A Changing of the Guard: The Online MBA Comes of Age

MBA Blog / 28th July 2020

Alexandra Skinner talks to Macquarie University’s Lan Snell

Q. Until fairly recently, online MBA degrees were considered the poor relation, but attitudes have now changed. What’s precipitated this sea change in thinking?

There was certainly a time when online education was not highly regarded, mainly due to average learning experiences and a lack of assurance around learning. However, the digitisation of business and communication processes has created an awareness of, and appreciation for, the effectiveness and flexibility of online technologies and experiences. This, in turn, has enabled business schools like Macquarie to provide unparalleled online MBA experiences to a wider and more varied audience.
Learners want flexible delivery options, and this has accelerated the proliferation of online MBAs, some of which are now considered best-of-breed online MBAs. 
COVID-19 has also played a part, accelerating the transition from campus-based learning to online delivery, making online learning mainstream and the experience and benefits thereof more universally understood.

Q. There was a time when online learning meant engaging with poorly recorded visual and audio content. How has the online learning environment evolved over the last decade, and how closely does it reflect on-campus learning?

There is a common urge to compare online learning with on-campus learning, which is completely understandable given that face-to-face delivery has been the traditional method of instruction; however, online learning is different to on-campus learning. Online learning has its own distinct pedagogic approach; it is purposely designed to create specific learning experiences and outcomes at different touchpoints, and the various interfaces and collaboration tools, underscored by planned learning activities, invoke a sense of mastery and build learner confidence. This scaffolded approach creates an engagement infrastructure that ultimately builds learning communities and creates a sense of connection and collaboration, which, in many ways, can be more personal and inclusive.
Adopting an online design-build approach, together with rapid EdTech tools, means that online learning has very much transformed from recorded three-hour lectures, complete with sound distortions and endless pdf documents, to purposeful, design-built learning activities that enhance the learning experience.

Q. What does quality online learning look like?

Despite the rapid advances in EdTech and the mass migration to online as a result of COVID-19, there is still incredible variation in online-learning quality.

One of the myths associated with online learning is that it’s easy to migrate in-person content delivery online because it’s simply a ‘lift and shift’ approach. This tends to fuel misconceptions around online learning offering a low barrier to entry, which could not be further from the truth. Quality online-learning provision requires a significant upfront investment, including an overall curriculum architecture with pathway options in and out of the degree to accommodate modular learning options and scalability.
Adopting a leaner-centric approach (rather than a tech-led approach) is essential as it respects fundamentals such as motivation and the intentions driving the learning. In this environment, online-learning pedagogy is shorter, sharper, and scaffolded.
A well-designed online programme is integrated and holistic in its overall learning outcomes and deliberately circles back to key theories throughout the programme via different applications. To view the rest of the article, click here, and for the entire magazine, click here! 

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