How Tech Is Changing EMBA Programs

Virginia's Darden School of Business

Virginia’s Darden School of Business teaches one-third of its EMBA content via online sessions

Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia

What they’re doing: At the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, one-third of the EMBA classes are online synchronous distance sessions, meaning a professor teaches in real time but interacts with his or her students through technology.

“The buzzword in the industry is that we’re practicing a flipped classroom – so we do the technical stuff online, and when we come together as a group, we have a discussion and case-based, rather than lecture-based, class,” says Ron Wilcox, associate dean for the EMBA program.

Wilcox said that online learning at Darden operates on two levels: By having more classes online, students have more flexibility. Secondly, students and professors report having better classroom discussions when more technical lessons have already been covered online.

The program currently uses Adobe Connect to provide students with videos of professors lecturing, screens that can show PowerPoints or Excel spreadsheets, and a chat box so students can interact with each other. Most students have access to high-bandwidth Internet, so the school can send them graphically rich material and videos to enhance the distance experience.

Though the program is piloting asynchronous material – pre-recorded, five-minute segments so students can watch and re-watch basic tutorials – Wilcox doesn’t believe they will supplant synchronous lectures.

Predictions for the future: According to Wilcox, most EMBA programs are heading toward pre-recorded, asynchronous classes – mainly because they’re more cost effective. Darden, he says, is resisting that. He doesn’t see Darden expanding technology to more than one-third of their classes. He does, however, expect to see tech change EMBA programs industry wide.

“Better online teaching is going to allow some students who live in areas other than the home base of the EMBA program to attend the program, because they’ll have to fly in less frequently if they do more work online. It’ll break apart the geographical monopolies that some of these executive formats have in their home cities,” he says.

UCLA's Anderson School of Management

UCLA’s Anderson School of Management

Anderson School of Management at the University of California – Los Angeles

What they’re doing: Students at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management  “complete close to zero [percent] of their coursework online,” and there are no plans to change this in the immediate future, according to John Marner, Anderson’s director of EMBA programs. Rather, online activities are intended to supplement courses and make homework less arduous. For instance, instead of coming to campus, students can arrange office hours online or view videos rather than reading assignments. Discussions forums are also expected to spark questions that can be pursued more vigorously in the classroom.

The school also does not require faculty to put their content online – it’s up to each instructor’s discretion. Anderson will consider offering more virtual content and services provided they give students more time to take advantage of high-value, on-campus benefits, such as working in study groups or attending seminars, Marner says. They program recently gave EMBA students access to online elective courses in Anderson’s Fully Employed MBA program. This opened up their course options, Marner adds.

At Anderson, the focus is clearly still on classroom learning. The school is hesitant to shell out funds for cutting-edge technology. “We’re proud of the fact that we do things efficiently and that education comes first, the technology is used where it’s convenient and affordable….we’re not going to follow a whiz-bang program where everyone is going to get Google Glass,” he says.

Predictions for the future: Marner emphasizes that the EMBA program is not moving toward an online-heavy model. “A lot of the perceived valve of an executive MBA program is the in-person networking that goes on in class – the ability for executives to get out of their offices and into an academic situation,” he says. “They are loathe to substitute a lot of online interaction for in-person interaction.”

That said, Anderson applauds faculty’s increasing fluency in digital teaching tools. More and more instructors are incorporating videos, online forums, and supplementary technology in their courses. “It has been a really welcome change, and it’s only going to continue…it’s something that has the potential to enhance instruction and provide different ways for students to engage with the material,” says George Ingersoll, Anderson’s director of hybrid learning initiatives.