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Abstract Details

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Assurance of Learning Meets Experiential Learning: Survey and analysis of current assurance of learning approaches and practices in project-based experiential learning courses in U.S. business schoolsinstitution: Dartmouth College
Paper Proposal Text :
Management scholars around the world have long contended that that the acquisition of theory by business school students is not a sufficient learning outcome. It is the application of theory through direct experience that leads to the development of critically important management competencies. Bloomberg magazine publishes an annual job skills report listing the attributes employers seek in new hires. The most sought-after skills and the least found in in 2016 according to those surveyed included strategic thinking, creative problem solving, leadership, and communication. These are all skills that project-based experiential learning courses frequently claim to develop to prepare students for success in the modern business world.

Project-based experiential learning courses in U.S. business schools have grown tremendously both in number and status in the last twenty-five years. These can take many forms, with students often working in teams to address business challenges and opportunities for companies, and (more recently) developing or advancing entrepreneurial ventures of their own. Interest in this topic from business schools around the world has also grown, both in terms of enhancing curricular offerings through more experiential learning offerings and partnering with other business schools on student projects to bolster internationalization efforts. This is all good news for experiential learning practitioners and proponents and the students that enjoy and benefit from these kinds of learning experiences. But quality matters, and there are steps business schools must take to ensure that students are indeed learning what we want them to learn from these experiences. While it’s generally accepted by those involved in them that real-world projects provide some of the best opportunities available to develop competencies that employers want and need, we must better demonstrate how and why in order for it to continue to grow and thrive as a respected instructional method in business schools. Because no matter how great we think the learning experience is, it is indeed possible to learn nothing from an experience. It is even possible to learn the wrong lessons.

AACSB’s assurance of learning mandate presents a number of practical challenges for project-based courses in business schools. With many years of experience behind them, business schools in the U.S. have become very good at finding ways to assess compliance and completion in project-based courses. But assessing learning and mastery has been more elusive and not necessarily informed by the growing body of research on how people learn from experience.

This paper will present key findings and insights from an April 2016 survey of more than 100 U.S. business schools currently offering project-based experiential learning courses for degree credit. It will give a comprehensive view of the current state of assurance of learning in project-based experiential learning courses in U.S. business schools and suggest a set of assurance of learning standards that all project-based experiential learning courses should follow. The findings are particularly relevant to senior leaders at GCC business schools who are in the process of creating their own experiential learning course portfolios and seeking to align their efforts with international standards and best practices. It is also relevant for those engaged in or considering partnerships with other business schools involving student collaboration on client-based or entrepreneurial projects, and for individual faculty members interested in creating or strengthening their own experiential learning courses or exploring ways to make their classroom teaching more experiential.