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Top Online MBA Programs to Look Out for in 2020

Top Online MBA Programs to Look Out for in 2020 main image

The nature of online education has developed rapidly over the past few decades. Once perceived as a lesser form of executive education, improvements to program delivery and dedicated curriculums created for the online space have seen enrolment on online programs soar.

2020 is set to be an interesting year, not simply because we are heading into a new decade, but also because of the launch of a number of brand-new online MBA programs and facilities.

Online collaboration

One interesting development in the online space is the Fome Alliance, a collaborative partnership of eight business schools from around the world. 

Markus Perkmann, Academic Director of the Global Online MBA at Imperial College Business School said: “This alliance represents an exciting new chapter for our Global Online MBA program because it allows us to offer the best online modules from other leading schools in areas where they specialize.

“It’s the equivalent of student exchange programs in residential programs. Offering modules from other schools allows students to access top professors from other geographic and cultural contexts. They also get to know the other students in those places, helping them to grow their international network.”

Nick Barniville, Director of MBA and Master’s Programs at ESMT Berlin said: “The group really allows us to influence the development of a platform according to what we think our customers want.

“We are eight schools; we each have a voice at the table for the platform’s development. We can bring in what we think we need for our customers and the developers will develop it.

“They’ve managed to create an interesting platform with tremendous interactivity, so there’s 40 different ways that students can interact with the platform. We can bring in new use cases and ask for new features to be developed according to what our faculty want.”

Focusing on tech

Imperial’s Global Online MBA modules are designed by resident program core faculty in collaboration with in-house learning designers and run through the Hub. Faculty hold regular live sessions so students can interact with them directly.

Students are able to work together in syndicate groups through the weekly synchronous model. To reinforce both the learning and the connections, all of the students participate in a residential week-long capstone module on campus, which many regard as the crowning experience of their MBA.

Imperial’s program is only five years old, and it presents an engaging mix of online learning paired with regular live interactions with faculty. Perkmann said: “As students value flexibility, we have introduced the option for students to take any elective either as an online module, or as a traditional classroom module on campus in South Kensington, London.

“We are also constantly evaluating new technology in the attempt to offer an even better learning experience and learning outcomes. Online MBAs are a strongly growing segment in the MBA space because students want the freedom to learn from home or from their workplace while still getting the full MBA experience.”

Bringing cases to life

Case studies are a common feature on MBA programs, giving students the opportunity to solve a business problem within an organization. But with more weighting placed on online education today, there is the opportunity for these case competitions to get a digital boost.

Take Durham University Business School for example. Durham recently launched a Virtual Case Competition for online MBA students, with January 2020 being the first ever event.

A voluntary competition open to all online MBA students, participants form virtual teams with three to four members from different locations to provide analysis and a ‘solution’ for a given case.

Chris Williams, Online MBA Program Director at Durham University Business School said: “How they approach the challenge and organize themselves is up to them.”

Once set up, teams are invited to attend the case briefing where they’ll be given the case organization over a live webinar (with access to the video recording for future reference).

Williams said: “They will have four weeks to formulate a response to the case briefing. We have a panel of judges in different countries who will also interact online to review all the video presentations and provide scores. The team with the highest score will win!”

The organization and nature of the problem is revealed on the day of the case briefing in January. Williams said: “It’s a problem that is entrepreneurial, strategic (for the company concerned), international, and involves internet platforms. And it is a current problem affecting the company right now.”

Competitions of this kind are great for engagement, offering virtual teamwork opportunities (ideal in today’s business climate) that can’t be realized on on-campus MBA programs.

Durham hopes to run the virtual case competition twice a year (once per cohort). The b-school will feed back results to the case organizations themselves and monitor to see if recommendations were taken on board – further promoting student engagement.

Williams said: “We are doing a lot of new work to enhance student engagement, including with additional live case analyses (on a monthly case series) run over webinars. We are also planning to boost the societal impact of the program as well.”

The virtual board

Vlerick Business School recently launched the IMEx (Integrated Management Exercise), a computer-simulation team-challenge game where groups form the management team of a fictitious company.

The seven-week game is set over a period of three years, splitting each year into quarters. Participants need to complete tasks, make decisions, and present to the “board” (members of Vlerick faculty).

Once an offline challenge, Martin Weiss, Program Director of the Blended Global Executive MBA at Vlerick said: “We’ve had a ton of positive experiences. When students reach a point when they’ve covered all program topics, then the final exercise is to simulate it and see how much you’ve learned.

“And of course, all of the elements of gamification, and the fun of doing this simulation really creates an interesting learning experience.”

Starting from scratch

UCL School of Management has just launched its first ever online program. However, Jim Berry, director of the program said: “We actually don’t describe it as an online program. We describe it as a classroom-based MBA delivered online. We do that because historically online education has been very flat.

“Our program offers a classroom-based program – you’re expected to actually be in class for any module you’re doing (10 week terms) for an hour and a half a week with your faculty members and up to 18 other students – having that dynamic debate, discussion, engagement that allows depth of knowledge to be developed. And I think that’s what is unique and different about ours.”

Berry stressed the importance of the classroom-based program delivered online element, as this program was built solely for digital purpose. Berry said, “All of the modules we’ve built were developed for this program had the online environment in mind. I think that’s different.”

But this method of delivery means all participants have to be online at the same time to ensure the class is a fulfilling one with discussion and participation. He said: “It takes people a while because people think ‘Wait, I have to write the schedule down?’ Everybody else in that class is going to show up at the same time – even if they’re in Australia, and they’re doing it at 4 in the morning, they do.”

Niamh Ollerton, Deputy Head of Content at QS
Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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