The business world can be a fierce environment, and the only way to conquer it is with the right skills, knowledge and experience. Over the last decade, this has come to mean more than just learning how to address boardrooms, because it must now incorporate an essential degree of technological knowledge. The question is, how are contemporary MBA programmes being adapted to reflect this?
The launch of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), and its eventual development into a major popular mode of learning, has made it clear that there are no longer any real limits to cross-platform education.
According to the Babson Survey Research Group, referring to the Western world in 2013, "69.1% of chief academic leaders say that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy – the highest it has been in a 10-year period".
The march of technological progress means that MBA students are now learning from mentors outside designated classrooms, and tutors are collaborating across campuses and institutions to construct new curricula.
This notion is supported by Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp, director of MBA Marketing at the Rotterdam School of Management, who says: "One of the most important elements of the MBA experience is the opportunities which present themselves outside the classroom."
Jonathan Lehrich, a lecturer and programme director of the MIT Executive MBA programme, adds that "these out-of-the-classroom conversations can spark new business ideas and even inspire start-ups".
A number of key technological enterprises have gained a foothold in the education market, and many universities are starting to be drawn towards interactive platforms. As Babson Group indicates, 89 % of MBA degrees worldwide view online education as a crucial long-term strategy for learning.
Virtual frameworks, curricula and criteria are becoming increasingly tough and sensitive to outside interest from corporate investors, but that doesn’t change the fact that more and more university students continue to pursue MBA qualifications, because they want to distinguish themselves from the rest of the market.
According to The Economist, the number of top-tier institutions incorporating some degree of online interaction within their MBA programmes has doubled since 2012.
The President and CEO of eCornell, Chris Proulx said: "There is opportunity for the structure of MBA courses to provide immersive learning experiences, either through live conferences with industry executives, or by constructing small scale collective experiences via virtual platforms. Yes, institutions will need to invest time and money for this to work, but it could help to make way for a more flexible MBA model."
Innovation and classroom flipping
The Centre for Education Reform in Washington conducted an experiment, concluding that students in online conditions perform up to 50% better than those learning in classrooms. It is no surprise, then, that more institutions are beginning to utilise online resources. An increasing amount of MBA course materials can be pre-prepared and accessed by students at any time, in any place, and at any frequency. The widespread use of Blackboard in universities is evidence of this, as it has supported the creation of a collaborative online space. Within this virtual framework, lecture recordings can be posted, memos shared, feedback disseminated, grades allocated, and resources identified.
'Blended' programmes, designed to bring together face-to-face learning and online alternatives, are a new approach to the most effective and resourceful education strategies today. In essence, they allow a third environment (between on-site and independent learning) to exist, so that students can regulate the level of support they need, and teachers can make the most out of potentially thin resources.
With regard to the use of mobile apps, attitudes are beginning to shift there as well. Where once the mobile phone was seen as an unauthorised distraction, teachers are now being confronted with the endless advantages of programmes such as Google’s Apps for Work, which can be used to access, edit, and share documents online.
Furthermore, the concept of the flipped classroom has never been more appealing, as MBA students are increasingly invited to shape curricula to their own needs. In a business context, being able to access content such as the TED talks is invaluable, because this is an industry which never stops moving – it is at the mercy of world events, economics, technological developments, and much more.
Crucially, the online environment allows for students, teachers and experts from different parts of the world to collaborate. Online conferences are a recent innovation that is dramatically changing the way we educate one another, making individuals part of global networking. From Skype sessions with tutors to lectures by business professionals on Livestream, students are able to communicate and learn across great distances and to acquire new skill-sets.
"Blended" programmes for the future
These innovative ideas suggest that the future of MBA courses will take on a dramatic change. John Byrne, executive editor of BusinessWeek, believes that "in a quarter of a century, most business students will never enter a classroom. The faculty lectures, MBA student discussions and homework assignments will instead occur over the Internet, where each part of the educational experience can be played out as many times as it takes to fully absorb or satisfy it".
Undoubtedly, this radical prediction is something to consider seriously. The launch of the MOOC has garnered much industry attention, because of its seemingly infinite dimensions. With technological innovations rapidly transforming the way we understand education, cyberspace and virtual presence may, indeed, become the norm.
Yet, statistics state that MOOC courses only account for a minute proportion of qualifications. On the other hand, 'blended' programmes are forging ahead, with record numbers of MBA students expressing a wish to spread their learning across multiple platforms – featuring both face-to-face time and online learning.
Thus, it is reasonable to assume that 'blended' teaching will gradually be incorporated into full-time MBA programmes, eventually becoming a standard method of learning experience.
The Association of MBAs suggests that up to 76% of MBA courses have already established online teaching methods as part of their curricula, and intend to use future technological innovations.
For MBA students, the 'blended' teaching model offers increased adaptability and the chance to interact with content in a much more efficient way. It gives universities the chance to experiment with online teaching methods and new technological approaches, without having to abandon the safety net of conventional frameworks.
“One of the most common reasons why distance-learning programmes are gaining acceptance is the fact that students (almost always medium or top-level managers) cannot afford to interrupt their careers. Thus, they choose to obtain their MBA degree while still working full time,” comments Refaat Kazoun, CEO of Stafford Associates, a partner of University of Northampton Middle East, on the advantages of incorporating online methods into classic curricula.
Robin Mason, dean and professor of Economics at University of Exeter Business School, adds that, gradually, we will find ourselves immersed in new ways of understanding businesses, their international interconnectedness, and new forms of communication of our ideas. Thus, introducing this shift into the university environment in the 'blended' format is one of the first steps to get ready for what comes next.
Business education, with the help of technology and Internet-based services for students, is acquiring a global character. Bringing together knowledge, experience and people on a global scale can create learning conditions of a completely new character. This 'global campus', a result of technological advances in all areas of our lives, provides a glimpse of the future; a future of great possibilities for dissemination of knowledge, as well as a platform for cooperation.