Thursday, January 24, 2013

MBA Propheteer #2: The online MBA is not distance education

A successful and innovative online MBA program requires a counter-intuitive philosophy about the product.

First, the term “distance education” is a misnomer.  It implies correspondence learning, lack of peer collaboration, and limited access to the faculty member – elements that describe the worst possible MBA experience.  In reality, technology closes distance and brings us closer together.  Students learn through multi-modal, multi-media interaction that, when compared with a traditional classroom experience, better customizes the presentation of material to individual learning style. 

I recently coached an online MBA team comprised of an investment banker in New York, a physician in the Midwest, a nonprofit manager in DC, and a medical device marketer in California.  The team drafted a plan to help Esperanza en Acción, a nonprofit in rural Nicaragua, gain better access to the U.S. market for the products sold by its women artisans.  All work and interaction was virtual.  The project’s impressive success underscored for me that Kelley Direct is not distance education.

Second, personal relationships are more important in the online learning environment.  Although technology makes students expect a more transactional experience, the hunger for connection with peers and faculty is just as strong.  In a traditional classroom environment, students can take personal connections for granted.  In contrast, technology must engineer the ability for students to connect with one another.  Even in virtual organizations, relationships win the day.  Enabling students to build virtual networking skills hones their ability to build relationships with people they may never meet in person.

Third, the online MBA is not a fundamental innovation - it merely represents a catch-up by business schools to the way global corporate already works. (Kelley Direct being an exception, of course, having been founded in 1999 when the idea of an online MBA seemed as farfetched and wild as Edison’s light bulb once was.)  Managers already manage projects, teams, direct reports, and their relationship with the boss virtually.  For those who work online, the concept of learning online logically follows.  While we in graduate management education scratched our heads, belly gazed, and wondered: “Can students really learn online?” – our clients, the companies, acted and mastered the art of doing business and managing organizations online.  Kelley Direct saw a market need – and met it.

Next up: New rules of engagement between students and faculty. 

Got a comment? Bring ‘em on…. Comment below or tweet me at @MBApropheteer or @KelleyDirect

By Phil Powell, Faculty Chair of Kelley Direct

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