The evolving MBA will be more and more “blended”

The evolving MBA will be more and more “blended”

We closed last time with the increasingly pertinent question in today’s world. As technological innovation spreads throughout the world of education, in an era where so much academic content will be available online at no or little cost, how great will the *disruption be to the traditional university model*, and to the MBA in particular?

Monday and Tuesday of this week, I had the opportunity to attend, as an invited  speaker, a meeting of some 80 MBA program directors from around the world, sponsored by the European Foundation for Management Development ( I found it fascinating to meet this diverse and interesting group, and to have the unique opportunity of spending two days with people whose programs are at the center of the now and future disruption to traditional management education.

In preparing my speech on creating “positive group dynamics” in a classroom, I read numerous articles (the press seems full of them these days) about the current state of higher education. The general picture was that of universities, business schools–and MBA programs in particular–in the midst of a *profound identity crisis*. They are searching for ways to remain relevant in a world where knowledge and instruction are becoming commodities. Anyone with an internet connection can participate, free of charge, in the “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) available from some of the world’s top universities, given by some of the world’s most accomplished lecturers.

One of the pioneer institutions of the MOOC movement has been MIT, whose president, Rafael Reif, commented recently in the Financial Times that his school started putting its courses online a decade ago, in a project they call “open coursework”. Instead of coming to class, many MIT students these days simply study the material on open coursework. A significant number of courses are also available to those outside the campus community. According to Reif, the past 10 years have seen MIT open coursework accumulate over 100 million individual learners from around the globe. And, that number continues to increase by one million a month.

In an opinion piece from the March 5 edition of the New York Times, columnist Tom Friedman wrote that the MOOC revolution will certainly go through  considerable growing pains. Nonetheless, he declares, it is here and real, and educators will have to embrace it and adapt to it.

Already, Friedman notes, Harvard Business School has “stopped teaching entry level accounting“, urging students to learn the basics from the online accounting course of a professor from Brigham Young University in Utah. Without knowing exactly how the revolution of online learning will evolve, one must assume that this type of arrangement will become increasingly common in the future.

What does all this mean for the future of the MBA classroom? Rather than feel threatened by online learning, residential programs should focus on their distinctive advantage, on the considerable value they can add as forums for student-teacher and student-student interaction. In order to thrive, they must encourage teachers to go far beyond the classic “transfer of knowledge” model–where teachers lecture while students take notes–to provide uniquely personal and enriching face-to-face experiences in their classes.

In my recent reading, I have seen numerous references to a “blended model” that many educators seemingly support, where students master more of the basic material online at their own pace, before attending live classroom sessions with their professors. Teachers are then free to spend less time covering basic theories and more time interacting with students about broader significance and real-world applications. Clearly, the ongoing challenge will be to make the classroom an increasingly vibrant place, a true forum for reflection and debate.

As a part-time instructor and interested observer of trends in management education, I am excited about the “blended” future. As is true for many of my colleagues, I find it far more fulfilling spending my time creating memorable, transformational classroom experiences than lecturing about basic theoretical principles, particularly those that one can master through self-study with the aid of technology. If students can learn some basic principles and theory through online instruction outside the classroom, teachers in the live environment can focus on the deep reflection and interaction that allow students to discover themselves and to grow.

Providing transformational experiences in a classroom, those experiences that help students discover themselves and grow, is such a fundamental concept that I plan to return to it is the coming weeks.


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