Marissa McCourry, Thunderbird’s Director of Methods and Experiential Learning, sees many parallels between the delivery of good food and the delivery of good instruction. So when she rolled out the school’s new teaching methods “point of view” in June 2012, she had the European staff visit a Swiss grocery store rather than a classroom. Team members arrived at the store with sealed envelopes containing instructions and 35 Swiss francs.
The assignment: Plan a happy hour menu, shop for supplies and check out in less than 30 minutes. Then bring the supplies back to Thunderbird’s European headquarters for a timed cooking competition. In addition to having fun, team members touched, smelled and tasted the future of Thunderbird Executive Education. McCourry said the activity focused on four learning outcomes.
1. Presentation matters: Chefs pay special attention to presentation because they know diners see their food and form opinions before taking the first bite. The same concept applies in executive education. “It matters how our participants are engaged in the content we deliver to them,” McCourry said. “It matters how we package that content.”
2. Variety adds value: People get tired of eating the same thing every time, no matter how good the recipe is. Executive education participants also benefit from variety. “If we use a variety of teaching methods in our programs, we reach different learning and personality styles,” McCourry said. “And by infusing sensory rich and emotion rich experiences, we help folks embed the material into their long-term memory.”
3. The magic is in the mix: Not all combinations work well together. Chefs must follow recipes, and educators must follow strategic lesson plans. “It can’t just be variety for variety’s sake,” McCourry said. “It has to be a strategic, well-designed mix of methods.”
4. Creativity fosters creativity: People who experiment with new ideas find it easier to think creatively in other contexts. This works in the kitchen and the classroom. “When one is involved in a creative activity,” McCourry said, “they are more likely to approach their very next task in a more creative way.”
McCourry led a similar activity with Arizona team members on June 25, 2012. “The intention behind rolling out a variety of methods is not to be fun or playful, although those are nice side benefits,” McCourry said. “The intention is to make the content sticky — to make it resonate — so folks can operationalize the content at a later time.”
Dennis Baltzley, Ph.D., has focused on methods as one of four priorities since taking over Thunderbird Executive Education in November 2011. His other priorities relate to clients, faculty and technology.
“Our faculty will have to be skilled at integrating a range of methods,” Baltzley said. “This will differentiates us, engage people and increase retention.”