An Integrative Approach to Learning

Nadine Farouq

Do you really learn anything in an MBA?

One of my primary motivations for pursuing an MBA was to fill in gaps in my economics background, specifically my limited knowledge of finance and accounting. As I researched MBA programmes and MBA culture over the past few years, however, I grew a bit sceptical of how much actual learning would occur, relative to the priorities of networking and recruiting. 

I’m pleased to report that as we begin our first final exam week, I'm impressed with the quality of education I’m receiving at INSEAD, both from an academic perspective and in terms of the less formal education and sharing of experiences that occurs among peers.

Integrating knowledge

Some INSEAD classes focus more on soft skills, while others focus strictly on hard skills. This week, my classmates and I are concentrating on passing the hard skills classes: finance, accounting, and statistics.

I’ve felt moments of frustration and a sense of “not getting it” at various points in these classes, but as I look back on the last seven weeks, it’s amazing how much I’ve managed to learn in such a short time. 

This is due in no small part to INSEAD’s integrative approach to coursework. For example, we might learn a concept in statistics that is applied the next day in finance, or a financial concept that is applied the following day in accounting. I can’t even count the number of times my professors said something along the lines of, “Adrian will teach you this next week,” or “Miguel will show you how to apply this.”

In my undergraduate and master’s degrees, classes were either completely siloed or taught as prerequisites to other courses. 

My mind was blown when I realised INSEAD’s curriculum was designed so that each class session would reinforce and build upon every other class.

I’m finding it to be an effective way to move quickly from theory to applications.

Integrating people

This week, my classmates and I are studying hard for finals. Being graded on a curve means that, logically, you can get ahead either by doing better for yourself or by way of your classmates doing worse. In practice, though, the positive culture at INSEAD means students are helping each other learn and get ahead.

In my previous academic work, I always studied most effectively on my own, but INSEAD is changing that. I have a group of study buddies starting at my level in finance and accounting, and we’ve been helping each other, working through problems together, holding each other accountable, sharing laughs, and complaining together. We have no shortage of classmates who are experts in these areas, and I’ve found that each one we’ve asked has been willing and able to give us extra help when we need it, usually with endless patience and kindness.

As for me, I worked as a statistics tutor for several years in undergrad, so I’ve been happy to have the opportunity to exercise that part of my brain again and to help some classmates get up to speed before our exams.

A little bit of background information: At INSEAD’s Fontainebleau campus, we’re divided into four sections of about 70 people. You take all your classes with your section for the first four months of school, and it can sometimes be difficult to find time to get to know students in other sections. So my heart felt happy when friends from all four sections came to spend four straight hours in my statistics tutorial on a Sunday. The diversity of the group (pictured above) was just amazing, spanning a fascinating range of industries, five continents, and a bunch of countries that don't necessarily have the best reputation for getting along:

  • Me, previously an American diplomat working in Brussels
  • A Russian consultant working in Moscow
  • A Brit from London working in private equity
  • A Taiwanese-Canadian mining engineer and professional chef
  • A Nigerian consultant working in London
  • A Colombian media strategist working in the US
  • An Indian economist and consultant from Mumbai

So far, that’s INSEAD in a nutshell for me. Classmates helping to lift each other up, taking care of each other, and learning along the way. Wish us luck on finals! :)