A phenomenographic study of experiential learning within a South African MBA context

Drobis, Charisse
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The subject of this research is “A phenomengraphic study of experiential learning within a South African MBA context”. The specific MBA context explored in this study is the Negotiation elective of the MBA programme at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Graduate School of Business Administration (Wits Business School). In her capacity as Career Advisor to postgraduate students at Wits Business School, the researcher encountered a number of MBA students who, subsequent to taking the MBA Negotiation elective, had gone through a period of considerable reflection, introspection and change. The changes observed ranged on a continuum, from basic behavioural adjustments to profound transformation. This led the researcher to question whether the Negotiation elective acted as a catalyst to this change. The MBA Negotiation elective utilises various elements of experiential learning and has been widely regarded as an exemplar of experiential learning pedagogy within the University of the Witwatersrand/Wits Business School community. An evaluation of experiential learning pedagogy would thus prove useful to business school educators and career management practitioners who are primarily concerned with preparing students to manage work problems, lead subordinates and to make appropriate career and life choices in an increasingly complex and ambiguous global environment of business. The research intent was to explore and analyse the qualitatively different experiences of students in the Negotiation elective, in order to discover the essence of what students experienced in the elective and how they experienced the phenomenon of experiential learning within the context described above. The intent provided the researcher with the rationale for the adoption of 3 phenomenology and, more specifically, phenomenography for the research and analysis process. The researcher interviewed a purposive sample of eight students from the Negotiation elective at Wits Business School and gained their views on the research question. The respondents’ narratives derived from a single open ended question namely, “Tell me about your experience in the Negotiation elective, with particular reference to your learning and development.” The narratives were subjected to a process of eidetic reduction, in accordance with the phenomenological method. From this process, the researcher was able to distil the findings into nine themes, which were then cross analysed and compared to the literature review. The researcher was able to capture interesting insights into the similarities and variances in the students’ conceptions of the phenomenon of experiential learning. A number of discoveries were made. Firstly, the research findings confirmed that a causal relationship exists between the level of significance attributed to an experience and the actual learning that resulted there from. Further, individual personality, learning style and behaviour impacted upon the receptivity to the experiential learning modality. The research study was able to tap into the transformative role of experiential learning, through the analysis of the themes of double loop learning and mental models that emerged from the analysis of the respondents’ narratives. The value of reflection as a learning mechanism was confirmed and provides evidence of how learning is acquired through experiential learning pedagogy. Further, the research study was able to provide concrete examples of learning and development that resulted from the Negotiation elective and was also able to provide a critical perspective of the importance of the time dimension in development. 4 The research provides conclusive evidence of the correlation between the facilitator in an experiential learning context and the resultant learning and development. The research findings put forward a number of facilitation criteria that are essential for the provision of optimal learning within a community of learners. The possible shortcomings of this pedagogy are also highlighted through an exposure of the potential for framing and bias in the experiential learning context. Finally, the study confirms the assertion of Patel (2003) that experiential learning is phenomenological practice. The research findings provide convincing support for the utilisation of experiential learning pedagogy as an appropriate androgogic approach for the management of ambiguity and complex change and the development of self-awareness and personal mastery. It should be adopted as modality of choice in preparing students for the leadership and management challenges of the environment of business in the 21st century.
Thesis (M.M.)--University of the Witwatersrand, 2011.
Experiential learning, South Africa