When offices first replaced typewriters with word processors in the 1970s, productivity fell within many secretarial pools because typists spent more time perfecting and manipulating their documents. Typewriters still defined the mindset and workflow of workers, and as long as word processors were seen simply as “better typewriters,” productivity gains from the new technology remained locked away from the workplace.
The same overhang afflicts online MBA programs. Faculty members who model online courses to recreate the best elements of a traditional classroom miss the pedagogical potential of the new medium.
Let’s be honest. Online education is an extension of the reality of virtual workplaces and organizations. Most students who join an online MBA program already have experience in virtual learning, collaboration, and execution. Faculty members who structure online courses with this in mind embrace a new generation of learning based on a virtual instead of traditional classroom paradigm.
What are some elements of these new generation courses?
The foundation of online courses is asynchronous delivery. Interaction with students cannot heavily depend on virtual class attendance at a set time (like in a traditional classroom). Because of the impact on morale, global corporate teams do not hold mandatory weekly meetings that require employees on another continent to wake up at 3:00 AM and turn on their computer.
If a practice makes no sense in global corporate, it has difficult application in online MBA education.
Online students are unforgiving in their expectations for round-the-clock, rapid response to emailed questions. These are behavioral expectations that have become customary from their own experiences in responding to their employers in today’s workplace. Gone for faculty are office hours and restricted student access – amenities common to brick-and-mortar teaching. Like work, students now see learning as a 24/7 endeavor and demand adaptation to this new default.
Gone too is the traditional classroom luxury of guiding a course from lecture to lecture and delaying the details of an assignment. The full and meticulous design of an online course must be clear on day one. Students live by their Outlook, iCloud, or Google calendars and seek to map every minute of their online learning experience from the first class to the final exam. They adapt to the new reality of an over-stimulated workplace and home life. In their quest to compete for students’ time, faculty must be more calculated and organized.
Business schools must accept new “rules of engagement” between students and faculty if their online MBA programs are to prosper.
Next up: John vs. Jill – a tale of two MBA students.
By Phil Powell, Faculty Chair of Kelley Direct