Action Learning

From the classroom to the field

Action Learning students embody the MIT motto “mens et manus” or “mind and hand” by bringing their classroom learning to address real management opportunities and challenges. Depending on each Action Learning lab’s context, industry and region, students work with organizations that include startups, domestic players, multinational corporations, and non-profits located in Boston, across the USA, and around the globe. These elective courses address a wide variety of regional, functional, and interdisciplinary subjects, including analytics, entrepreneurship, healthcare, operations, and sustainability.  We are committed to offering a diverse portfolio of courses so that students can experience Action Learning more than once, unlike a traditional capstone opportunity. 

Participating students get a rare, first-hand look at a wide array of growth and operational challenges facing organizations, markets, and regions. They manage projects in unfamiliar work environments, a valuable experience that strengthens their sensemaking, collaboration, and adaptability. Throughout this immersive learning experience, students reflect on themselves professionally and personally, both to assimilate management theory and to be intentional about their leadership journey.  Though the content of each Action Learning lab or course varies greatly these central themes remain the same.   As students solidify their learning by taking on their hosts' business challenges, the organizations benefit from students’ fresh perspectives and actionable recommendations.  

Our leadership in Action Learning

MIT Sloan’s mission “to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice" has guided Action Learning labs for more than two decades.   Aligned with that mission, Action Learning’s ultimate goal is to immerse students in real-life business situations that equip them with problem-solving skills, adaptability, and a team mindset that they can apply to their own organizations and careers. 

In the time that MIT Sloan has been teaching Action Learning, students and faculty have worked with over 2,700 organizations. Together with their hosts, students have worked on projects that have left a lasting impact, including but not limited to:

  • Scaling entrepreneurial ventures
  • Discovering new market opportunities
  • Identifying operational efficiencies
  • Designing data-driven decision-making models
  • Responding to open-ended problems

Read more about our impact

Our Action Learning model consists of five learning objectives:

  1. LEARNING IN A COMPLEX, REAL WORLD ENVIRONMENT: Students work alongside hosts at their companies to solve real business challenges; they are immersed in a real-time project where there are many stakeholders, opportunities to contribute, and possible solutions.
  2. STRUCTURING AND SOLVING PROBLEMS TO DEVELOP PROJECT MANAGEMENT SKILLS: In order to work on the business challenges proposed by their hosts, students need to learn how to take initiative, break the project into specific timelines and workstreams and obtain the required information and resources.
  3. COLLABORATING EFFECTIVELY IN TEAMS: One of the most crucial aspects of Action Learning is teamwork; students must work together and integrate their skills in order to meet the goals of the host organization.
  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 discovering and internalizing ways to improve their work.
  5. LEARNING TO LEAD: By witnessing senior leaders at work and collaborating with both their host organizations and teammates, students better understand what it means to lead.  

The history of Action Learning

MIT has always underscored the symbiotic relationship between thinking and doing. The link between theory and practice—mind and hand—is at the core of the Institute's educational philosophy and at the root of MIT Sloan's groundbreaking work in Action Learning. The 1964 Application and Implementation of the Industrial Dynamics class—where students applied system dynamics to real-world industrial problems—is a classic example of the school's early integration of Action Learning into the curriculum.

In 1996, the center now known as the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship was established. Soon thereafter, the center began to offer a class called Entrepreneurship Lab (E-Lab)—a model for future Action Learning labs. In 2000, Professors Simon Johnson and Rick Locke were teaching a course called "Entrepreneurship without Borders" focusing on entrepreneurs in diverse global settings. Their students were familiar with E-Lab and asked the professors if they would be willing to create a global version of that course. As Johnson recalls, "It was a sensible request. We thought when it first came that it was a daunting request and one we wouldn't be able to meet." Working with former students and colleagues, as well as Endeavor, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs in emerging countries, the professors assembled several projects for students to work on with host companies, and Global Entrepreneurship (G-Lab) was born.

Today, MIT Sloan’s Action Learning portfolio includes labs addressing a wide range of subjects—America’s cultural and economic divides, blockchain technology, global economics, investment management, operations, product management, sustainability,  and more. 

Credit: Bridget Stone

See full timeline

Contact us:
actionlearning@mit.edu 
E52-255
50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge MA 02142

Staff

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone

Assistant Director, Action Learning

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Sebastien Delisle

Sebastien Delisle

Associate Director, Action Learning

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Stephanie LaForce

Stephanie LaForce

Operations Coordinator, Action Learning Office

Carolyn Shefcyk

Carolyn Shefcyk

Communications Coordinator, Action Learning Office

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