The Online MBA Finally Come Of Age?

Demand for online MBA programs continues to grow, so why do so few of the world’s leading business schools offer an online MBA? In the U.S., Carnegie Mellon, Indiana University, UNC and the University of Southern California’s Marshall School are in the game. And among the top 40 schools in the Financial Times Global MBA ranking, only two schools – IE Business School in Madrid and Imperial College Business School in London – offer an online MBA. But where is Harvard, INSEAD, Columbia, or even Stanford, which sits in the Internet epicenter in Silicon Valley?

Many of the top business schools are cautious about engaging because of concerns about the quality of the online experience and how that may affect their brand. With endowments and so many stakeholders to manage, they are more comfortable maintaining the business school model that has served them well in the past, rather than innovating to build the business school of the future. But the next generation of students doesn’t just expect changes in the way they learn and engage with others. They will consider backward and obsolete any business school that fails to grasp how online platforms enhance community, learning and networking.

Developing a high quality virtual learning platform does not come cheap, or an Edtech lab that is at the cutting edge of education technology and pedagogy. Such a long-term investment competes with the funding of undergraduate programs, research and other demands on a business school’s resources. But we believe that the investment is not just worthwhile, it’s an educational and commercial imperative.

‘Ease of use’ is a barrier for prospects considering an online MBA option over an orthodox program, so we have consequently spent a lot of time developing a platform that intuitively matches the user experience and comfort level they have with social media such as Facebook and Linkedin. As technology continues to evolve, broadband and 4G provide a seamless connectivity. This means that a new generation of MBA students are experiencing first-hand the ability to acquire a top-ranked business education, build a meaningful network of talented and diverse classmates, and accelerate career opportunities while maintaining their jobs in the four corners of the world.


Some business school applicants still fear the credibility of the qualification, and look for the most reputable program possible. Yet two-thirds of online MBA programs expect to increase their class size compared to last year, according to the latest Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) Application Trends Survey Report. At the same time, demand for the two-year full-time program is faltering with potential business school applicants increasingly concerned about giving up their jobs and the opportunity cost of two years without a salary.

It seems the idea of learning when you want and where you want makes perfect sense to the latest generation of young professionals. So why are Stanford, Wharton and MIT not announcing the launch of their own online MBA, rather than a growing series of MOOCs and selective open course ware?
In the next five years we can expect many more top schools to launch an online MBA. But they have a lot to learn. To develop a truly engaging learning experience takes more than partnering with IBM or Microsoft for an off-the-shelf system, hiring a new dean of technology, and filming professors in the classroom. At Imperial College Business School we decided to develop our own purpose-built platform called The Hub. Other top schools such as LBS and IMD tried to do the same thing and gave up. But the rewards of such a significant investment are immediately apparent for MBA students who use internet all the time, and who demand a contemporary, easy-to-use interface that does not feel like a step back in time.


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