Redefining the MBA experience: Why experiential learning is all the rage at NUS Business School

NUS Business School has ramped up its focus on experiential learning in recent years, even changing its grading system to incorporate this style of learning in its MBA program. To find out more, we spoke to Nicole Tee, Director of MBA Programs at NUS Business School, and Adarsh Abhineet, a 2009 graduate of the NUS MBA.

In short

What is experiential learning and what are its benefits?

As an MBA graduate herself, Nicole Tee knows a thing or two about NUS Business School

After graduating, she went on to spend a decade working in the banking and advertising industries before returning to the Singapore school in various leadership positions. In her current role, she’s responsible for shaping the prestigious NUS MBA and the program’s radical experiential learning approach. But what actually is it?

“Experiential learning is essentially learning by doing,” she explains. “By engaging students with enhanced experiences, they’re better able to connect theories learned in the classroom with real-world situations.” (02:51)

“Learning by doing” is probably a phrase you’ve come across before if you’re searching for an MBA. Many business schools promise it, so how is it done differently at NUS Business School? Adarsh Abhineet is a 2009 graduate of the NUS MBA, and now works at Deloitte in New York. He described to us the benefits of experiential learning.

“For me, there are probably three fundamental aspects of experiential learning,” he says. “Firstly, it enables you to critically think and move beyond theoretical learning. Secondly, it enables you to take the initiative and become accountable for your decisions. Finally, you get exposure to a real-life work environment and all the risks and challenges that come with it.” (05:17)

Why NUS changed its grading policy to incorporate experiential learning

The idea of experiential learning lies at the heart of the NUS MBA. From day one of the program, you’re exposed to it and encouraged to go beyond simple classroom theory. In fact, a boot camp at the very start of the program prepares you for a very different learning experience from a traditional MBA.

“The very first thing you do when you step into the MBA is you go through a five-day boot camp that we call ‘Launch Your Transformation,’” Nicole explains. “Through a series of activities, reflections, and sharing, students build vital soft skills that are essential for success in any leadership position: management communications, conflict resolution, impactful presentation, and team management skills.” (11:08)

At NUS, experiential learning does not come in the form of a single module or elective. It underpins everything that they do in the MBA program, and defines every module. Whether you’re doing a consulting project, internship, or taking part in a study exchange, there are constant opportunities to learn by doing. Nicole explains the extent to which the idea is embedded in the NUS DNA.

“We actually changed our grading policy recently to only four broad categories: distinction, merit, pass, or fail. The idea is that students can focus more on learning and less on grades,” she says. (13:53)

How does experiential learning benefit NUS MBA graduates?

The answer on the lips of many prospective MBA students will be, of course, “What’s in it for me?” While it’s interesting to learn about the idea of learning by doing, students invest a lot of time and money into an MBA, and so might expect some more concrete benefits. So, why don’t we ask a graduate of the program about it?

Adarsh graduated from the NUS MBA back in 2009, but still sees the benefits of experiential learning on a regular basis. During his time in the program, his group was asked to create an investment portfolio for a client and manage it over the course of six months. He had to learn to stay on top of market trends and rapidly adapt to any changes. Now, in his current role at Deloitte, he is applying the skills he learned during that investment project at NUS.

“After graduating and joining Deloitte, I was asked to take charge of their entire life sciences client portfolio,” he explains. “That’s where my experiential learning of picking up the latest trends, identifying what’s happening with each company, and going through their annual reports really came in useful.” (18:11)

“Even this morning I was going into a meeting with a client that I didn’t have much background information on,” he continues. “The first thing I did was read their annual report and balance sheet to understand their position in the market. This entire DNA has come from the learnings I gained in the NUS MBA.” (19:07)

How the NUS MBA provides you with the skills employers are looking for

An MBA is a big investment – not just in terms of money, but also time. The NUS MBA, for instance, takes 17 months to complete full-time or 24-30 months part-time. Therefore, before committing to a program like this, Nicole says there are a few questions to ask yourself.

“It really does help if you can come in with a clear idea of what you want to achieve from the program,” she says. “Is it a certain specialization you’re interested in? Is it international experience that you want to gain? Do you want to build a network? Knowing what’s important to you will help you spend your time wisely.” (19:54)

They’re certainly pertinent questions when it comes to choosing an MBA. But, perhaps the most important question of all is: Will the MBA provide me with the skills that employers are looking for? Adarsh believes so. At Deloitte, he works on consulting projects with a range of companies in various different industries. It means he’s well-placed to see the skills that modern employers are looking for – and believes NUS can provide you with them.

“What companies are demanding at the moment are individuals who not only have academic acumen, but are resilient and agile enough to adjust to the changing environment,” he tells us. “It’s imperative you stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the market and use that in your MBA learning process.” (22:48)

The idea of learning by doing isn’t a new or unique one in the world of MBAs. But embedding that principle in every facet of the NUS MBA is what sets it apart from other programs, and gives its graduates a key edge in the job market. By shifting the focus away from grades to learning, NUS may even be redefining what MBA programs look like in the future.

Interested in hearing more about what it’s like to do an MBA? Contact our Student Ambassadors who will be happy to share their experiences.

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