In this section, Neal Hartman explains the relation between the MBA study tour and MIT Sloan School’s Action Learning labs.
MBA Study Tours and MIT Sloan Action Learning
The MBA study tours are now included under Sloan’s program of Action Learning Labs, but there is a real question going on whether or not they should be in Action Learning, because for most of the labs there’s some sort of working project or advising relationship with a company or group. The study tours are designed to focus on learning about a particular issue in a particular place.
This was our very first trip to New Zealand, and the theme of the study tour was looking at innovation. Even though New Zealand is a very small country, it is rated number 10 in the world in terms of innovative companies and startups. And so the interest was, What’s going on in New Zealand that creates that environment? And what are some of the innovative companies and startups, and how are they doing, and where does that come from?
So the students don’t actually work with one company, as they do in Action Learning. There are deliverables for the course, but it’s not like a consultant’s report to the company, or recommendations to a group. In the future it’s possible that the study tours will move out from under the Action Learning umbrella.
But in the broadest sense, they do fit Action Learning because the students do actually get to experience the culture of another place. I’m a big believer that one of the best ways to learn about another culture is to actually engage in it, to be there. So there is an Action Learning facet, but I think the study tour classes are a bit different from the labs.
Varied Destinations and Themes of MBA Study Trips
Sometimes on these trips we go to a single destination, as with New Zealand, and sometimes we combine multiple destinations. We’ve gone to China a couple of times, to Brazil, and to South Korea, once in combination with Japan. We’ve gone to Singapore and Myanmar on the same trip to look at differences in economies—Singapore being a very developed economy, and Myanmar being a very evolving economy.
On one of the trips, to Singapore and China, the primary focus was looking at water. Singapore is pretty advanced in terms of what they’re doing, and China much less so. At the time, I think 85% of Singapore’s water was coming from Malaysia, and they were interested in ultimately becoming self-sufficient, so they’ve been looking at everything—probably the most fascinating is that they’re recycling waste water, even purifying toilet water into drinking water. China has other water issues, and at the time of our visit their water purification was not quite as sophisticated.