Sometimes feared, occasionally dreaded, but always a teaching moment, the cold call is a hallmark of the MBA program at Harvard Business School. Experiencing a cold call – when a professor randomly selects a student to answer a question in class without warning – is a rite of passage for all Harvard Business School students. While the cold call may seem daunting, answering the professor’s question thoughtfully and succinctly, and proving you did, in fact, do the reading, is a fulfilling experience. 

HBX has taken that essential business education teaching element and replicated it virtually, transforming the online platform into a true classroom – one where you interact with, learn from, and debate your peers. 

For HBX participants, being selected for a cold call means you have two minutes to write a response for a given question. At the end of two minutes, your answer is published for your fellow students to read, review, and discuss. 

Many HBX students find cold calls to be an inspiring force to learn and digest the material.

“Participating in the student discussions and answering cold calls was empowering,” says Leslie Pico. “It ignited a drive within me to learn and absorb as much as I could.” 

The HBX learning platform is unique among online education platforms in that it is active, social, and case-based, and the cold call factors into all three of these elements. It enables students to truly engage with the content, facilitates discussion among cohorts, and asks students to step into the shoes of the protagonists featured in each case study. Along with short videos and other teaching elements, the cold call is one of many activities that HBX incorporates to help students learn and engage with the material in a meaningful, interactive way.  

“Watching a clock count down on you while you try to remember concepts from the lecture is definitely intimidating,” says Siya Raj Purohit. “However, I am a fan of cold calls because by reading posts from classmates, I learn how to more effectively phrase ideas and correctly use key terms.”

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The cold call also underscores the community element of HBX – students from around the world learn together as a unified cohort during class, and many continue to stay in touch after completing the course. 

“Having to respond to cold calls makes me feel a greater sense of accountability towards my classmates,” says Purohit. “This sense of responsibility is super valuable in building a sense of community that counters the general loneliness students feel while working on online courses."

Natalie Chladek

About the Author

Natalie is an Associate Product Manager at Harvard Business School Online working on Leading with Finance, Negotiation Mastery, and Sustainable Business Strategy. She received her B.A. and M.A. from Stanford University and M.B.A. from UCLA Anderson. In her free time, she enjoys running, cooking, and staying up too late rooting for her Bay Area sports teams.