A Business School Teaching Style for Every Personality

Harvard Business School studentsMany MBA applicants make the same wrong assumption: No matter which top program you attend, the business school teaching style will be more or less the same.

While there are similarities across the top-tier programs, each school has a different teaching style. There’s the case method approach, lecture-based instruction, and the experiential learning and team-based focus approach. Some schools concentrate almost entirely on one style. Others employ a mixture.

Finding a fit in teaching style is essential. We advise clients to seek out a program where they can thrive and feel comfortable. However, applicants often push this piece of the puzzle onto the back burner. They tend to place more weight on factors like rankings, career center offerings, location, and culture.

Teaching style is often one of the last things applicants focus on. Yes, there are many different aspects of a program to consider as you select your target schools. But we believe this one should have more weight. After all, it directly affects not only your enjoyment of your two-year investment but the quality of knowledge that you walk away with as well.

The Case Method

Harvard Business School established the Case Method approach more than a century ago. With this method, students analyze and debate authentic management scenarios to create recommendations that the firm in question should employ in the future.

Harvard relies on case studies for approximately 80 percent of its instruction. Meanwhile, students at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business review more than 500 cases in a variety of industries and functions during their two-year program.

Considered the gold standard in management education by many, this method relies on lively class discussions with multiple points of view. A proper case analysis requires a lot of preparation from students. They must feel at ease sharing their ideas in front of large groups.

Gregarious personalities will thrive with this business school teaching style. Shy individuals, on the other hand, may cringe at the thought of showing up to class. This is not the learning environment for those who feel uncomfortable speaking in front of strangers.

Lecture Style

All top MBA programs include courses taught using a lecture format. However, some schools stand out for their significant use of this traditional educational technique. CMU Tepper School of Business uses approximately 50 percent lecture-based instruction. Meanwhile, the lecture format at the USC Marshall School of Business comes in as a close second at 48 percent.

The UCLA Anderson School of Management, Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, and Oxford’s Said Business School use lectures about 40 percent of the time.

Fans of the lecture method believe this is the best way to concretely teach students the business concepts and theories they will need once they’re back in the workforce. This business school teaching style may also feel more comfortable for introverted students and those who enjoy absorbing the wisdom of a seasoned professor.

In some instances, the lecture approach is simply the most expeditious way to get the information across. Columbia Business School devotes about 40 percent of class time to lecture and 40 percent to case studies.

Experiential Approach

In recent years, more and more schools have expanded the experiential components in their curricula. These additions include more team challenges, simulations, fieldwork, and extracurricular activities.

A leader in this area of action-based learning is the Michigan Ross School of Business. Ross has a seven-week, full-time consulting project known as the Multi-disciplinary Action Project. First-year MBA students connect with corporate, entrepreneurial, and nonprofit projects both in the U.S. and abroad that require thoughtful recommendations on organizational challenges.

Harvard Business School has the yearlong Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development course for first-year students, which offers small-group learning experiences that are experiential, immersive, and field-based.

This hands-on approach to learning benefits those with an entrepreneurial spirit, as well as generalists who enjoy working in groups and want to learn how to get things done. Unlike the lecture and case methods, which focus on theory, experiential learning encourages students to learn by doing.

As you can see, there is much variation in how MBA programs present their material. Take a closer look at your personal preferences to find the best business school teaching style for you.

This previously published post has been updated for 2020.
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