In recent years online learning has gained in prominence, with the Covid-19 pandemic cementing it as an established modality of training that’s on par with in-person education.
But online course providers are not standing still. Digitally delivered MBA programs are evolving as they stay responsive to industry changes to ensure their graduates are ready for the job market.
Online MBA classes are refreshed regularly, a reflection of the high velocity of change in business and society. Luiz Mesquita, associate dean of graduate programs at W. P. Carey School of Business in Arizona, points to shifts in pedagogy, with a growing focus on experiential learning in lieu of traditional case studies.
“Case studies have been the bread-and-butter pedagogy of business schools, but the future-oriented projects enable students to propose off-the-cuff and out-the-box solutions that they aren’t able to find in Google searches,” she says.
This enables the learning of soft skills such as creativity, serendipity and innovative thinking, which are a growing focus for course providers as well. “These are hardly earned in a regular online asynchronous modality, so this also brings consequences for pedagogy,” says Mesquita.
The modality that Online MBAs began with (mostly asynchronous) is now shifting to also include synchronous (live) sessions with periodic in-person modules. Students consume at their own pace the theoretical information, and they use the synchronous time to build upon that material and apply it, for example through role-playing exercises.
“Executives ultimately need to learn how to do things, and not be limited to theoretical concepts,” Mesquita adds.
Business schools adapting Online MBA content to today’s world
The content in Online MBA programs is evolving as well, based on what is happening in and needed by industry, as well as in the students’ own work environments. “Many are working full-time while studying, and will not accept content that seems outdated,” says Maurizio Floris, director of the Online MBA at AGSM, the Australian Graduate School of Management in Sydney.
Of particular note is that AGSM has embedded principles of responsible management throughout the course. According to Floris: “The curriculum is intentionally designed to enable a new generation of leaders to be responsible, sustainable, and ethical throughout their endeavors.”
Additionally, participants in Online MBAs are demanding greater flexibility in how, when and where they study. For example, AGSM provides an omni-channel model that allows students to select the mode of study that suits them best, whether that’s 100 percent online, fully face-to-face, and anything in-between.
Floris says: “Students are less willing to accept a traditional, slow, or inflexible approach to anything to do with how we deliver courses. The expectation is increasing that we can dynamically adapt to anything that comes our way, and provide a high degree of flexibility.”
Online MBA programs as customizable experiences
Many business schools are also allowing Online MBA students to customize the course content to a much greater extent. At AGSM, participants have the chance to specialize in future-focused fields like technology, social impact, or change. “This is a customization which sets them apart as graduates, and gives them an accreditation in an in-demand field,” adds Floris.
At the W. P. Carey School, students can also tailor the Online MBA curriculum by taking new modules focused on current world events. “MBA programs traditionally stress corporate finance, marketing and accounting,” says Mesquita. “By contrast, the new world we live in has placed an increasing demand on other skills”.
For instance, trade wars between the two biggest economies (US and China), aggravated by the pandemic, have created havoc in global supply chains. “There’s been a need for market intelligence beyond the traditional contracting for low-cost supplies, and a heavier emphasis on problem-solving, and creative re-arrangement and re-design of trade flows and supply arrangements, such as volume, pricing and information trading,” Mesquita says.
In addition, she notes that there’s a growing need for integrating artificial intelligence (AI) and humane leadership. “In future, workers will finally be liberated to work on issues that necessitate a deeper understanding of the humanistic aspects of business: being a leader that expresses authenticity, integrity, and transformative soft power,” says Mesquita. “It is these aspects that will gain more and more visibility moving forward.”
Furthermore, she says there’s a shift in delivery modalities available: with the high demand placed on executives at work, she believes it’s imperative that business schools re-think the need for them to have a full-immersion, two-year experience to get a master’s degree.
“There are costs of dislocation in time and space, so educating executives for American Express or Intel — two of our corporate partners here in town — is easy to do, as we integrate them into different programs delivered on campus,” Mesquita adds. “But if you aim at educating teams scattered around the globe you must be creative, building hybrid modes.”