What are classes like at Harvard Business School?

I made this video before I had classes in the HBS MBA, but broadly speaking my vision of everything said remains.

Harvard Business School (HBS) is known worldwide for its prestige, academic excellence and its particular pedagogical approach: the case methodology, which has been replicated by several schools around the world.

Pre-Class Preparation

Before entering the classroom, students receive a document, which usually comprises between 10 and 20 pages, accompanied by annexes, tables or graphs. These documents describe a real business situation. The fascinating thing about these cases is that, unlike the education we often receive in countries like Chile and others in Latin America, there is no single right answer. The situations described are deliberately incomplete or ambiguous, which promotes a variety of perspectives.

The teacher provides some guiding questions for students to reflect on and prepare their answers before class. These questions are not intended to be evaluated per se, but to ensure that the student has understood the essence of the case.

Dynamics in the Classroom

When the day of class arrives, students take a seat around the teacher, with their names visible in front. The teacher begins with what is called a “cold call”, randomly selecting a student to briefly present the case, identify the central problem and give his opinion on how to address it. What is special about this moment is that the student, based on the information presented, is expected to take a decisive position, even if the situation is ambiguous.

This initial decision triggers a series of discussions among the students. Some may agree, others will offer different perspectives, but the debate is always enriching. In the middle of the discussion, the teacher can identify an important concept and decide to explain it further, going to the board and offering a mini-lesson that usually lasts no more than 10 minutes. Then, the debate resumes, often with a new related question.

The Objective of Case Methodology

The case methodology is based on the intensive use of case studies that represent real business situations for students to analyze and discuss. These cases, instead of offering definitive answers, present situations that require solutions. The objective is that students, by discussing and analyzing these cases, develop critical thinking skills, decision-making and interpersonal skills. This methodology seeks to:

  • Focus on Real Practice: Cases are generally real-world situations of companies facing challenges, and students are expected to take on the role of decision-makers in those situations
  • Critical Thinking Development: By studying and discussing a case, students learn to analyze information, consider different perspectives, identify problems, and propose viable solutions.
  • Preparation for Decision Making: Students practice decision-making in complex and often ambiguous situations, which prepares them to face similar challenges in the real world.
  • Communication Skills: Class discussion encourages the development of communication skills, as students must argue and defend their views in front of their peers and teachers.
  • Collaborative Learning: Class discussion promotes a collaborative learning environment, where students learn not only from case and teacher material, but also from the perspectives and experiences of their peers.
  • Diversity of Perspectives: Since each student can interpret a case differently, the case methodology allows for a wide range of perspectives and solutions to the same problem.

If you’ve never participated in a case discussion before, check out this video to get an idea.

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