Active Learning for Organizational Development Students: The Masterpiece Project

By Thomas, Jennie Carter | Organization Development Journal, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Active Learning for Organizational Development Students: The Masterpiece Project


Thomas, Jennie Carter, Organization Development Journal


Abstract

At a time when business schools are under attack for being too theoretical and ignoring the real-world business experience, The Masterpiece Project provides an opportunity to actively learn how to manage - rather than just learn about management. Over one hundred Masterpieces have been completed with large to midsize organizations, including some Fortune 500 organizations. This paper outlines The Masterpiece Project and examines it as means of providing active student participation and learning in a real improvement and change project with a partner organization. It offers an alternative pedagogical approach to learning in the business classroom.

The Masterpiece Project

At a time when business schools are under attack for being too theoretical and for ignoring the importance of real-world business experience, The Masterpiece Project offers students the opportunity to actively learn how to manage - rather than just learn about management.

The Masterpiece is a comprehensive and collaborative semester-long project which has been successfully used and modified for use in graduate level organizational behavior, management and consulting classes for over ten years. It has also been used in management consulting courses for nontraditional undergraduate business students with business experience.

In the Masterpiece Project, student teams partner with local businesses and not-for-profit organizations and work with their management to study an identified area of improvement within the organization, conduct research and develop recommendations for improvement and change. Over one hundred Masterpieces have been completed. Partnerships have been established with large to midsize organizations, some of which have been Fortune 500 organizations. Many organizations have partnered more than once with the student teams.

The purpose of this paper is to present and explain The Masterpiece Project as means of providing active student participation and learning in a real management project with a partner organization. The premise that underlies this project is that presenting academic knowledge and content in a traditional business classroom setting does not offer enough toward adequately preparing students for successful performance in the turbulent and dynamic 21 st century business world. This assignment offers an alternative pedagogical approach to learning in the business classroom and offers the opportunity of active learning.

Active Learning

What is active learning? Obviously, it can be contrasted from passive learning in the traditional classroom setting "where teachers do most of the work and students remain passive." (Meyers & Jones, 1993, p. xi) Instead, active learning promotes student learning through problem solving, teamwork, simulations, case work, feedback and other activities that actively engage students in applying, analyzing and synthesizing course content (Thomas, 1998, p.2).

Another term, "action learning," is closely related to "active learning." It is described as "highly participatory and designed to foster learning from experience through cycles of action and subsequent reflection on that action" (Yorks & Marsick, 2000, p. 254). Action learning has developed into a foundation or intervention toward creating learning organizations.

The concept of learning organization also can play a role in active learning in the business classroom. The term "learning organization" was first popularized by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline (1990). He defined the term as "a group of people working together to collectively enhance their capacities to create results that they truly care about" (Fulmer & Keys, 1998, p. 35). A more practical interpretation was offered by David Garvin: "A learning organization is one that proactively creates, acquires and transfers knowledge and that changes its behavior on the basis of new knowledge and insights" (Garvin, 1993, p.

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