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Manuel Francisco Morales-Contreras, Rafael Vara García, Teresa Corzo Santamaría, Lucía Barcos Redín

Project Based Learning in master programs. An immersive cross-discipline experience

Currently, business management education demands a combination of advanced academic theoretical knowledge with its practical application. Both the academic concepts and the real business world application will prepare students to improve their skills and offer them better job opportunities. Experiential learning combining both theory and practice has become a differential aspect in higher education, mainly in graduate programs. There are different forms of experiential learning in management higher education, project-based learning (PBL) being one of them. PBL is a content-specific approach, where students actively participate during the learning process, studying and analysing real business problems and questions, and teamworking to provide them with the best solutions. This approach not only develops technical or hard skills but also improves soft skills as students are responsible for communication, social interaction with different stakeholders (team members, business managers, customers, suppliers, etc.), public presentations and share knowledge, engagement, commitment, and motivation. Graduate programs at ICADE Business School, Universidad Pontificia Comillas, have adopted new experiential methodologies, as using simulation games, software, flipped classroom, co-teaching, roleplays, debates, etc. Their adoption has been carried out thanks to the initiative of individual professors, within the scope of a particular subject. Faculty and staff at the Master in International Management (MIM) decided to explore the implementation of PBL as a teaching methodology along the whole program. This exploratory research aims at presenting the results of a pilot educational initiative carried out with MIM students using PBL in an immersive and intensive project. MIM students travelled to Canary Islands, in Spain, to study five business and social problems or situations affecting the local economy. Projects were related to novel and actual topics, as digital nomads, incentive taxes, attraction of investments, tourism industry and sustainability, entrepreneurship, or illegal immigration. The initiative was designed based on an intensive, cross discipline and immersion approach: one full-time week in a particular region, with a cross discipline scope (projects included the application of learnings from different disciplines as strategy, marketing, operations, finance, etc.). During five days, MIM students were organized in groups, and they conducted meetings with managers, entrepreneurs, government and administration technicians, directors, and policy makers, consultants and advisors, and NGO coordinators; they visited companies, organizations, and their installations. Each group studied a particular topic, and at the end of the week a plenary session was held, where projects were presented and discussed. Surveys and interviews with the participants provided the following findings: all the involved stakeholders (professors, students, local administration, companies, and organizations) have considered the project as highly positive, valuable and rewarding. Students acknowledge that the learning experience has been one of the best in their lives; learning objectives related to the acquisition of technical/hard as well as soft skills have been accomplished; they considered that this experience could be a valuable aspect for their future career and access to the labour market; the participation levels were very high, as well as motivation and engagement. Organizations and companies also considered the experience rewarding, as group presentations provided interesting ideas.