For Online MBA participants, periodic residential study trips to their business school and other global locations have become part and parcel of studying virtually. It may seem counterintuitive, but these experiences are valued by online students because they enrich the learning experience through professional networking and career development opportunities.
However, business schools have had to flex and be agile to maintain these study trips during a global pandemic, which has caused ongoing disruption to normal operations. One of these academic institutions is Warwick Business School of the UK, one of the highest ranked Online MBA course providers around the globe. Warwick’s Distance Learning MBA is blended nature, so these is a mix of synchronous and asynchronous classes online and the opportunity for students to meet face-to-face.
Pietro Micheli, director for the school’s Online MBA and a professor of business performance and innovation, says the face-to-face component of the course is hugely popular and really enriches the learning experience for students. “We literally have students from all over the world, so they bring different cultures and backgrounds to the residential periods, which enhances the discussions and seminars — not to mention the social life,” he says.
Although the online experience is enriching with many opportunities to connect and discuss ideas with fellow students, meeting face-to-face allows students to cement those bonds and build lifelong contacts and friendships. “The international face-to-face modules allow students to gain an insight into the culture of that country, with local guest speakers and social events held for them to help them understand the city’s history and people,” says Micheli. “Plus, working in smaller groups gives students a greater opportunity to network.”
Building lifelong bonds
At Warwick, residential periods are a required part of the Online MBA course with students flying from all over the world for two residential weeks, one in spring and one in autumn, either at the main Warwick campus in southern England, or at the school’s base in London, the UK capital.
There is also a careers festival held during each week, where students can take advantage of the school’s professional development support, through one-to-one coaching, CV workshops and interview-technique classes.
“These face-to-face weeks are hugely popular and help to build bonds among cohorts – we have even seen a start-up created over these weeks,” Micheli says. “Students are also required to choose one of their four elective modules as face-to-face. They can be at our Warwick campus, WBS London, or outside the UK in places like Helsinki, Milan, Dubai or New York. They can also pay extra to take a second face-to-face module.”
In a similar vein, Online MBA students at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business in the US have an opening residency and a closing residency, both lasting three full days, on campus. They also can opt to take a global module overseas to multiple destinations every year, which include consulting projects and visits to multiple companies.
“During some periods of the pandemic we had to change the residencies to virtual,” says Paulo Prochno, assistant dean of online programs at the Smith School. “For the global programs, we offered a virtual alternative, too — students worked on a project with a foreign company and attended multiple virtual company visits, virtually meeting senior executives of companies in the chosen countries.”
Still, he says the trips were “very valuable”, in the sense that they let students learn more about the opportunities and challenges of doing business overseas. “There was also the opportunity to apply knowledge from multiple courses in a real project that will help a company abroad,” says Prochno. “That experiential learning is essential to understand in more depth how the multiple business areas relate to each other.”
Participants also develop their cross-cultural skills by learning from and interacting with executives abroad. “There are the networking aspects, too — being with a diverse group of students on a weeklong trip offers the opportunity to develop deep connections with their peers.”
Over at Indian University’s Kelley School of Business, the Online MBA students can take part in two in-person sessions built into the beginning and end of the program. In addition, participants have the opportunity to take a global immersion course as an elective in the MBA program to locations such as New York, Silicon Valley, Athens, Dublin, Hanoi, Cuba, and New Delhi.
“This affords them the chance to work directly with a business client and gain real-world experience in a field of interest,” says Will Geoghegan, chair of Kelley’s Online MBA.
“In-residence experiences are considered a hallmark of the Online MBA program,” he adds. “From the beginning, students are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone, network with their peers, interact with faculty, and learn vital skills during these residency-based and immersion courses.”
The Online MBA at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School also offers an in-person orientation weekend prior to the start of each cohort. Participants also take part in global educational experiences, including a three-day executive development-style elective hosted in Chapel Hill and in international locations around the world.
Students are presented with a glimpse into how business is conducted in that location, with local speakers from major, international companies, and panel discussions with UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni who have extensive experience and knowledge of the local business environment.
“Students learn about the history, culture and national identity of the country to see how it influences local business education, development and long-term growth,” says Matthew Hente, senior Associate director of UNC’s Online MBA program.