Diving In: Five Benefits of Experiential Learning in an MBA Program
An MBA student and instructor reflect on the advantages of practical, immersive learning in an academic setting.
When a newly minted graduate shows up for their first day on the job, their success hinges on how well they have prepared for the opportunity. And there is no better preparation than experiential learning.
At Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, the emphasis on hands-on learning takes MBA students beyond the precise, comfortable world of theory and into the ambiguity of the real world. From the Focus Firm class and Case Competition team to a series of domestic and international trips, students are immersed in a real-life business environment from Day One.
Below, MBA student Dillon Smith and Chris Zane, the instructor of the MBA program’s Focus Firm class, reflect on five key benefits of experiential learning in Baylor’s MBA program:
1. Learn to tell a story with messy, ambiguous data.
Chris teaches Focus Firm, a required MBA capstone class that pairs MBA students with a wide variety of companies to tackle real, not hypothetical, business problems. As the CFO for an oil and gas company, he knows how important it is for students to get comfortable with real datasets.
“I know firsthand that in business school, data tends to be carefully crafted,” Chris, who earned an MBA at Baylor and took the Focus Firm class during his own time in the program, said. “But it does not take long for students to realize that in the real world, information is messy. It is incomplete and full of gaps.”
He uses the concept of net present value as an example. In finance classes, students are encouraged to reach an exact answer. However, in a corporate environment where they are handling a billion-dollar project, they will often work with incomplete information and rely on estimates.
2. Convey information in a polished, effective way.
Even the most gifted analyst will never translate their findings into results without presenting these findings in a way that connects with decision makers.
“Too often, early-career professionals lack the skills to take raw data and learn how to craft it into a story to get buy-in from senior leadership,” Chris said.
Dillon credits Baylor’s emphasis on presentation skills with giving him a competitive edge in a summer internship with AT&T. Between his participation on the Case Competition team and his MBA classes, he became accustomed to presenting at least two or three times per week.
“Presentation skills are hammered into you from the very beginning,” he said. “We are constantly put in front of business leaders and challenged to think on our feet. That can be intimidating at times, but presenting felt like a breeze when I walked into the corporate world. Baylor has given me the confidence not to second guess myself.”
During his internship, Dillon presented to senior leadership half a dozen times. Despite being the youngest intern in his cohort, he consistently earned some of the highest individual performance rankings from his colleagues.
3. Leave your comfort zone.
Baylor’s MBA program takes students out of their comfort zones—quite literally. Every student participates in domestic and international trips that expose them to people and organizations across a wide variety of industries.
Dillon recently participated in an MBA trip to Costa Rica, which required students to act as consultants for a digital marketing agency and introduced them to leaders in food manufacturing, tourism, shipping and other industries.
“For me, the greatest value of the trip was to force me out of my comfort zone and into a different environment,” he said. “It was an opportunity to learn in a different way than we learn in the classroom and see firsthand how people in another culture apply business concepts in their workplace.”
In the long term, Dillon aspires to combine business and missions in the context of an equity fund, leveraging his skills and education to make an impact overseas. One of the most valuable takeaways he has gleaned from his MBA program, he said, is exposure to purpose-driven people and businesses who operate in a different cultural and geographical context.
4. Practice working on diverse teams.
Few MBA students will enter the workforce and solve problems alone. The vast majority will work on teams of people with diverse backgrounds, skillsets and interests. One of the benefits of classes like Focus Firm is that they help students learn to navigate complex team dynamics.
“Students learn to approach problems through a collaborative lens, putting in their fair share of the work to create deliverables for their clients,” Chris said.
Students in the Focus Firm class answer a myriad of questions for their assigned clients, from conducting market analyses to leveraging analytical skills to improve supply chains. Along the way, they gain experience and confidence in leveraging their individual strengths on behalf of the whole, paving the way for success on future teams.
5. Go beyond theory to work on a project basis.
There is nothing wrong with mastering theory through academic exercises, but assignments and exams soon give way to projects in the business world. At Baylor, even the most theory-heavy classes require students to form groups and work on projects to solve realistic problems.
“I wanted to ensure that I entered the business world with an idea of what business is actually like,” Dillon said. “My undergraduate experience involved a decent amount of theory, while my MBA experience has been more project-based. That has helped me fill in the gaps academically and develop as a businessperson. Ultimately, the MBA ended up being the perfect vehicle to get real-world corporate experience.”
Does Baylor’s emphasis on experiential learning appeal to you? Click here to learn more about our Full-Time MBA program or fill out a Request for Information form to speak directly with an admissions advisor.