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Online MBA Schools Try To Promote Interaction

July 1, 2010

A Man Reviewing Notes with Someone Via WebcamMore and more brand-name business schools are joining the $40 billion distance-learning market, says The Wall Street Journal.

Part-time online business courses, or hybrid MBA programs, have become increasingly popular among b-school students who want to attend brand-name schools but do not want to give up their jobs or spend late nights on campus to attend classes after work. Duke University's Cross Continent MBA program, which is 60 percent online, experienced a 50 percent increase in applications over the last year. Sarah Fisher, a Johnson & Johnson employee, found a flexible program in Babson College's Fast Track MBA which allowed her to keep working while attending a program that was prestigious enough to get her promoted to an overseas assignment. "At first, I was reluctant," she says, but the gamble paid off: In June, she shifted to brand management abroad for the company.

Despite its growing popularity, however, there are potential drawbacks to hybrid programs. The biggest criticism among students seems to be the lack of personal interaction with peers and faculty, says The Wall Street Journal. Since 70 percent, or more, of class time is online, "there just isn't enough team building and interpretation of emotional quotients," says Andy Policano, dean of the University of California at Irvine's Paul Merage School of Business. Such skills are particularly important for students with scientific or engineering backgrounds who often need to learn soft skills that only in-person interaction teaches.

According to another article in The Wall Street Journal, this is one of the reasons why students drop out of online programs. To combat this issue, online schools are working on new ways to promote interaction and build communities within virtual campuses. The University of Warwick in the U.K., for example, implemented more interactive software so that students could do group work through video. Alex Sevilla, director of executive and professional MBA programs at the University of Florida's Hough Graduate School of Business, has started using brand management to make students feel as if they are part of a community. Sevilla sends out regular emails to the program's 300 students and faculty members meet with students at organized gatherings on campus.

Alina Dizik of The Wall Street Journal also points out that some schools are now offering courses that will teach professors better ways of engaging with their online students. Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management will begin requiring a 10-week course that will help professors with the transition and address common mistakes. "In a face-to-face class, I could come in with a handful of notes and lecture for an hour," but online "you can't just go in and wing it," says Scott Nicholson, an associate professor in Syracuse's School of Information Studies and one of the teachers helping with the 10-week course. Nicholson urges professors to set new ground rules. He adds that since the online classroom is relatively new, students are likely to be receptive.

Despite some challenges, hybrid MBA programs still offer the same training and use the same professors as traditional MBA programs. Students also benefit in similar ways. John Williams, a 2005 grad from Duke's Cross Continent MBA program, told The Washington Post he was able to command a higher salary and position at a technology-market-research company after finishing the program.


Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin

Sources:

"Faculty to Take Course For Teaching on Web," wsj.com, June 30, 2010, Alina Dizik

"Hybrid M.B.A.s Offer Flexible Option," wsj.com, July 1, 2010, Diana Middleton

"Online Programs Push for More Interaction," wsj.com, June 30, 2010, Alina Dizik

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