How This French Business School Is Using Experiential Learning To Mould Innovative Leaders
At EMLYON Business School, action-based learning is a cornerstone of the MBA experience, producing students, like Rida Bourji, who are ready for the future of work
Since graduating from his degree in business management information systems in 2009, Rida Bourji has experienced life in a myriad of roles. “My career was a rollercoaster,” he says.
He started out as a financial analyst at one of the biggest banking institutions in the Middle East, the Arab Bank, but since then has worked in Qatar, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
His career took him from finance to business development, and he even started his own consulting company in Lebanon in 2016, providing IT and management solutions to clients including the government of Saudi Arabia. It was the failure of this business at the beginning of 2018 that prompted Rida to evaluate his skillset.
“I discovered that, yes, I managed to work in different industries and roles, but I wanted to solidify everything by practice and experience,” he explains.
To do that, Rida chose the full-time International MBA at EMLYON Business School in Lyon, France. Immediately, he knew it was the right choice.
“If I compare it to my undergraduate degree 10 years ago, I felt like when I started work my degree was very useless—it was so theoretical," he recalls.
“EMLYON is on the opposite side of the spectrum, it’s so practical that sometimes we don’t do tests on our modules, we do presentations; field work; we share experience.”
“The core benefit of an MBA at EMLYON is that they build inside you the entrepreneurial spirit.” - Rida Bourji, MBA ‘19
Building ‘Early Makers’
EMLYON builds its experiential learning around the concept of ‘Early Makers’, a philosophy that is incorporated into all the modules on the International MBA program.
For Professor Rhoda Davison, MBA program director at EMLYON (pictured), an Early Maker is an adaptable leader, with all the skills necessary for managing in a variety of situations—"we offer our participants not only knowledge about business subjects but the ability to transform that knowledge into acquired skills that can be re-applied," she says.
"The Early Maker approach puts knowledge immediately to work using experimentation and high-impact learning experiences," she adds. "By creating salient learning events that stick in their memories and taking the time to reflect with each other on experiences, our managers can use learning to guide future thoughts and actions."
Rida has seen this unique approach first-hand on the program.
“They have designed the curriculum in such a way that the courses are very integrated with each other,” Rida explains. “And the content is not coming from any book, it comes from the professors themselves.
“They’ve designed the course in a very innovative way, where they bring the latest trends about the subject and provide them to you.”
On the International MBA at EMLYON Business School, students have five opportunities over the year-long program to apply their skills in experiential learning projects, including a consultancy project focusing on disruptive trends, and a design-thinking trip to Finland. But Rida says that the philosophy of applied learning is apparent throughout the degree, not just in designated experiential learning projects.
“All the program is about action and experience,” he asserts. “They don't use case studies during any course that we take—they ask the cohort to bring their past experience and we choose a subject to work on.”
Rida is only halfway through his MBA experience, but already he’s finding it everything he hoped for.
“Now, we’ll shift from core courses to our specializations, so I think there will definitely be new challenging topics in the next six months,” he says. “But the whole experience in itself is amazing!”
One of the standout experiences of the MBA is the seven-month Entrepreneurial Leadership Project (ELP), a chance for students to apply their newly found entrepreneurship skills to a real business situation.
Rida will be spending the second half of his MBA program working with global corporation Volvo Group, helping to propose business models to help with the switch to electro-mobility in the future.
“It helps you build confidence in going outside and doing something with a real client, working on real business challenges,” Rida says.
“You have the chance to get exposed to key people in the industry, to get a kind of experience that you just won’t get in school.”
For Rhoda, the Early Makers approach is crucial for producing managers and leaders prepared for any aspect of the future business world.
"Managers who can fluently speak the languages of the different professions, who can lead across functional disciplines with tact and empathy, and who can facilitate collective intelligence and advantage—these are the ones who will be in big demand."
Though he’s only six months into the International MBA at EMLYON Business School, Rida already feels like the experiential learning projects on the MBA have given him the competitive Early Makers mindset.
“They work on you on multiple dimensions, as a business people and as leaders,” he says. “You really feel that you’ll have a competitive advantage over other candidates or team members—you gain this competitive advantage and you feel it.”
“I think organizations today are looking for people who have an entrepreneurial mindset, and entrepreneurial practice. For me, I know that the first position I’ll take after my MBA I will shine in it.”