Ignacio Gafo Question May 2015
Higher flexibility, lower opportunity costs – Will online MBAs replace the real classroom experience?
Generally speaking, I do not believe that online MBAs will replace the real classroom experience. Online MBAs offer a number of benefits, but they cannot fully replicate the face-to-face learning experience.
So what are the benefits of online programs? The main advantage online teaching has over face-to-face programs is the level of flexibility, given that it enables students located around the world to undertake an MBA program while working and travelling. Students can access multimedia content, online learning materials, and online forum discussions as per their availability, no matter where they are connecting from.
Lower opportunity costs constitute another key advantage. Students can opt for an MBA education without leaving their job. Moreover – and this is a major difference between an online MBA and a face-to-face program – they do not need to be in a physical location to attend class sessions or to work in a team with their classmates. Everything happens online which means they do not lose time moving from one place to another.
A further benefit of online programs is that the level of diversity, online collaboration and student tracking means that students are working in a very similar environment to that of a typical global business organization.
However, online MBAs do have certain limitations compared to onsite programs, and these have to be taken into consideration. First, the face-to-face experience provides students with a unique sense of belonging, human touch, and engagement that cannot be delivered online. Based on my experience, when this face-to-face element is missing something is lost. Face-to-face interaction provides students with a level of connection that a virtual environment simply cannot replicate, and most students find that it makes a difference.
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Furthermore, face-to-face environments are better for developing key competences like soft-skills, and enable scenarios where students need to be in contact with reality (experienced-based learning, for instance) to fully grasp the learning objective.
This said, looking to the future my feeling is that online programs will be an increasingly popular choice, but they will only really work if combined with face-to-face periods. Hence, the most likely scenario is that we will be moving into blended formats that provide students with flexibility and lower opportunity costs without losing the benefits of the human touch resulting from face-to-face interaction.
Ignacio Gafo is the current Vice-Dean of Global & Executive MBA Programs at IE Business School in Madrid. Prior to joining IE full time, he held managerial positions for more than 15 years in multinationals like Vodafone, Mars and Canon. His main asset for teaching is his experience in national and international environments in Marketing Strategy, Product Management and Channel Development. His main areas of interest are International Marketing, Customer Development and Retention and Distribution Strategies. He is Professor of Marketing at IE Business School and Visiting Professor at UPC in Peru and SMU in Singapore. He holds a degree in Business and economics from ICADE Business School and an Executive MBA from IE Business School.