The Online MBA that Aims to Rival the Campus-Based MBA

The Online MBA that Aims to Rival the Campus-Based MBA

This article is sponsored by Imperial College Business School. Learn more about the Global MBA.

As the number of students opting to study an MBA online steadily rises, so too does the number of business schools investing time and hard cash in innovating and fast-tracking the development of their educational technology (edtech).  Whether it's hologram professors, or virtual lecture theatres powered by artificial intelligence and robotics, one thing is clear, the online MBA is building momentum and could one day take centre stage.

Crucial to the creation of any quality online MBA is a vast amount of concerted planning, managed by a highly competent team. Behind the scenes, universities globally are hiring the best in manpower to offer the most competitive and interactive MBA learning experience – one which has the potential to mirror the experience of students on their prestigious on-campus programs.

Imperial College Business School is one such example. We spoke to David Lefevre, director of Imperial's award-winning EdTech Lab to gauge his views on the potential technology has for creating an online MBA experience that, not only echoes the on-campus experience, but could even rival it. Lefevre played a pivotal role in the development of Imperial's Global Online MBA which launched in 2015.

A bespoke MBA beats an 'off the shelf' MBA

Today Imperial has what Lefevre believes to be the largest Edtech Lab of any European business school. In 2014 this lab set about building their fully bespoke Global Online MBA with one clear ambition in mind: "To create something that is just as good, if not better than the equivalent face-to-face MBA," Lefevre explains. "We sat down and went back to first principles across all subject matters. For example, getting to the roots of how to teach a case study, how best to teach quantitive subjects, how to deliver careers support and importantly, how to make students have that strong sense of belonging to a cohort. We created vast planning charts in enormous detail to assess what the student experience should be." 

Rejecting other off the shelf platforms, such as Moodle and Canvas, Lefevre’s team began to build their own from scratch. "We stripped out all of the functionality that you don't need in a business school context and then built the functionality that was missing. The principal was to adopt the best in class tools for each function so as to create an effective, engaging and cutting edge online learning experience." The new platform was promptly named 'The Hub.'

Results: A quality, high touch online MBA program

Students of Imperial's Global Online MBA reportedly log in between four to five times a day. "The experience is highly interactive, really good fun and actually quite addictive," says Lefevre.  Coursework, exams, tutorials and live lectures are all delivered through The Hub. There are 37 different interaction types, including different kinds of simulation, feedback activities and communicative exercises. "These activities are designed to be very engaging and community based. As you study through a course, you can see what your peers are doing, you're responding to instructions, receiving feedback, and if you become stuck, you press a button and get support from a tutor."

Leading Imperial professors manage each MBA course and the online tutoring team. "We don't use adjunct faculty and you can't have junior faculty," explains Lefevre.

The school places a strong emphasis on a 'high touch experience.' This means that there's a prioritized focus on building and conserving a sense of community between students and faculty. Unlike some online MBAs which can recruit thousands of students, Imperial's cohort is small with two intakes, in September and January each year. This September saw over 80 students join the business school from more than 25 nationalities. "Cohorts are much smaller because our students need to have access to our leading professors and this cannot easily be scaled. Putting thousands of students on such a program will usually lead to, either compromising on the quality of the teaching staff, or delivering a low touch program."

Face-to-face matters

All Global Online MBA students visit Imperial's London campus – once, for one week in year one, and once again in year two.

"During the induction week, students are with each-other, and with us,  from morning to evening.  Students work on projects, team exercises and have dinner together each evening," explains Lefevre. At the end of week one all of the students have met every member of their cohort and know who their professors are. This means that the flight home to a remote desktop computer feels less desolate and all the names popping up on screen are familiar. Re-emphasizing that students are not left unsupported, Lefevre adds, "We are always reaching into the platform and checking what people are doing, encouraging them, putting new materials online and broadcasting live events."

Online MBA candidates meet again in their second year and additionally have the option to participate in study tours. The university also encourages online candidates to organize their own international meet ups which are continual throughout the two-year period and beyond. 

"The online MBA has the potential to become the most prestigious format of the degree."

To date the full-time MBA has been the most valued format of the qualification. This is however set to change, believes Lefevre. "What we discovered was that an online MBA program can attract a very prestigious type of student, the type of students that we all want to attract in our schools." Lefevre uses Imperial's current online MBA cohort for illustration; "Our students include the COO of a well known airplane manufacturer, a student responsible for managing a number of nuclear power plants in Eastern Europe and the founder and CEO of a rapidly growing FinTech startup in New York."

Try The Hub for yourself: Free Imperial MBA taster courses

Imperial College Business School's EdTech Lab has devised three free taster courses which cover Corporate Finance, Entrepreneurship and Managerial Economics. It gives prospective MBAs an opportunity to test-drive the university's interactive platform and builds on the essential skills required to do an MBA. Get immediate access here.

This article is sponsored by Imperial College Business School. 

Karen Turtle
Written by Karen Turtle

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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