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More Business Schools Launch Online MBA Degrees To Hone Digital Edge

Top business schools have been investing heavily in digital learning environments, as the full-time MBA loses some of its lustre to shorter, online courses.

Wed Apr 8 2015

The University of Southern California Marshall School of Business will offer an online MBA program focused on analytics, social media, virtual teams and entrepreneurial thinking – the latest top institution to tap into learning tech.

Business schools have been investing heavily in digital learning environments, as the full-time MBA loses some of its lustre to shorter, online courses.

USC Marshall’s online coursework will be conducted primarily in an asynchronous – flexible – format, with weekly, scheduled seminars conducted by faculty via webcam, and a one-week event on campus.

The school has invested in considerable infrastructure to develop online learning programs, providing training for faculty and developing a dedicated instructional team and studio.

The new program will incorporate live action cases, interactive exercises and virtual teamwork.

John Matsusaka, USC Marshall online MBA academic director, said: “Online technologies continue to rapidly reshape our world.” 

Students are attracted to distance learning because it often allows them to maintain careers, cutting out the lost earnings needed to obtain a traditional degree.

James G Ellis, dean of USC Marshall, said: “The new online MBA will allow students from around the world, regardless of time zone and location, the opportunity to join the Marshall Trojan Family.”

A number of schools are moving in a similar direction and are launching specialist online degrees. This ranges from US institutions like Stanford and Wharton to IE Business School and Durham University Business School in Europe.

The number of business schools offering online MBA programs has ballooned by around 25% over five years, according to AACBS International, the accrediting body.

Since January this year, a large number of traditional US MBA programs have been “flipped” online.

Indiana University Northwest recently launched a Weeknight Hybrid MBA to allow students to work full-time. It combines online and face-to-face learning – known as a “blended” format – with students required to attend weeknight classes every other week.

John Gibson, director of graduate programs at IU Northwest’s School of Business and Economics, said some students have too many time constraints to participate in a “traditional” MBA program.

He added: “The hybrid component of this new program gives working students more flexibility to balance their time between professional, educational and personal commitments.”

The University of Nebraska at Kearney recently made a similar move and restructured its MBA program, blending online and face-to-face learning. About 85% of the classes will now be delivered through digital channels.

Indiana’s Judd Leighton School of Business and Economics last month also revamped its MBA to be delivered in a hybrid format – 50% in-class and 50% online.

Designed for busy working professionals, it can also be completed more quickly. “The new MBA program is flexible, active and relevant,” said PN Saksena, associate dean of graduate programs.

Meanwhile, the MBA at UNC Pembroke School of Business will be taught 100% online this year, which the school said will be more affordable.

There have been concerns that online programs will “cannibalize” traditional degrees, with business faculty loathe to adopt new teaching methods. But Dr John Parnell, interim dean of Pembroke’s business school, played down fears. He said: “We’ve done the work, and we are well prepared in terms of technology and training.”

Other business schools have rolled out online programs focused on specific industries this year.

Florida State University’s College of Business, for example, announced that it is offering an online MBA program with a focus on hospitality and tourism management. North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School launched a new online certificate program focused on capital markets.

Business schools often rely on outside technology developed by educational technology companies such as Blackboard, Coursera and Knewton.

This is a profitable market. 2U, the Nasdaq-listed tech group, powers MBA and other courses for the likes of Kogod School of Business and Whitman School.

James Kenigsberg, 2U chief technology officer, said in March that 2U’s cloud-based software-as-a-service platform has helped its partners attract, enrol and teach more than 10,000 students representing more than 60 countries.

USC Marshall’s program was developed with All Campus – a company that provides recruitment, design and enrolment services to aid online learning.

Joe Diamond, chief executive officer of All Campus, said that the USC Marshall program will “change the way we all think about the online MBA”.

A curriculum has been created specifically for the digital course. Students can take classes in online programs at other USC schools, and enrol in additional online courses from Marshall MS programs in entrepreneurship, marketing and supply chain management.