Convenience through technology
Technology has brought such a huge change to our lives in the past 15 years that even a century-old form of higher education such as the MBA needs to abide by its rules. Check out the blended EMBA: old school meets new methods of instruction to cater to the needs of an even larger audience.
The education system has not hesitated to adapt its scope and offerings due to the constantly shifting economy. From its origins back in the late 19th century, business education has kept evolving and aligning to the current business climate and requirements, catering to the ever-increasing need for global business leaders.
Business schools successfully maintained and raised their standards with an emphasis on academic research. That resulted in the classic MBA model – one year of management courses, followed by a year of more of specialised and intensive study. Developing further, the range of Master’s degrees increased to include the Part-time MBA, the Executive MBA and the online MBA.
The first web-based learning programmes were mostly a compilation of recorded courses with quizzes, presenting classroom-based content over the Internet. But they offered many distinct advantages – accommodating family and work obligations, learning at one’s own pace and reduced cost, to name but a few. However, studies have shown that a purely online method of instruction fails to provide sufficient engagement, social contact and context required to facilitate successful learning and performance.
Thus, the blended approach was born.
The blended EMBA combines classroom training with a schedule close to that of the EMBA programme, but including various forms of online learning. So, unlike an online MBA, students are required to spend time in the classroom – for several days of group workshops or on-campus classes which are typically held every two or three months.
Although this is much less than in traditional EMBAs, being physically present in the classroom, at least part of the time, is an important aspect of MBA education. MBAs are highly practical and functional programmes. They also rely heavily on the experience, knowledge, cultural traits and mindsets that the different participants bring to the table. Communication skills, together with leadership, are considered the most important assets of a successful high-ranking employee. Therefore, being physically present with your peers, exchanging ideas, brainstorming, arguing and supporting each other in discussions, case studies and real-life projects, is an important part of MBA education. Live contact with your faculty and access to the programme's facilities, as well as to the university in general, are all considered key opportunities that B-schools provide and that they consider important for students to tap into.
Positioned between an EMBA and an online MBA, the blended programme seems to have the best of both worlds and, more importantly, it directly responds to the dynamics of the world we live in.
Better work-life-study balance
The blended ЕMBA is a great option for people whose family or work obligations make attending even an EMBA challenging, for example due to geographical reasons. Studying in a blended executive programme allows for a job change, a relocation, raising a family, maternity leave or leave of absence from work. However, as with online or executive MBAs, it means busy weekends and nights, and requires a strong sense of discipline and good time management.
The right learning technologies
The blended EMBA supports many learning styles and is focused on the learning objective, rather than the delivery. While ‘blended’ used to mean a combination of classroom and web-based learning, nowadays it is much more than that. The blended EMBA allows for structured and unstructured learning, capturing conversations and ideas from an unstructured environment, such as meetings and email, and adding all of that to the structured, textbook content. In addition, the blended EMBA allows for self-paced and collaborative learning, where self-study is followed by an offline or online peer-to-peer discussion of the material and key understanding.
The blended EMBA solves one of the major issues with online MBAs – allowing for proper assessment of knowledge and student development. Key material is taught in face-to-face sessions rather than online, strengthening students’ understanding of the subject matter.
Relevant to the world we live in
The blended EMBA emulates real life – just as we increasingly find ourselves working in virtual teams spanning several time zones, languages and cultures, it is the very form of the blended EMBA that provides the tools and experience to manage such complex situations.
At the beginning of 2013, Dave Wilson, CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council, stated that increased usage of technology is one of the main trends in MBA education, and blended MBAs and EMBAs are certainly on top of that, using the latest in online collaboration tools.
The blended ЕMBA is targeted at working professionals, many of whom might not be able to attend a traditional full-time or part-time programme, for example because of work or family obligations, or a very busy travelling schedule. Such students can contribute their experiences and skills to both face-to-face and virtual discussions and collaboration, and are able to apply the concepts and tools from their programmes to their companies in real time.
Most blended EMBA offerings suggest at least three or four ‘offline’, on-campus sessions, allowing students to build bonds between each other that last well beyond the duration of the EMBA programme. Blended EMBA alumni stay even closer to their classmates, as they have already developed the habit of skyping or emailing each other, and thus continue their online interaction after graduating.
Blended EMBA programmes have been offered since the early 2000s, and with the improvement of technology and virtual classroom tools, and the increased number of schools offering the programme, they have seen increased demand over the last few years. A 2014 survey by the European University Association shows that blended learning is offered by 91% of the 249 participating higher education institutions across Europe, including top ones such as IE Business School, Warwick Business School and Manchester Business School.
Recent studies by the US Department of Education suggest that the blend of online and in-person instruction could be the most effective method of teaching, with students performing better in blended courses than in purely online or purely face-to face ones. A case study from the survey, University of Central Florida, shows consistently higher ranking of its blended programmes, highest levels of student success and lowest withdrawals.
However, there are still challenges that may affect the success of a blended EMBA programme.
For a blended EMBA to be successful takes committed leadership from the faculty and administrators, faculty development programmes and modifications to evaluation methods and rewarding of performance – and that is only half of the equation. Blended EMBAs also need to attract the right students – those with the right level of self-discipline to cope with the large amounts of asynchronous work to be done in-between face-to-face sessions, which are even rarer in blended EMBA programmes. In the middle is technology, which must be used in a dynamic, web2.0 way, engaging students and tutors in collaboration and a learning exchange.
Studies carried out on both traditional and blended EMBA courses have shown that students learning under the two delivery methods do not differ significantly in their assessment. An unbeatable value of traditional classroom instruction continues to be instructional clarity – both students and teachers feel more comfortable in the classroom, merely because of the knowledge that it has always existed. But the blended learning approach does offer one incremental value – students report better understanding of concepts, enhanced understanding through the use of more numerous online resources, better preparation and more active participation in the learning process.
But will the blended EMBA completely replace the traditional EMBA? Probably not. In today’s increasingly competitive education market, blended EMBAs will most likely continue to develop separately as instructors learn from both online and offline methods, and take full advantage of the ease and user-friendliness of the technology.
This article has been produced by Advent Group and featured in the 2015-2016 Access MBA Guide