Harvard Business School this week announced first moves toward its long-awaited curriculum reform in an email from Dean Nitin Nohria and Senior Associate Dean Youngme Moon to incoming students. The essence of it is: HBS is creating a new required first-year course called “Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development” (FIELD), and will provide greater modularity and student choice in the second year.
By all accounts the reforms are not huge, and not as extensive as those undertaken by Wharton, Stanford, Yale, Haas, and other major programs recently. It appears that HBS’s strategy is to introduce reforms in a incremental, rolling way.
But there is a radical kernel in the FIELD program, something HBS applicants should note. According to the deans’ statement, the course will focus on developing substantively meaningful small-group learning experiences that are “experiential, immersive, and field-based.”
Elaborating on this, Brian Kenny, chief marketing and communications officer for Harvard Business School, was quoted as saying: “For most of the last 100 years, we have been exclusively using a case study pedagogy. We’re recognizing that the case method needs to be supplemented with experiential things that allow students to balance knowing with doing.”
In other words, “doing” is moving up the list of what’s crucial at HBS. They are looking to graduate “doers” rather than merely “knowers.” Of course Harvard will claim they have been doing this all along, but part of the enduring criticism leveled against business schools, particularly in the wake of the Credit Crunch, is that “book learning” is not enough to make a good business leader.
The case method is in itself a hybrid between a straight textbook learning and the real world, and this is what made it powerful in a world where some other b-schools taught more rote style. But the world has moved on, and “experience” and “immersion-fieldwork” have become central to what all serious b-schools consider valuable in formative management education. Of course, the case method will still be at the heart of the Harvard’s teaching. But there is a clear manifesto to nudge the case method further towards the real world by augmenting it with immersion.
How does this affect admissions? Quite simply, HBS is looking, more than ever, to turn out graduates who are ready, willing, and able to roll up their sleeves and immerse themselves in their leadership projects. So you-the-applicant should look to show where and how you have successfully navigated “immersion” projects in your past, what learning experiences you will immerse yourself in while at HBS and in your near-term future, and how the FIELD experience will help you do it better.