The Leadership Lab: Immersive Learning in Upper-Level Management Courses

By Eisner, Susan | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

The Leadership Lab: Immersive Learning in Upper-Level Management Courses


Eisner, Susan, SAM Advanced Management Journal


A recent Google search for "leadership education" produced 489,000,000 results. The American Society of Training and Development reports that U.S. businesses spend more than $170 billion annually on "leadership-based curriculum," and that it is spent primarily on "leadership training" (Myatt, 2012). Additionally, Harvard Business School Professors Datar, Garvin, and Cullen's 2010 book Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads found that further developing students' leadership skills was a priority for contemporary business education. And the 2013 Standards of AACSB International (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) rank "leading in organizational situations" first in the five-item list of learning experiences it expects business Master's degree programs to include.

Concurrently, both AACSB and ACBSP (Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs) business school accrediting bodies prescribe that effective business education will incorporate active learning (1). The "Core Values and Concepts" section of ACBSP Standards and Criteria identifies "learning-centered education" as the first of its core values and concepts, stating "The focus of education is on learning and the needs of learners. Business schools and programs need to focus on students' active learning and development of problem-solving skills." At the same time, AACSB expects business education it accredits to be innovative, to engage, and have impact. Its standards describe active learning as occurring in an immersive learning environment. The AACSB Standards "Learning and Teaching" section states:

* "Curricula facilitate and encourage active student engagement in learning. In addition to time on task related to reading, course participation, knowledge development, projects and assignments, students (will) engage in experiential and active learning designed to improve skills, and the application of knowledge in practice is expected."

* "Curricular facilitate and encourage frequent, productive student-student and student-faculty interaction designed to achieve learning goals ... successful teaching and learning demand high levels of interaction between and among learners, as well as between and among teachers and learners."

Leadership education, and engaging students in it, appears to be central for many who seek to optimize higher education at today's business schools. That focus is not only timely but potentially influential. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more U.S. post-secondary degrees are awarded in business, at both bachelor's and master's levels, than in any other field. Of those, twice as many business degrees are awarded at the undergraduate level (365,000 annually) than at the graduate level (187,000 annually). (2) So the majority of those with business degrees enter the workforce drawing upon their undergraduate business education and the management/leadership preparation it provided.

In seeking a way to optimize that preparation, a pedagogical option that focused on leadership education combined with immersive, learning centered education as the optimal delivery route was developed, and delivered for upper-level undergraduate management students at a public four-year college's AACSB-accredited School of Business (3). Outcomes have been highly positive. That initiative, "The Leadership Lab," is presented in this paper for those who might find it useful in their own efforts to advance management by developing, motivating and building the ability to lead of those they are readying for the contemporary workplace.

Genesis of "The Leadership Lab"

In teaching the undergraduate course in managing organizational behavior at this Anisfield School of Business, the study of leadership begins with students' self-assessment of their own motivation to lead. That 300-level management course is a requirement in the school's core; all students in all areas (accounting, economics, finance, information technology management, international business, management, and marketing) having achieved junior or senior standing must take the course. …

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