MBA students with a scenario – imagined or real – about a current business crisis that they were then asked to solve.
With teams either playing the client, competition or a stakeholder I acted as the coach, guiding the student-teams to apply business theories, interpret secondary research, synthesise knowledge gleaned, and evaluate strategies.
Due to the nature of ‘play’ within a classroom environment, students felt free to think beyond the client brief to implement creative solutions to unforeseen problems while allowing clients to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities of their brand strategy.
‘Learning by Doing’ lectures make their apparent lack of formal planning their strength. In this model, a language teacher could aid learning by getting his class to act out scenes from a play or a short story, a science teacher could demonstrate the flammable nature of hydrogen by showing its effects with a little washing up liquid and a match.
The only limit placed on learning is the limits of your imagination.
While ‘learning by doing’ lectures may be non-linear and rigid, they are always coherent and surprising. Beneath the seeming chaos in the classroom, there is always an underlying method that aids edification.
Like any good coach, educators are charged with getting the best from their students – to motivate and reward them through experiential teaching but too often our educational system stifles development with demonstrative pedagogic ideas.
The problems then left facing educators in this respect are familiar; students do not assimilate the necessary know-how and-why, and nor do they possess sufficient motivation to ask why these processes are critical to higher thinking.
The ominous problem remains; students know too much and do too little.
A growing self-awareness of the issue at hand has in effect crippled development in some of the premier business schools in the U.S. For instance, the Harvard Business School pioneered a case study approach to educating its students which attempted to tackle this malaise by fostering business education through a mix of theoretical reflection and deft application of the knowledge gained. However, its modus operandi of promoting theoretical reflection became its primary value. Students were still no closer to experiencing practical business situations.
It seems unimaginable that any other profession would prepare their students to enter the world of work without giving them the necessary practical tools in which to succeed. After all, you wouldn’t trust a surgeon who had only perused elaborate case studies, discussed them in the classroom and written eloquently on the subject if he has no practical experience of the operating theatre.
“Hear one, see one, do one,” is an adage used by residents to learn a procedure. In business education, however, the saying would be: “Hear one, talk about one, talk about another one.”
The reality is that what MBAs have to learn to be the managers of tomorrow they will have to do so within classrooms today — and how we are teaching them will only get them so far.
The author is a recognised Brand Strategist from New York City who works full-time consulting for corporate clients; he teaches brand management at Hult, INCAE, and other select B-schools. Follow him at twitter.com/iSudio