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Why Experiential Learning Is A Necessity For MBA Students

Christoph Schneider, associate director of the MBA at City University in Hong Kong, says a focus on experiential learning is helping his students get ahead


By  Amy Hughes

Wed Jan 30 2019

Business is rapidly changing—and that means so is business education.

Geopolitical shifts, technological advancements, and social change mean that organizations’ priorities are adapting at an unprecedented rate, and it’s a challenge for business schools to keep up. Hands-on experience in industry is essential for MBAs to remain competitive in a dynamic business landscape.

Christoph Schneider CityU

“There’s a lot of volatility in global markets and trade, so students today really have to be flexible and adaptive,” says Christoph Schneider, associate director of the MBA program at the City University of Hong Kong.

Hands-on experience of dynamic business contexts is becoming more and more of a must-have for employers, and providing that experience has been at the top of the agenda at CityU since they first launched their full-time MBA program five years ago.

“Our key differentiating feature from other MBA programs is our focus on providing traditional classroom learning in combination with hands-on learning through our various experiential learning courses," says Christoph.

Essentially, Christoph explains, students are given the opportunity to apply their academic learning in a real business context outside of their day-to-day learning environment—usually a country elsewhere in Asia, such as Cambodia and Malaysia.

“Throughout these trips and during the follow-up period, the participants really have the ability to enhance their managerial problem-solving skills, and can increase their ability to work in a team under very stressful and sometimes adverse conditions,” he adds.

Hands-on experience of real business dilemmas

One example is the brand management workshop that the City University of Hong Kong MBA has run since 2016, aiming to give students the latest skills in design and technology in order to deal with various branding issues.

The school has partnered with Imperial College London for the workshop in the past, where students heard from eminent academics about the fundamentals of branding.

Students also heard from a brand strategist who worked on the London 2012 Olympic Games and visited companies like BMW, SABMiller, and Santander UK, an experience which provides valuable contextualized learning.

“The global brand management workshop provides students with the latest skills in design and technology to deal with various branding issues,” summarizes Christoph.

“It gives our students the chance to work on a real business project, and to address key branding decisions that organizations are facing.”

Creating networks

But experiential learning isn’t just about putting students in an industry context; it’s about giving them the chance to create opportunities for themselves, an important skill as business becomes increasingly globalized.

The school runs a compulsory student-led event called the SHARP Forum, during which MBAs themselves organize panels and networking sessions with major business leaders. This year, the school will host six forums.

“This enables them to gain crucial project management skills that are needed in every organization,” says Christoph. "Along with the hard and soft skills gained through these experiential learning courses, our graduates are ready to hit the ground running once they start working.”

The business mentorship program run by the school's career services, despite not being part of the curriculum, operates on a similar principle: students are paired with senior executives and business leaders in their chosen industries, and work with their mentors to advance their careers. 

All of this falls under the umbrella of the experiential focus on the City University of Hong Kong MBA, and this hands-on approach is appealing to students across the globe. 

Tønne Huitfeldt graduated from the MBA in 2017, and said in a video for the school that he believes his experience at CityU has helped advance his career. 

“To me, the way of teaching [at CityU] has been very beneficial, compared to what I’m used to back in Norway," he says. "It is very intensive over short periods of time.

“[Additionally,] exposure is becoming more and more important in basically all the jobs that I have applied for. When I was looking for jobs, basically everyone said that international experience is especially wanted, so they’re looking for international people—more than people who have taken just international exchange programs.”

Christoph, for one, agrees. He believes that the MBA program sets students up for successful careers, not just in Asia, but beyond.

“Through workshops and networking events, our students have the capability to develop networks and careers,” he explains.

“Together with our regular career workshops, this gives students an edge in launching successful careers—whether here in Hong Kong, the Greater China region, or worldwide!”