How The World’s Top Business Schools Teach Their MBAs

by John A. Byrne on

A case study professor in action at Harvard Business School

Think Harvard Business School and you think the “case study” method of teaching. It’s as likely a pair as Lennon and McCartney or Kermit and Miss Piggy.

But you would be hard pressed to think of a similar pairing between a single business school and good old-fashioned lecturing, or for that matter, a school and experiential learning.

So if you’re keen on a particular way of learning, how do you match up your interests with a top business school? Not to worry. Every top business school in the world was most recently asked to estimate the percentage of “teaching method” deployed in their MBA programs. They reported the results to Bloomberg BusinessWeek when the magazine collected its data for its 2012 MBA rankings project.

The results, collected here in one place so they can be easily compared, are fascinating look at the teaching cultures of the world’s best business schools. If you’re a natural extrovert, there’s no question that a case study school is the way to go. If fighting for air time in a classroom filled with ambitious, over-achievers isn’t your idea of a good time, you probably belong in a school where lecture still looms large.

What the results show is that most schools deliver about a third of their MBA learning via case study (or at least that’s the median for the top 35 schools for which we examined the data). Stand-up lectures with professors at the head of the class are still surprisingly dominant. Team project and experiential learning, meantime, have come on really strong in recent years, with some schools claiming that as much as 25% of the MBA work is given that way.

HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL REMAINS THE NUMBER ONE CASE STUDY SCHOOL

Harvard is indeed number one when it comes to case study teaching, estimating that 80% of all the teaching over the two-year program is delivered via cases. This is despite recent curriculum changes that for the first time diminished the amount of learning provided through cases. The changes have put more team project work and experiential learning into the mix. It’s still low in comparison to case study, but Harvard is now estimating that 10% of its learning is through team projects and 5% through experiential learning.

The other top case study schools? The University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School and the University of Virginia’s Darden School reported that about 75% if their MBA programs are taught by case study. IESE Business School in Spain put the percentage at 70%, while UC-Berkeley’s Haas School and North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School both reported that half the content in their MBA programs are delivered via case study.

As a general rule, schools whose dominant teaching method is case study tend to boast the best teachers in the classroom. The reason: case study teaching requires deep engagement and challenge. Professors who are one-way educators won’t survive long in a case study environment. And the available research that identifies the schools with the best teaching faculties lines up pretty well with the schools that require the most case study teaching, such as Virginia, Harvard, and North Carolina.

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  • Sim

    I like the balanced approach adopted by many of the top schools. It’s good to get a mix of teaching methods, at least personally speaking, because it will enhance the learning experience. I’m particularly a fan of team projects because this will really help us better figure out how to get things done working very closely with other people — something that is very important in the professional sphere. I think schools such as Wharton, Kellogg, Fuqua, MIT etc have this well balanced approach.

  • MBA2B

    How come none of the schools’ totals add up to 100%?

  • LongHornJoe

    Likely have miscellaneous methods including thesis, capstone projects, immersion programs / practicums, mentored study, etc. that might not be covered by the other methods. Although experiential learning and team work should cover some of that.

  • TA

    case methods are overrated….a lotta these so called extroverts at HBS and co are just arrogant ,……the biggest virtue in life is the ability to listen to others …..maybe even empathize with them…but listening is important….a virtue these “over achievers” lack…they re so deluded by their tiny lil mckinsey bcg analyst goldman blackrock world and have such a pathetic neediness for money believing it ll solve all their problems…..i believe in well balanced meritocratic approach to life and education.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=25503923 Bruce Vann

    Wow, TA!! Are you salty much?

    1) The idea that the case method is overrated and the idea that a lot of folks at HBS are arrogant are completely disjointed statement.
    2) Why are you so bitter?
    3) The case method requires is a tough learning method. It requires intense and engaged listening.
    4) You should be careful about lumping people into generalized buckets like that. It can keep you from listening to them. Which would make you a hypocrite.

    Have a nice day. Try to ease up on the sodium intake.

  • Shaniqua “La Bootay” James.

    All the schools use team projects. This is an even better reason than the case method to avoid b-school altogether. Two years of annoying busy work. -SLBJ

  • http://www.mbaover30.com/ MBA Over 30

    well said.

  • RP

    Where does Chicago Sloan stand?

  • RP

    Booth…

  • JM

    It’s also important to note the distinction between learning with case studies, and learning with case method as practiced by Harvard, Ivey, and Darden. A good overview can be found here: http://www.case.hks.harvard.edu/images/other/1136_0.pdf

  • Hector0916

    Its pretty interesting. Especially, given the trends over the past years. In India, I most of the top colleges follow case study + lecture method. There are few innovations as well, like some inculcating Mr. Bean to show value of communication etc., but such instances are rare and few. It’s quite astounding as to how little students really know about MBA before diving into it. http://www.mbaglue.com/why-mba/ – was some attempt to cover as to why should you be doing mba in the first place.

  • Rosser

    MAP doesn’t start in January…

  • http://www.facebook.com/rose.lee.90834776 Rose Lee

    Nice informative Post. MBA Case Studies guide for mba students

  • jim

    this is not true

  • jim

    but good try

  • jim

    now that i think about it it really good concept and a good articular

  • jim

    sorry

  • jim

    good day

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