What It's Like to Study an EMBA Online

What It's Like to Study an EMBA Online main image

With executives under pressure to balance work with family commitments, business schools are looking for new ways to make their EMBA courses more flexible. 

To do this, technology is increasingly being used to connect far-flung students and academics and prepare them to lead in a digital world.  

Examples of its usage range from virtual campuses designed to replicate networking opportunities, to virtual tutors that can help students to plugs kills gaps and apply for jobs. 

The driving force behind the changes is the challenge EMBA students face juggling competing priorities, and using virtual collaboration tools to remotely lead global teams. 

The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in North Carolina is introducing virtual technology in its weekend EMBA — which blends online with face-to-face learning — that lets remote faculty and students see and hear each other via video. The professor will wear a sensor that triggers a rotating camera to continually follow them around the classroom, while a separate camera can capture students. The images will be beamed to remote learners in real-time. 

“We believe this will especially appeal to working parents or students from parts of the US who might find it difficult to travel,” says Mohan Venkatachalam, senior associate dean for EMBAs at Duke Fuqua. 

“That increased flexibility also translates directly into increased diversity,” he says. “We want to develop leaders with the skills to bring people who are very different together — the more diverse your classmates are the more you will learn directly from them.” 

Using video to deliver content has also been beneficial to students on the EMBA at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, which is also blended. Darden has invested in creating an E-Studio that lets faculty teach remote students using Zoom — a popular videoconferencing system. 

“What we hear more than anything else is that distance learning can help deliver the very technical material that we teach in finance,” says Barbara Millar, assistant dean for the EMBA. “Students like that they can review every recorded lecture as they prepare for an exam — they have access to a 24/7 library with faculty explaining very complex subjects.” 

Executives on Darden’s course are required to attend classes on the school’s Rosslyn or Charlottesville campus once a month for three days — Millar does not see virtual study replacing the real thing. “We have been almost able to re-create the classroom experience. We are getting closer, but the technology is not quite there,” she says.  

While some say online learning lacks interaction Greta Maiocchi, head of admissions with MIP Politecnico di Milano in Italy, says that participants in the mostly-online Flex EMBA are actually more engaged than campus students. 

“We launched the degree four years ago to move beyond the traditional face-to-face lecture with a professor speaking in the middle of the room” Maiocchi says. 

The online environment is more interactive than the physical classroom, she says. “There is more discussion as people are less scared to intervene. It’s like on Facebook, where everyone wants to ‘comment’, but in a classroom some people hesitate to put their hands up.” 

MIP believes that technology can be valuable to EMBA students. The school will this year introduce a personalized search engine developed with Microsoft’s AI platform Cortana Intelligence, that will help students identify skills gaps. EMBAs will upload their qualifications and take a skills test. Then, the AI tutor known as “FLEXA” will suggest what courses, case studies or publications they need to take or read to progress in their career. 

“If you want to find a job in a new field it will tell you exactly what you need to succeed,” says Maiocchi. 

Helping students thrive in an increasingly tech-driven workplace is also a focus for IMD Business School in Switzerland. EMBA and other executive students experiment with technology such as virtual reality in an innovation lab. “They try out commercially available applications, so they can get a sense of the potential for VR to disrupt their industries,” says Michael Wade, director of the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation at IMD. 

The EMBAs then come up with ideas for using technology within their companies. Izebel Ladron de Guevara Mendez, the CEO retailer Yoko Products, says she used the IMD lab to come up with the idea of potentially using VR to let customers remotely try on products. “We are working on a 3D experience that would let customers see themselves wearing clothing using Samsung’s HTC Vive VR device, and then hopefully buy them,” Mendez says. 

Students like Mendez will increasingly drive technology adoption as they demand digital tools in and outside of the classroom, says Jenna Nicholas, co-creator of a virtual reality course at Stanford Graduate School of Business in California. The program is one of many that are alike at Stanford, including LEAD — a new course in which executive students use avatars to interact in a virtual campus. 

“Stanford is in the heart of Silicon Valley so staying up to date with the advancement of tech and providing the best tools for the advancement of students is a key for us,” says Nicholas. So EMBAs can expect more ways to learn virtually to appear, wherever they are on the planet. 

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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