Action Learning

How does it work in practice?

Action Learning at MIT Sloan MBA

To truly reinforce their developing knowledge, students at MIT Sloan are afforded exceptional opportunities to actively exercise their leadership skills and apply classroom learning by tackling real-world challenges. Our long tradition of merging theory with practice is the competitive advantage upon which MIT was built, and it’s the very foundation upon which it continues to grow. We are the leader among top-tier business schools in Action Learning. In the class of 2012, 75 percent of the students in the MBA program elected to participate in at least one Action Learning Lab courses as part of their customized curriculum.

Mens et Manus

MIT’s guiding principle is its motto, "Mens et Manus," or "Mind and Hand." In addition to fulfilling the MIT philosophy of translating innovation to purpose in the world, hands-on learning synthesizes what you know with what you will need to know to make a more powerful impact in your chosen career.

Action Learning is an integral component of every student’s experience at MIT Sloan. While Action Learning is offered in other business programs, Action Learning at MIT Sloan is a unique process in which students constantly refine their learning through an ongoing, iterative sequence of theory, practice, and reflection. The integration of learning through classroom theory and real-world practice — whether by starting their own business, working with major companies on their latest financial issues, helping entrepreneurs from developing economies structure sustainable businesses, or solving problems that keep even the top executives awake at night — is a part of MIT Sloan’s DNA. “Learning by doing” is how we think about management education.

Action Labs

We offer a broad array of hands-on, experiential learning courses, such as Leading Sustainable Systems Lab (L-Lab), where students tackle the critical issues of global business sustainability, and India Lab (I-Lab), during which students get intensive real-world experience working on a three-month engagement to address organizational challenges within small to midsize businesses in collaboration with Indian executives. Students choose from a variety of projects with companies, NGOs, not-for-profits, and/or government agencies. Lab projects selected by MIT faculty and staff cover a wide spectrum of interests and challenges.

Interdisciplinary Teams

Students further collaborate by working on projects in teams, again mirroring real-world settings. Teams may include members from other disciplines across campus, from other universities, or even from other countries. Problems and opportunities cross borders, as do the customized paths of study at MIT Sloan.

Develop and Implement the Plan

All experiential learning courses begin with traditional classroom work: learning strategy, doing casework, and hearing lectures from faculty and other prominent organization leaders invited from outside MIT Sloan. Some Action Learning courses are simulation-based activities where faculty use technology to replicate business challenges, allowing students to test their knowledge and then assess the assumptions underlying their decisions. Other courses allow students to apply their knowledge in developing a strategic plan with and for an external host company. The project-based courses culminate with on-site time at the host organization to present that plan. MIT Sloan's academic schedule is set up to facilitate the time necessary for off-campus experiences.

Different labs are organized by the types of projects involved and by the locations of the host organizations. For example, one of the most popular labs, Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab), concentrates on entrepreneurs in developing economies. By contrast, students in Entrepreneurship Lab (E-Lab) usually work with New England- area entrepreneurs, bringing new technology-based products to market. Leading Sustainable Systems Lab  (L-Lab) works with organizations to integrate sustainability as organizational change, whereas Sustainable Business Lab (S-Lab) tackles specific sustainability projects. The following pages describe more characteristics of existing Lab courses.

MIT Sloan Trading Lab

For finance students, MIT Sloan’s state-of-the-art Trading Lab is identical in every detail to the best trading rooms in financial capitals around the world. It provides MIT Sloan students with hands-on experience in the complex realm of trading and finance. While accurately reflecting today’s financial markets, the MIT Sloan Trading Lab also plays a central role in shaping innovations in the practice of finance, often in collaboration with other disciplines.

Student Initiative: Clubs, Conferences, Competitions, Treks, Networks

MIT Sloan offers an array of extracurricular activities that can play a pivotal role in hands-on learning and leadership opportunities.

MIT Sloan students organize conferences on diverse topics, from venture capital to bio-innovations, and from sports analytics to sales. Students at the School also participate in more than 60 student-run clubs.

Student-run contests include the International MBA Sales Competition, the Elevator Pitch Contest, and the MIT Clean Energy Prize Competition. One of the best-known student contests is the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, where the student with the top business plan wins $100,000 in capital to start up his or her proposed enterprise. Competition participants are also eligible for up to $350,000 in seed money, and up to $600,000 is available for the most outstanding business plans in the energy industry.

With the help of the Career Development Office, students organize treks to areas highly concentrated with organizations of career interest. Recent treks included trips to China, France, Japan, Brazil, Kenya, Silicon Valley, and New York City.

Networking events are hosted by a variety of student groups, and can further expand students’ opportunities for collaboration. TechLink hosts events that span the MIT-Harvard community from freshmen to alumni to industry leaders. Bio Bash brings in scientists and entrepreneurs from around the world each year. The annual MIT Venture Capital Conference, run by the Venture Capital and Private Equity Club, is the largest student-run venture capital conference in the world. This much-anticipated event draws 100 venture capitalists, 100 entrepreneurs, and 100 students together in an unparalleled global “mixer.”

S-LAB: JAKARTA WATERSHED Combating a clean water crisis

“You could talk about watershed management and conservation of energy all you want. But until you put numbers to it and financial analysis to it, you’re not going to get much done. I came to business school to speak that language, speak with people in terms of numbers, financial numbers so that I can get projects done.”

Ian Lavery
G-LAB: WARMBATHS HOSPITAL, SOUTH AFRICA Improving staffing at a maternity ward

“The assistant to the CEO was like our host mom while we were there. She arranged our housing for us, she took us out to her friend’s game farm, and we got driven around in 4x4s. She was just wonderful to meet, and we developed a personal as well as professional relationship with her.”

Kelsey McCarty
INSTITUTE FOR WORK AND EMPLOYMENT RESEARCH Adapting to the changing nature of work

“We’re very interdisciplinary. Among the faculty in the group are an economist, a political scientist, a sociologist, and an industrial relations specialist. We’ve always made a big effort to be open to a variety of perspectives, but also to go beyond being open to them, to want to bring them in, because it makes for a richer environment.”

Thomas Kochan
Co-director, IWER
COURAGE AND STRENGTH Supporting a student with breast cancer
"The Sloan community really rallied around me in a way that I totally didn’t anticipate. … It was just really nice to be a part of a community that I was totally comfortable in and felt completely supported by."
Kyle Maner
SLOAN FELLOW Getting serious about going global
"I had interviews and visited other business schools, and it’s nothing like the environment that we have here at MIT Sloan."
Abner Oliviera
G-LAB: AIDS IN TANZANIA Striving for economic empowerment

“Because of the diversity of our backgrounds, when we hit the ground in Tanzania it almost was a natural play where different people assume different roles.”

Krishna Venugopalan
CENTER FOR INFORMATION SYSTEMS RESEARCH Bringing people and machines together

“The concept behind enterprise architecture is that you have all these machines, you have all these business processes, you have all these people doing things, how do you make sure they all come together and achieve business objectives that make you more competitive.”

Jeanne W. Ross
Director and Principal Research Scientist, CISR
G-LAB, RAS RESORT, INDIA Marketing in Mumbai
"The project was really interesting because the scope changed a lot. We started focusing in one goal, then we changed to another, then we changed to another, all before we even left Cambridge."
Gerardo Guzman
INDIA LAB: BANGALORE Working toward market expansion

“[The India Lab] program is one of the reasons I came to Sloan. ... The hands-on learning that MIT offers was a huge differentiator.”

Katie Baron
G-LAB: MERCY CORPS, INDONESIA Using business principles to address malnutrition

“The conditions in the neighborhoods we were visiting were different than what we realized before getting there. Beyond that, what was surprising was that there weren’t surprises!”

Libby Putman
G-LAB: INTERGRUPO, COLOMBIA Growing a business by cultivating relationships

"After we gave our recommendations, the great part was that the very next day the CEO was in the boardroom implementing them with his top vice presidents."

Ramy Hakim
SLOAN FELLOW Merging disciplines for climate change
"I needed to get a better understanding of the interaction of management and technology. And I think MIT is an obvious place for that. There’s probably no better place in the world [for learning] how technology and management interact."
Pascal Marmier
RETAIL AND CONSUMER GOODS Luxury beauty and the multicultural consumer
"The goal of the Retail and Consumer Goods Club is to provide networking opportunities for students at MIT Sloan, and to educate students about different functions within the retail and CPG space. We bring in executive-level speakers to educate our community on this topic."
Nga Phan
MBA, co-president of Retail and Consumer Goods Club
SWITZER FELLOWSHIP WINNER JASON JAY Focusing on environmental research and leadership

 “I love being in a place that is such a nexus of people and ideas — people coming to learn something new and to define themselves. Being a part of that process is a real honor and a real gift.”

Jason Jay
Lecturer, Sustainability, MIT Sloan
G-LAB: PRIVATE HEALTH CARE IN AFRICA Defining growth at a for-profit clinic

“At MIT Sloan you have a lot of opportunities to explore entrepreneurship. Especially in a place like Kampala where you have a lot of development, entrepreneurship can be very exciting.”

Anne Reilly
LEADERS FOR GLOBAL OPERATIONS Connecting management and technology
“[LGO students] get the advantage of a small cohort. But they’re also part of the larger community. They’re part of MIT, of MIT Sloan, of the MBA program. They’re part of the core program that meets every fall, they’re part of the engineering committee; they get the benefits of both the larger community and the small cohort.”
Don Rosenfield
senior lecturer and director of the Leaders for Global Operations
G-LAB: NAM MEE BOOKS, THAILAND Helping a book publisher mature

“It was really rewarding that they wanted to know what we thought. We left there being fairly certain that they will do some of the things that we suggested.”

Lia Cavalcante
$100K WINNERS: C-CRETE TECHNOLOGIES Reducing the environmental impact of concrete

“One of the reasons I came to Sloan was because I wanted to be at a top MBA institution worldwide. But I also wanted access to working with the latest innovations and the highest technology that was coming out of the MIT labs.”

Natanel Barookhian
MIT LEADERSHIP CENTER Changing views of leadership

“Our mission, along with the mission of MIT Sloan, is to both develop leaders who make a difference in the world, and also to make a contribution to thinking about the topic of leadership.”

Deborah Ancona
Faculty Director, MIT Leadership Center
INDIA LAB: EDUCATIONAL ENHANCEMENT Creating employable workers to boost the economy

“I knew about American business, but not enough about what’s really become a global economy. … You can read about it all you want, but there’s no substitute for being there and seeing the context and seeing how completely different these [other countries] are.”

Ted Chan
G-LAB, KUALA LUMPUR Assessing the future of the Smart Card
"You have to manage what you can deliver for the company and what the company is expecting. The bottom line is that the CEOs of those companies want results. Even though we have to work five months in a row with the project, we have to deliver. This experience is more pragmatic than academic. It's a good opportunity to match those two worlds."
Camilo Syllos

“I learn from what I do on the outside, I bring it back into my classrooms, and I bring it back into interpreting my research. It informs my research, and my research informs my practice.”

- Edward Roberts
David Sarnoff Professor of Management Technology