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The Magic of Action Learning

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While discussing digitization trends in the payments industry with India Lab students, course alumnus and guest speaker Jorge Arbesú-Cardona, SFMBA ’18, compared his Action Learning experience with learning how to cook during a global pandemic.

“I would read the recipe first to learn the theory, then I would apply it through cooking. I’ve since become a pretty decent cook because I took the time to learn the theory and apply it. If I had simply done things mechanically, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate why dill seed goes great on avocado toast,” he says.

“This is the magic of Action Learning—the combination of theory and learning by doing.”

A senior vice president of cyber and intelligence at Mastercard, Arbesú-Cardona spoke to India Lab students and faculty members Melissa Webster, MBA ’09, (Lecturer, Global Economics and Management) and Yasheng Huang (Epoch Foundation Professor of International Management; Faculty Director, Action Learning) about this “magic” in early March.

“There is often debate over whether formal academic courses are the best approach to learning, or if we should simply learn by doing things. MIT Sloan has accomplished an effective combination of both with Action Learning,” the MIT Sloan Fellow explains.

Jorge Arbesú-Cardona, SFMBA ’18, Ying Lin, MBA ’19, Chris Crowe, MBA ’19, and Hisham Ibrahim, MBA ’19, with Paytm executives

As a student, Arbesú-Cardona recalled wanting to work, to learn, and to extract as much as possible from his India Lab learning experience. So did the other members of his team, who had worked with Paytm, India’s e-commerce and fin-tech unicorn company. Soon after their arrival, the students quickly realized their sponsors were just as invested in their success.

“They took a chance on us. We showed our commitment to hard work and were able to generate value for the organization,” he says. “When that happens, they will allow you to immerse into their day-to-day operations. That is how you can build these long-lasting relationships while learning about the host organization, their industry, and the management challenge you’re exploring.”

The challenging and rewarding experience also teaches MIT Sloan students an approach to learning by doing that can stay with them long after graduation and well into their careers. It alters their approach to ideation and application. In Arbesú-Cardona’s case, these lessons can even influence students’ management style.

For example, when he assesses his team at Mastercard, Arbesú-Cardona relies on a scorecard that assigns 30 percent of member performance to learning a new skill in a formal setting, implementing it in day-to-day operations, and iteratively improving on it. He also asks them to lead occasional product launches so they can engage in hands-on learning. This, he believes, can collectively transform them into a more inventive and well-rounded group.

“This is tremendously invaluable to us because we are attempting to work in the cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, payment network, and identity businesses simultaneously—three emerging industries and a fourth going through a very rapid evolution,” says Arbesú-Cardona. “The Action Learning approach has really helped me and my team as we navigate these complexities.”

MIT Sloan has been so integral to his personal and professional lives that Arbesú-Cardona believes he owes it to the school to come back and help in any way he can. He feels especially indebted to the faculty and staff who supported him when he was a student.

“As a student, I always appreciated it when alumni would visit our classes and share their perspectives with us. It felt like a crash course on their learnings so we could build on top of what they went through as students. As they say, all great ideas are built on top of one another,” he says. “I’m happy to share whatever thoughts and ideas I have with the current student body. I want to help them address any challenges or questions they might have, and tell them about what I went through so they can move on to bigger and better things.”

Arbesú-Cardona finds great magic in the MIT Sloan community. One can never surround themselves with enough smart, talented, and collaborative people, he adds, but if you’re going to try, then MIT Sloan is the place to be.

“There is no better place in the world to work and contribute than MIT Sloan. Not just because of the school’s intellectual capacity, but also because of the community’s culture,” he says. “It’s all about collaborative leadership. Collaboration is truly in MIT Sloan’s DNA, and they work tirelessly to help students build those skills.”

Learn more about getting involved in Action Learning.

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