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Learning Teams: Formalized Study Groups?

September 19th, 2008 · No Comments · Uncategorized

As mentioned a few posts ago, HBS recently said to themselves “Hey, 90 people is a lot.  We should try to figure out a way to give the students a small group experience while still maintaining our economies of scale.”  The result of this discussion was the “learning team”, a group of 6 people who are supposed to meet together before class each day, discuss cases, and work on team projects throughout the year.  Each member of the team is from a different section — this way, there’s an open environment for everyone to discuss their best ideas without fear of them being picked off and used in class by fellow sectionmates.

It’s an interesting idea, and basically implements across the entire student body the “informal study groups” that tend to form naturally.  It also gives HBS a chance to experiment with a bit of social engineering, which is always a plus.  The problem is: few of these groups continue to meet past a few months into the school year.  Why is this?

There will always be time pressure (they meet at 7:30am!), personality conflicts, and free-rider issues, but I think the fundamental problem here is deeper than that: Students form groups for radically different reasons. There seem to be a few dominant / traditional reasons:

  1. Hedge the risk of an unprepared cold call by having other people “write-up” cases.
  2. Ensure a solid understanding of the case fundamentals by working through difficult issues.
  3. Polish ideas for public speaking by practicing in front of a group smaller than 90 people.

Unfortunately, these goals tend to lead to the 60 minutes every morning being spent reviewing what most people already know.  You covered it last night, you cover it again with your LT, and then AGAIN during class that day.  I find that I rarely use my LT’s write-up in class.  It’s easy to see why people get burned out once they’ve learned the fundamentals of how to prepare cases.  I think an LT should have more focused objectives:

  1. Brainstorm “out there” ideas that might yield unique comments in class.
  2. Brainstorm “unanswerable” questions that might yield unique comments in class.
  3. Brainstorm “tying-it-all-together” concepts that might yield unique comments in class.

Notice the common theme?  This is the real opportunity here, but it seems like very few LTs pick up on it…

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