Harvard Business School: 3 Qualities Of The Learning Environment


Harvard Business School Classroom

Harvard Business School (HBS) consistently ranks among the top B-schools in the world. That’s for good reason. Since 1908, HBS’s mission has been to build and educate leaders who make a difference in the world. This requires an environment of trust and mutual respect, free expression and inquiry, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Every aspect of the HBS environment—from the approach to learning to the content—is carefully thought through to ensure students get the most effective learning experience.

Katie Kirsch, an MBA candidate at HBS, recently discussed a few of the traits that make the HBS learning environment truly stand out.

“I feel part-student, part-researcher, both experiencing and investigating the value of traditional MBA programs—still some of the most manual, exclusive, and expensive yet transformational learning experiences,” Kirsch writes. “My hope is to discover what uniquely works best at HBS that might be transferred and scaled to many more schools, programs, and spaces.”

PEOPLE-FIRST APPROACH    

One of the main differentiators of the HBS environment, Kirsch says, is the people.

“HBS starts by bringing the right people together—a wildly talented, diverse, and motivated cohort — to lay the foundation for learning,” Kirsch writes. “From there, HBS delivers specific programming, materials, and professors to provoke and unlock the group’s potential. No class, Section, or conversation could ever be the same, because it is uniquely defined by learners.”

STRONG ENGAGEMENT

Bringing talented people together is just the first step. At HBS, students are encouraged to actively engage with one another in discussion through its famous case study method, a teaching style that emphasizes intense, real-time discussion.

“There is a sense of spontaneity in the air—any comment might steer the conversation in an unexpected new direction,” Kirsch writes. When a professor kicks off class with a cold call, the room holds its breath. Since students typically speak once per class (or every other class), comments carry weight and are crafted with care. When a student shares a controversial opinion, hands shoot in the air to counter. Professors embrace the banter, allowing the dialogue to bounce a few times between opposing sides before it opens back up again to the crowd. While I might not be physically building as many things with my hands, learning at HBS is clearly ‘hands-on.’”

VARIETY OF CONTENT

The HBS curriculum includes content that covers a number of sectors and industries. The variety of content, Kirsch says, is what makes the learning environment unique.

“This past semester alone, we covered 100+ cases in healthcare, fashion, education, agriculture, and beyond,” Kirsch writes. “This breadth strategically allows first-year students to build fluency across sectors and learn how to speak a shared language within their Section before diving deeper into any one area.”

Sources: Katie Kirsch, P&Q, HBS

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