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The real world is very different from the classroom. While class work can prepare you for real-world work experiences and provide tools that will help you do your job, classroom-only education falls short of ideal. Experiential, or real-world, learning helps fill the gap.

Some debate the relative value of classroom education vs. experiential learning. But the truth is there is no debate. The two are not mutually exclusive. Education gained inside a classroom will always be beneficial. But using what was learned in the classroom and applying it to real-world experiences is the most robust – and valuable – education.

Classroom learning and experiential learning

A degree or certificate is certainly an asset. But when it is backed by real-world, hands-on experience, that degree or certificate will help turn your understanding into action. And that adds value for you – and your employer.

Whether you’re taking classes to kick off a business career or to rethink and retool what you want to do in the next stage of your career, employers are looking for people with real-world experiences – people who can show up and quickly contribute.

“The best classrooms begin your experiential learning journey and plant the seeds that grow during your career.” – Click to tweet

A traditional classroom setting can help lead you to facts and offer you knowledge that comes from what others know. Experiential learning can help you transform those facts and turn that knowledge into true understanding.

Experiential learning adds rocket fuel to your business skills

The following is a list of 10 essential business skills you can begin developing inside the classroom. And then, through experiential learning (like our ‘grown-up study abroad programs’), you enhance that basic understanding by putting your new skills into action. (At Thunderbird, experiential learning takes place in the classroom too: students are introduced to experiential learning in the classroom itself with real-life simulations, role-playing, etc.)  

“Employers are looking for graduates with real-world experiences, people who can show up and quickly contribute.” – Click to tweet 

10 Essential Skills for Business – And How to Build Them

The skill Why it matters in business How you learn it in the classroom How you build it through experiential learning
1. Communications Communication is one of the most, if not the most, important life skills you can acquire.
  • Public speaking
  • Writing
  • Simplifying ideas
  • Trust
  • Inspiring others
  • Being present
  • Listening
  • Persuasion
2. Project management Organizing your team, setting goals, and managing task lists are lifelong skills essential for any leader to be successful.
  • Organizational skills
  • Task management
  • Group projects
  • Team building
  • Proactive leadership
  • Conflict resolution
  • Budget management
  • Strategic planning
3. Personal development Personal development is part of lifelong learning. It’s important in helping to learn, reflect, and realize your own potential.
  • Listening & speaking
  • Multitasking
  • Work/life balance
  • Social & professional etiquette
  • Confidence building
  • Introspection
  • Identifying personal strengths & weaknesses
  • Self determination & motivation
  • Accountability
  • Integrity
  • Bouncing back from failure
4. Working with a team Working in a team environment – learning to adapt to different personalities and accommodate diverse perspectives – requires discipline, maturity, and patience.
  • Team building
  • Teaching & training other people
  • Creating value for others
  • Collaboration
  • Inclusive leadership
  • Consensus building
  • Conflict resolution
  • Inspiring & empowering others
  • Constructive criticism
  • Being a leader not a manager
  • Delegating
5. Creativity Times are changing in ways that make creativity increasingly valuable. Creativity allows fresh insight and perspective on old methods and traditional approaches.
  • Creative problem solving
  • Creative facilitation
  • Effective ideation & brainstorming
  • Concerns as questions
  • Fixed vs. growth mindset
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Risk-taking
6. Productivity Learning how to use technology as a tool and not a distraction is an acquired skill. As you become more involved, meet more people, and commit to more things, making sure you stay productive is key to being successful.
  • Time management
  • Focus & minimizing distractions
  • Healthy work habits
  • Multitasking
  • Prioritization
  • Goal setting
  • Workplace productivity tools
  • Focus on purpose not procedure
7. Community involvement Every community depends on a group of concerned and committed people who recognize the value and importance of taking collective action toward a common goal.
  • Taking action in your community/school
  • Valuing others
  • Building relationships
  • Exposing yourself to diversity & adversity
  • Putting civic duty theory into action
  • Having an impact
  • Improving other peoples’ lives
  • Empowering others
8. Learning from mistakes Lessons you learn from failing are lessons you will never forget and, hopefully, not repeat .
  • Importance of adaptability
  • Mistakes are part of the learning process
  • Failing forward or reframing failure
  • Every mistake gets you a step closer to success
  • Sometimes success comes from the work not the result
9. Networking Networking is a priceless skill that not only opens windows of opportunity, but also could give you access to that one person who could change your life forever. Having a strong network of friends and supporters provides for a more stable foundation for you and your future.
  • Interaction with others
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Creating relationships
  • Creating value for others not just yourself
  • Making friends
  • Building rapport
  • Establishing a professional identity
  • Building a reputation
  • Helping others
  • Quality over quantity
  • Being genuine in business settings
10. Leadership Effective leadership is essential to success. Without it, organizations flounder, individuals lose interest, projects go unfinished, and goals remain unfulfilled.
  • Selflessness
  • Taking action
  • Cultivation of genuine relationships
  • Positive attitude
  • Confidence
  • Sense of direction
  • Empowerment of others
  • Inspiring action
  • Value-oriented decision making
  • Taking advantage of opportunity to make a difference
  • Adapting to change
  • Integrity
  • Vision


Learning even more by doing

So classroom learning vs. experiential learning isn’t as easy as theory vs. practice. The best classrooms begin your experiential learning journey and plant the seeds that grow during your career. Even better classrooms send you out for a while and give you an opportunity to water and fertilize those seeds – or enhance your skills in programs like Thunderbird’s Global Consulting Laboratories/TEM Lab.

Join the discussion!

Have you participated in study abroad or any type of cultural immersion program? Which learning environment do you respond to better? Classroom or experiential? Share your thoughts with us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.