Kerry Laufer, the director of TuckGo-OnSite Global Consulting, organized and attended a conference on experiential learning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
In February, Bloomberg magazine released its annual Job Skills report, listing the attributes employers want in new hires. This year, the most sought-after skills, and the least common, were strategic thinking, creative problem solving, leadership, and communication—exactly the kinds of skills that TuckGO courses help refine to better prepare MBAs for success in the modern business world.
Since Tuck started the experience-heavy OnSite Global Consulting course nearly 20 years ago— and the First-Year Project course long before that—experiential learning opportunities have expanded to nearly every corner of the MBA curriculum. And Tuck is a recognized leader in the field. For the past two years, TuckGo’s Kerry Laufer, the director of OnSite, has served on the Global Business School Network’s Experiential Learning Advisory Board to help expand the conversation about experiential learning to include business schools in developing countries. Last year, Laufer along with Tuck associate professor Steve Kahl helped organize the inaugural Learning by Doing Summit in Cairo, Egypt. This summer, the summit took place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
There’s a real richness of learning that comes from having to face the kinds of complex, unstructured problems clients throw at Tuck MBAs.
For Laufer, who spent eight years building a women’s university in Saudi Arabia, these types of opportunities feed her passion for learning from and about new cultures around the world. And they provide a chance to fulfill Tuck’s mission to educate wise leaders to better the world of business, something echoed in the mandate of the Global Business School Network: to help ensure that the developing world has the management talent it needs to generate economic growth and prosperity.
How does Tuck define “experiential learning”?
Experiential learning is about learning through reflection on doing. People usually associate it with our TuckGO courses that send students out into the world, but it can include a range of learning activities inside and outside the classroom that allow Tuck students to apply curricular concepts in authentic business contexts to facilitate new insights. We take the learning part very seriously and apply course design standards grounded in research about how people learn best. This means students get some preparation before an experience to provide frameworks to guide learning, there is structured individual reflection after the experience, and there are opportunities for feedback throughout under the guidance of a faculty member or advisor.
What are the tangible benefits of experiential learning?
There’s a real richness of learning that comes from having to face the kinds of complex, unstructured problems clients throw at Tuck MBAs during an OnSite project—and it’s useful because that’s the form most problems take out there in the world. They are messy. So part of it is about being ready from day one to do a job. Another is the emotional intelligence you gain in dealing with ambiguity and working in teams, and then how you take all of that forward to a leadership situation.
The known impacts of experiential learning fall into a couple of categories—Dartmouth’s Experiential Learning Initiative talks about critical thinking and problem solving, collaborating across difference, and innovating and taking risks. With TuckGo, we talk about the impact as helping students develop the aptitudes of empathy, awareness, and agility to successfully navigate new and different business environments.
What was the goal of the Learning by Doing Summit?
The summit was aimed at international leaders in business education and industry. The goal was to explore approaches to applying experiential learning to management education, as well as opportunities to increase multi-sector engagement in management education in the Asia Pacific region.
What did you learn about the unique context of Cambodia?
Cambodia is a beautiful and fascinating country with a complex history. Understanding that history and its impact on the education sector is really important, and the Minister of Education Youth and Sport helped us better understand and unpack that a little bit through his participation. Experiential learning is particularly relevant in Cambodia, because while formal schooling is and always has been highly valued, the older generation of business leaders learned their businesses through experience out of necessity. Today in Cambodia as in many countries, they are finding the younger generation—those who’ve now had the benefit of a formal education—unprepared for the jobs that await them. This presents an interesting opportunity for experiential learning to grow as a respected pedagogical technique to help address this challenge.
What was your role in the summit?
As a member of GBSN’s experiential learning advisory board, I was involved in planning and delivering summit content with the GBSN team, some terrific colleagues from U.S. business schools, and a great local partner, the National University of Management. At the event itself, I had the honor of interviewing the Minister of Education, Youth and Sport for the keynote discussion. His vision for Cambodian higher education specifically calls for all higher education institutions to incorporate more practical applications of education that relate to market needs. So a lot of our discussion throughout the day was about that: How do you do it? Why is it important? What challenges are you facing? What are others doing that you can learn from? What models work best in this context?
Was the summit a success?
It was very successful. We had 60 participants from 12 countries in Southeast Asia—amazing representation that exceeded our expectations. A key goal of ours was to make it a practical, hands-on learning experience for participants. So in the afternoon sessions, after interesting corporate and academic panels in the morning, people worked together in teams to design and propose their own experiential learning course. This was based on Steve Kahl’s great design of a similar session for the Cairo Summit last year, so we had an excellent foundation on which to build.