For the last decade, educators from around the world have been discussing, debating, and drifting towards the value and viability of delivering course material online. Advances in technology, economic pressures and the overriding human need to innovate have brought what was once a discussion of the future into the present. A veritable 'revolution of evolution,' we are experiencing a somewhat dramatic change in content delivery (from classroom to the online or hybrid model) that is gradually developing into a complex, refined form of higher education.
It's no secret that our industry is trending towards the demand for, and necessity of, online and hybrid MBA programs. Students and faculty alike are assigning greater value to the integrated experience, where online and classroom instruction blend to create a truly dynamic educational environment. While enrollment in on-campus programs has remained steady in recent years, the demand for online education and global collaboration has spiked—and will continue to do so as potential students become more aware of the inherent flexibility these programs offer. Already, about 10% of college graduates earn degrees online, according to research conducted by EducationDynamics, a leading information technology services company for higher education. Geographic barriers and scheduling constraints no longer stand in the way of students pursuing their next level of education, whether it is for career advancement or simply life-long learning.
Students enrolled in online and hybrid programs join a generation of strategic thinkers who are reinventing not only how business is conducted, but are helping to define a dynamic, rich academic curriculum that develops students, faculty, and administration alike. What was once a vision of the future is now the conversation of today, and online education can no longer be considered an amorphous, analogous threat to the traditional classroom experience. A sluggish economy, highly competitive workforce and the rate at which technology is changing the delivery of everything—from pizza to management education programs—is exerting new pressures on (potential) students, and we must meet their needs.
However, our response cannot be sacrificed on the path of least resistance. Not only must we meet the needs of the market in delivery method, but it's imperative that we continually hold MBA programs to the highest standards of assurance of learning. We must be able to assure our students (and the companies that will ultimately hire them) that every lesson and lecture has met the same comprehensive and rigorous standards that the classroom experience delivers. Simply because the channel through which management education is delivered has changed, does not mean the standards for MBA programs should change. Over the last year, AACSB and the work of the Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) has kept this new model in mind and cast a critical eye on the standards as they relate to the delivery of online MBA program content. Consistency is critical and the standards reflect that: faculty ratio requirements are the same, assurance of learning requirements are the same, and AACSB must continue to apply the same rigorous standards to online education as it has for the classroom experience.
I could go on about the benefits of online education since the points are fairly obvious, but what does ellicit some interesting conversation are the potential challenges that can (and most likely will) arise when integrating an online MBA program into an existing 'traditional' one. Change is intimidating to most people, and if given the choice, many will opt out of it. Faculty in particular may be reticent to the new online MBA model—some may be apprehensive about the technology itself, unclear about how their current course content should be adapted to the online model (are PowerPoints enough?), or believe that the cost of the 'learning curve' outweighs the benefit. And what about faculty culture? How can we preserve the collaborative nature of the faculty as more professors migrate towards hybrid and online learning?
Ultimately, there are three fundamental themes that will support the success of an online MBA program: training, consistency and creativity. Faculty and students alike must become fluent in the language of technology to create and leverage the most effective virtual classroom possible. Course content must be delivered consistently throughout the channels, with the same rigorous attention to detail that is embedded in AACSB Accreditation. And no, just posting PowerPoint slides to a course site is not enough. Online education calls for faculty to be creative and engage students in new and exciting ways that not only challenge their intellectual capital, but prepare them for a dynamic and innovative business world.
The time has arrived for educators to embrace the technological ingenuity that comes with online and hybrid learning models. Blended models not only push the boundaries of course content delivery, but they reinvent the shape of education for a future that's already here.