Action Learning

Credit: Jenn Alton Photography

From the Classroom to the Field

Simply put, Action Learning is learning by doing. Students start in a lecture setting, then work remotely and on-site with host organizations to solve real business challenges. Though the content of each Action Learning Lab is unique, the central theme of applied learning remains the same. 

Action Learning can happen anywhere. We work with small startups, non-profits, NGOs, and established corporations located in Boston, across the USA, and around the globe. As students solidify their learning by solving their hosts' business challenges, the organizations benefit as they apply students' recommendations directly to their strategies and operations. 

On every project, students get a rare first-hand look at corporate structures, new business ideas, and a wide array of operational challenges facing local and global organizations. The variety of settings challenges students to manage projects in unfamiliar work environments, with a range of management and business development approaches. At the conclusion of each project, students reflect on their learning experiences through journals, video, blogs, mentor coaching, workshops, and poster sessions to better understand the integration of management theory and practice.  

MIT Sloan Action Learning: Student and Faculty Reflections

Students and faculty discuss the value and benefits of action learning at MIT Sloan.

Our Leadership in Action Learning

For 2 decades, we have taught Action Learning Labs following the mission of MIT Sloan: “to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice." In line with that mission, our goal is to immerse students in real-life business management situations so that when they manage their own organizations, they will be humble leaders that work well in teams, solve problems, navigate through ambiguous situations, and take time to reflect on themselves. 

In the time that we have been teaching Action Learning, we have worked with over 2,500 host organizations. Together with their hosts, our students have worked on projects that leave a lasting impact on a variety of business fields, including analytics, healthcare, global economics, sustainability, and entrepreneurship. 

There have been more than 2,500 Action Learning projects at host organizations in the past two decades.

Yasheng Huang on Action Learning

The Pedagogy of Action Learning

At the core of Action Learning is the pedagogy of learning through doing. Students learn in theory in the classroom, then apply what they've learned in the field, helping host organizations solve business challenges while at the same time solidifying their own knowledge.

Our History

Our Action Learning model consists of five learning objectives:
  1. LEARNING IN A COMPLEX REAL WORLD ENVIRONMENT: Students work with companies to solve real challenges they are facing. This means that they are immersed in a real-time problem solving situation where there are many stakeholders and possible solutions involved.

  2. STRUCTURING AND SOLVING PROBLEMS, DEVELOPING PROJECT MANAGEMENT SKILLS: In order to work on the business challenges proposed by their hosts, students need to learn how to take initiative, break down the project into specific parts, and obtain what they need to carry it out.

  3. COLLABORATING EFFECTIVELY IN TEAMS: Probably one of the most crucial aspect of Action Learning is working in teams. Students have to work together and mesh their skills in order to meet the goals of the host organization. Mentors are there to help teams navigate through their experience.

  4. REFLECTING FOR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL GROWTH: In order to truly grow as professionals, students take the opportunity to reflect throughout the Action Learning Lab, examining themselves as teammates, evaluating their work ethic, and coming up with ways to improve their work. 

  5. LEARNING TO LEAD: By seeing leaders at work and collaborating with both their host organizations and fellow teammates, students learn what it means to lead.  

Cathy Iacobo on being an Action Learning Mentor