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The Future of Management Education is Experiential

Not long ago I asked the CLO of very large and well-known multinational company what’s new and, in particular, what they were doing to develop HiPOS (high potentials). She hesitated, unsure about sharing something so significant to the company, and eventually confided that they are bringing them together in cross-functional teams, which will be dropped into remote African villages to solve challenging and important problemsÑand bond at the same time. I wasn’t surprised, but should have been more delicate with my reply. I said, “Well, business schools have been providing those types of experiences for a long time. And with great success.”

For me this brief interaction pointed to three interesting developments in management education. First, it provided an example of the blurring boundaries between what companies and business schools do. Second, it revealed some of the key advantages of ‘learning by doing” to develop managers and leaders. Third, it demonstrated the importance of context in creating meaningful and effective learning experiences.

There was a time when it was all fairly clear. The classroom was where we were taught and the office was where we worked. Advances in information technology changed all that, freeing learners from the confines of the classroom and allowing learning to sync with the rhythm of work and life. More recently, we have begun to realize that education is no longer something to finish before entering the workforce, or an episodic event shortly thereafter, in order to accelerate or transform careers. People must continuously learn and develop throughout their working lives. And so the boundaries between work and education have been blurring. Now, working means learning.

Learning also means working. In a world where content is easy to access, business schools have been given permission to concentrate more on the application of concepts and development of skills. In addition to internships and “real-world” projects, some of the most exciting work in higher education has been in developing the space between academia and practice. Interactive simulations are recreating the workplace within the school and providing a safer (and quicker) place to fail without derailing our careers. Virtual reality and augmented reality are helping us to build new management practice fields and bring more diversity, depth, and data into the learning process.

But technology isn’t everything. As illustrated by the opening example, experiential learning is about people just like management is about people. And it shines when humans interact, co-create solutions, and make a difference together, learning from each other as much as from digital content. They gain experience in handling conflict and navigating differences. And they generate social capital, which is the topic of a previous post called “The Connective Power of Experiential Learning.”

Finally, the opening example shows that experiential learning is about context. It’s not only about putting learners into realistic and challenging work situations, but also about exposing them to the cultural, regulatory, and economic differences that are, and will always be, embedded in business. What works in Canada may not work in Cameroon, Colombia, and Cambodia, or the United States for that matter. Diverse experiences build learning agility, the capacity for rapid learning to address new and unfamiliar situations and problems. That’s why experiential learning has become such an important part of the Global Business School Network (GBSN) mission, which is to improve access to high-quality, locally-relevant management and entrepreneurship education for the developing world.

That’s also why GBSN and S.P. Jain Institute of Management Research (SPJIMR) are co-hosting a Learning by Doing Summit in Mumbai, April 4-5, 2019. It is an intensive and interactive event geared to participants who are looking to develop a new experiential learning program or modify or scale a current one. One particularly exciting part of the program features experiential learning models from SPJIMR. Facilitators will take small groups into the field for hands-on examples of non-classroom learning programs and initiatives. We are proud to announce that CapSim, a global leader in experiential learning for business as well as business education, will participate as a feature sponsor. Generous sponsorships make GBSN’s learning and networking events accessible to those who will benefit the most in emerging economies.

So back to future of management education. It is indeed being shaped by technology, though not only in the disruptive way we often imagine or read about in the news. Technology will take care of the content, making it readily accessible to learners, and it will provide management educators with new resources and tools, such as assessments and analytics, to reach students and improve education. But it will also enable business schools and companies to focus on providing more tangible, human-centered, transformative experiences from which we learn how to lead. The future of management education is experiential.

Dan LeClair width= is the Chief Executive Officer at the Global Business School Network. Widely recognized as a thought leader in management education, Dan is the author of over 80 research reports, articles, and blogs, and has delivered more than 170 presentations in 30 countries.

Connect with Dan on LinkedIn and Twitter @drleclair