Development in the Online Executive MBA | TopMBA.com

Development in the Online Executive MBA

By Ann Graham

Updated August 16, 2016 Updated August 16, 2016

Over the past decades, technology has revolutionized education, particularly at the higher level. Online education is perhaps the greatest example of how the rapid development of technology has impacted this field. Learning materials are no longer received and sent by the student in the post as they would’ve been as recently as 15 years ago; rather, materials are accessible via virtual learning environments 24/7 and in real time. This has given a boost to what online education providers can offer students, particularly those in the business education sphere.

Virtual learning environments

Online education has cemented its place in the EMBA pantheon. It gives students the freedom and flexibility to learn via a virtual learning environment, in their own time, at their own pace and from the comforts of their own home. Furthermore, this mode of educational delivery means less interruption on a student’s lifestyle and a significant reduction in accommodation and travel costs. In a way, the online executive MBA is the logical conclusion of the format. Indeed, the distinction is nowhere near as great as it would be with an on-campus full-time program and a distance online MBA.

Most online executive MBA programs use state-of-the-art technology to deliver the curriculum. Today, webinars, video conferencing and virtual group chatrooms are all part and parcel of the online executive MBA classroom (as well as other global executive MBA programs which incorporate virtual learning environments). Indeed, they’re also a crucial part of the online education experience. A good online executive MBA course should be visually oriented and interactive so students remain engaged throughout the process.

Technology is key in online education

While technological advances have been hailed as game changers in education, predictions that such advances in online education would make textbooks obsolete haven’t quite come true. The core format of how classes are structured and taught – either in the face-to-face classroom or online – still, for the most part, reflect the traditional model of a teacher engaging with small groups of students.

And with good reason. Learning is essentially a social activity and research has shown that students learn best through a mixed form of learning methods. A good online executive MBA program will therefore utilize a combination of teaching tools and methods – animations, images, texts, virtual learning environments, personal contact – to ensure the all important element of personal engagement.

At the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business at the University of Missouri, students on the online executive MBA program use a combination of high-touch, real-time technology and carefully stewarded on-campus time. “Our method combines the best of in-person instruction (such as networking and personal relationships), with the best of online offerings (such as flexibility and mobility),” explains Dean, Joan Gabel. “The technology uses voice and video so that we can hear and see each other on a regular basis, often more frequently than one might with a traditional executive education class schedule.”

As part of the program, students conduct online strategy sessions and then present their results as a team – all remotely – but with great personal interaction and teamwork. “Our use of technology is balanced against curated face-to-face sessions that are used for on-campus team projects, experiential learning, coaching and other activities that depend upon student and faculty interaction,” Gabel explains. “The combination of our technology investment and strategic use of on-campus time creates a careful balance between the convenience of having flexible scheduling with the impact of peer networks and school affinity.”

Gabel says on the school’s executive MBA, candidates learn and connect with each other, the faculty, the program and the campus. “They see themselves as both Trulaske ExecMBAs and Mizzou Tigers, which yields high retention in the program, contributes to their personal and professional success, and ensures a strong network of committed alumni.”

Immersive experiences in the online executive MBA

Elsewhere, UNC’s Kenan Flagler Business School’s executive MBA brings an immersive experience to its online students through a portfolio of innovative approaches. Contact with students is at the forefront of the program and the course aims to guide students through the process by way of engaging weekly virtual classes. In the virtual classes, teachers work with students in small groups via video-conferencing technology.

Similarly, RIT Saunders School of Business ensures the quality of its online executive MBA program mirrors that of its on-campus offerings, with small class sizes to enable students to engage with tutors and lecturers, as well as receive personalized and direct feedback. All course materials are provided electronically and students receive an iPad for their course to access materials and participate in conferences. 

At another of the world’s top business schools is a purpose-built virtual learning environment, known as ‘The Hub’. This personalized platform can be found at Imperial College London Business School and comprises news feeds, an activity tracker, course information and a schedule for online class meetings (of course, one would expect such a leading science and technology institution to be at forefront of online education).As part of its online Global MBA, Imperial also makes intensive use of social media platforms, such as Google Hangouts, to give students the opportunity to network, develop team activities and projects and connect in a multimedia, social environment.

While developments in technology and the resultant advances in online education have certainly enriched the executive MBA landscape in terms of offerings available to candidates, it is worth remembering that learning is fundamentally a human activity and social experience. While there is certainly room for both the traditional and online mode of business education delivery, candidates considering the online option should research the extent of personal engagement that is encouraged and catered for in their chosen EMBA programs to ensure a valuable learning experience.

This article was originally published in January 2015 . It was last updated in August 2016

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Ann Graham - TopMBA.com blogger and author

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