Ahead of the Action-Based Curve

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A number of our peer schools are generating lots of buzz these days around their versions of immersive, experiential field studies. To the uninformed, it would seem this is a novel concept in MBA programs. But two decades ago, the Michigan Ross faculty actually set the curve in action-based learning. And we remain well ahead of that curve to this day.

In 1992, our faculty launched the groundbreaking course we call MAP. It’s is a neat little acronym for our Multidisciplinary Action Projects course, which epitomizes the Michigan Ross ethos to “lead in thought and action.” MAP requires our MBA students to leave the classroom altogether and work exclusively as consultants for a diverse array of organizations worldwide. They spend 25 percent of their first year in the field collaborating in teams to resolve high-stakes, real-world challenges.

Our students help firms enter emerging markets, improve operations, and launch new products. Their work takes them all over the world from Johannesburg to Mumbai. In the past two decades, Michigan Ross students and faculty have delivered 1,500 innovative, practical solutions for more than 750 organizations worldwide. This January, 97 teams of MBA students embarked on 44 international projects and 53 domestic ones. We count 44 new organizations as sponsors this year, from healthcare providers to manufacturers, and Facebook is one of our newest partners.

One of the most significant differentiators of MAP is the fact that the business issues our students face are purposely undefined and ambiguous. Unlike the typical field study, the MAP experience begins with students entering an organization, scoping the business landscape, and framing the actual issue. It is only then that they set about resolving it and implementing a strategic course of action. They will be frustrated, challenged, confused, and exhilarated. They will learn to work in teams to ask the right questions. They will gain the perspective to solve the right problems. And they will exercise leadership, knowledge, and judgment to arrive at the kinds of elegant solutions their sponsors may never have imagined.

At Michigan Ross, we assert that no other method of learning can better prepare today’s business student for tomorrow’s business challenge. And here’s what our faculty have learned during 20 years as leaders in action-based learning: It’s not just about action. It’s not just about solutions. It’s about transformation.

Today we are more focused than ever on the learning outcomes of these experiences. We know that simply having them doesn’t guarantee one will learn from them. It takes effort and commitment to understand these experiences -- through conscious reflection -- so one can leverage them later on. Taking time to be reflective about what is learned during a project is a challenge and a commitment we make with and for our students that is unmatched among other business schools.

At the end, Michigan Ross students will be rewarded with the knowledge they achieved something real, tangible, and concrete during their time in our program. Through our model of action-based learning they will learn as much about themselves as they will about the business issues they choose to resolve. They will leave business school with far richer, deeper, and broader experience than when they arrived. And they will remain far ahead of the curve, creating real value in real organizations throughout the world and throughout their careers.

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