Experiential Learning – Let me “Just Do It…”

Anita MitchellBy Anita Mitchell, General Manager Sustainability – Barangaroo South, Lend Lease and current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program.

At a day-long industry forum recently, I looked around the room and most peoples’ attentions were split between their connected device and the person presenting. It seems that these days we just can’t resist multitasking in order to be more “efficient”, me included. I wondered how much of the day’s sessions will be retained by the participants? Very little I suspect.

I then reflected on how many talks I give to industry forums and events about my project Barangaroo South in Sydney’s CBD. No matter how much I talk about it and show photos of it, it is not until you visit the site that you appreciate the scale of the project.

It is this “experience” factor, the real, tangible, touch it, feel it reality that makes the difference in what people take away. Ben Peacock from Republic of Everyone was speaking at today’s event and he had an amazing statistic that you remember 80 percent of what you see and do and only 10-20 percent of what you hear and read.

No wonder I can recall little of what I learnt from my undergrad, it was almost as if the moment I left the exam room, the knowledge started to leak out my ears after attending droning lectures and making my way through thick text books. What I do remember 13 years later is the practical / experiential elements of the course (estimating kangaroo population densities by counting their scats (poo) tends to leave an impression on you….).

So why then do most courses follow the “do the readings, attend lectures, do a written assignment / exam” format? Imagine instead if you spent most of your lecture time out of your seat actually tacking a challenge as a group or practicing your skills by doing role plays. The answer is that not only is it memorable, it is practical.

The University of Sydney Business School’s MBA model is built around experience based learning, not “cram… regurgitate… forget”. Thank God my next three years are not going to be spent in boring lectures… I had six years of undergrad for that!

Our first Unit of Study, Leadership Practice and Development, had us pre-read relevant course information prior to turning up and then spend the rest of the time developing and practicing skills on our fellow students, whether it be giving developmental feedback or diagnosing a workplace issue. The focus wasn’t on the book knowledge, it was on how that knowledge can be translated into action.

I would describe it as a rollercoaster of an experience, one that took us out of our comfort zones, was challenging and we don’t quite know what was around the next bend. What we learned about ourselves, our fellow students and the world around us is something that will stay with us all for a lifetime.

After all, most of us are here to develop into better leaders – so the experience should mean more than having the letters MBA after your name.

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