How Tech Is Changing EMBA Programs

by Naomi Nishihara and Lauren Everitt on

online ed

Executives are busy people. Most are juggling high-power careers, hectic family lives, and now an MBA curriculum complete with courses and homework. Technology should be a big boon for them: by putting classes online, executive MBA programs ostensibly allow these students to do their coursework anywhere, anytime.

But B-schools aren’t pushing everything on the web. Somewhat surprisingly, many executive MBA programs hesitate to trade pre-recorded video lectures for required on-campus sessions.  Their reasons are multifold. For one, EMBA candidates are eager to network with other executives – that schmoozing hasn’t found a solid online substitute. For another, executive MBA programs can easily run upwards of six figures. Schools no doubt need to differentiate their programs from say a MOOC or an online degree program that teaches essentially the same subjects. In other words, B-schools are selling the softer skills, the faculty interaction, and the social networks.

Still, executive MBA programs are moving their programs byte by byte online. For example, some are adopting “flipped classroom” models, which allow students to review lessons before class so they can spend the expensive in-person minutes with faculty engaged in rich conversations. Poets&Quants caught up with several top EMBA programs around the country to learn how they’re using technology now and where they predict it’s going. 

UNC's Kenan Flagler Business School

UNC’s Kenan Flagler Business School

Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill 

What they’re doing: Last year, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School reformatted its evening and weekend executive MBA programs to incorporate more technology. In the fall of 2013, they re-launched both programs with a technology-enhanced format, according to Sarah Perez, director of Kenan-Flagler’s executive MBA programs. Some 15% of the content is now online. The blended format complements on-campus sessions with videos, simulations, and discussion boards, she says. For instance, students in the Presentation Skills course can upload individual presentations to the class page for feedback from classmates before the next in-person session.

The changes have allowed the program to scale back the number of on-campus visits, Perez says. Previously,  students in the Weekend MBA program came to campus every other weekend, now they come every third weekend. Evening MBA students attended class every Monday and Thursday under the old format – now they attend on Mondays only. Perez stresses that the school did not reduce contact hours in the program; rather, they tweaked the length of the classes and the immersion weekends. Still, the technology allowed UNC to enhance learning and improve communication between the on-campus courses.

Predictions for the future: Perez says the feedback for the new format has been “fantastic.” The school plans to continue experimenting with technology in the future; however, Perez maintains that face-to-face interaction will comprise the vast majority of Kenan-Flagler’s EMBA programs in the years to come. “It’s the networking, it’s the learning from each other, it’s the experience in the classroom that people are still interested in and get a lot of value out it,” she says.

Rather than substituting in-person for online learning, Perez predicts EMBA programs will use technology to enhance the in-class experience. She point out that at the 2014 EMBA Tech Conference in San Francisco, every school in attendance was using technology to deliver content in some way.

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