Executive Education

Hands-On Success: How Action Learning Transforms Executive Education

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3 May 2024
Hands-On Success: How Action Learning Transforms Executive Education

In the ever-evolving landscape of business education, traditional teaching methodologies are undergoing significant transformations. One of the most effective approaches in today's executive education is action learning. This method stands out for its dynamic application of academic learnings, offering MBA candidates part the unique opportunity to tackle real-time business challenges while reflecting on their experiences to secure deep learning.

What is Action Learning?


Action learning is a reflective process where individuals learn by tackling real-time problems and reflecting on the outcomes. Developed by Reg Revans, it emphasises 'learning by doing,' encouraging collaboration, critical thinking, and personal growth through practical experience.

EDHEC is at the forefront of integrating action learning into business education. Sandra Richez, the Programme Director of EDHEC's Global MBA, champions this method. She describes action learning as dealing with "real cases, life cases, things that are happening in business right now." This immediacy connects students directly with current industry challenges, making their learning experience intensely relevant and practically focused.

Action learning includes case studies, business games and simulations that condense months of academic learning into interactive group activities where participants apply newly acquired strategic and leadership skills.

The Global MBA Sustainable Impact Challenge is a long-term project and woven into the curriculum whereas the 24-hour consultancy hackathon plunges students into a real company's strategic issue that they work to resolve within one full, relentless day.

What is the Impact of Real-World Projects on Learning Outcomes?


EDHEC’s approach to action learning is varied and comprehensive and the educational impact of these real-world projects is profound. They require participants to apply their learning in practical, often high-pressure situations. This not only ensures the retention of knowledge but also helps students develop essential soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, and resilience. Richez notes the holistic nature of these experiences, stating they "create amazing memories for the students but also for the firms that are providing these projects.


A Learning Method that benefits Everyone


According to Sandra Richez, Action Learning “significantly enhances the learning experience.” The practical immersion helps forge a more profound connection between academic concepts and real-world application. The result is a more engaged learning process that prepares students to face and solve actual business problems, providing them with a competitive edge in their professional lives.

We get “real world exposure and understand what companies are facing. We get exposed to a diverse group of people and were fortunate enough to interact with the top management at banks and understand how they function, what are challenges they are facing and we could devise strategies for them. So it's really a lot of action learning, practical learning.” said Prachi Ranka, participant of the EDHEC Global MBA Sustainable Impact Challenge 2024.

But action learning projects are also great opportunities for companies. Through long-terms consulting projects, they get access to diverse and talented MBAs who can work on a specific business challenge for them. Other formats, like hackathons allow them to get to know potential future employees in real-life situations far beyond a CV, working in teams and often under pressure. What Capgemini Invent were looking for when participating in the 2024 GMBA Consulting Hackathon was “creativity in the solutions, the impact of these potential solutions and the talent that the students have because they could potentially join our ranks” confirmed Arjun Prasad, Senior Consultant at Capgemini Invent.

Action learning to me means using real cases, life cases, things that are happening in business right now.  

The projects that companies give us are often projects that are kind of, you know, it's what's on the top of the list right now in terms of concerns that companies have. 
So we hear about sustainability, we hear about AI, we hear about a lot of different things going on in companies, massive changes and around those changes there are projects and there's a desire to adapt and to evolve as a company. And to do that, it's great to have a team of MBA students who can work with you. 

Unlike a case study that's a written exercise and a little bit academic, taking real applied learning of applied learning cases and situations really helps the learning stick When you do something, when you really exercise all the different areas of analysing research and actually doing and putting it into action for an actual company, it's a much more, I would say, holistic experience and it creates amazing memories for the students but also for the firms that are providing these projects. 

So there are a number of ways that we do experiential learning, of course, like other schools, we do business simulations and case studies, which are a form of action learning, but we go beyond that at EDHEC. And so, what we try to do in different courses depending on the subject is have different ways of working with live business cases. 
Our career services organises the hackathon and that's a different type of experiential learning. 
So we have the projects that are really long and done sort of part time during studies like the sustainable impact Challenge. 
Then we have projects that are concentrated like the consulting projects at the end of the MBA two months full time. 
Then we have the in-class projects that go for two or three weeks at a time headed up by a professor and the hackathon's something really different. 
It's really a 24-hour project and the idea is to take up a strategic issue that a company wants to dig deeper into and then work very hard for 24 hours on it and then come back to the company with solutions that you come up with as a team. 

Over the years as we've increased the number of applied projects and applied learning in the programme, EDHEC has really stood out in this area because I think when you come to EDHEC now you expect that you expect to be challenged. It's already a really intense programme but then beyond being intense in terms of the duration and the number of courses that you're taking now, it's that you're kind of in the driver's seat; You know, you're sort of like put right in front of employers, right in front of company means that maybe one day will be your clients, maybe one day will be your employers and you're asked to already before you have your degree already start working on strategic projects. 
Sometimes I wonder how the students do it, you know, it's such an action-packed MBA and you're constantly in contact with business throughout your studies and there's really very little place to hide, you know, you may be leaving work to study, but you never really let go and I think that that's what's really exciting about our MBA. 

Conclusion: Action Learning – The future of Executive Education


As business challenges become more complex and the pace of change accelerates, the need for adaptable, resilient, and skilled leaders has never been more critical. Action learning isn’t merely about solving problems but also about personal and group development, enhancing the participants' capacity to handle future challenges more effectively. The process helps learners not only to apply what they know but to question their assumptions, evaluate the outcomes of their actions, and adjust their approaches based on reflective learning. The future of executive education lies in methods that are not only informative but transformative. Action Learning, as integrated into all EDHEC Executive programmes, is at the forefront of this shift, offering a robust training ground for the next generation of business leaders. As this approach continues to evolve, it will play a pivotal role in shaping an innovative, responsive, and skilled executive workforce, ready to take on the global business challenges of tomorrow.

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