Culture

07 April 2017

The Classroom of Tomorrow 

Online MBAs were long scoffed at, but many businesses now see them as the real thing.

Today, it’s possible to earn a Harvard MBA from anywhere in the world. Not only can you earn your Ivy League degree from the comfort of your own home, the university also offers HBX Live – a virtual classroom with 60 video screens – to its online MBA candidates.

So what’s driving this evolution? For starters, demand for MBA programs in general has been steadily growing, easing fears – particularly in the US – that such degrees were less desired.

While global MBA applications declined between 2010-13, they recorded 5% growth in applications between 2014-15, the first increase in five years. Nevertheless, many schools were prepared for this shift: there was a 44% increase in the number of universities offering digital MBA-level programmes between 2011-16.

In large part, the move towards digital can be attributed to employers decreasing funding for traditional MBA degrees – focusing instead on the development of employees’ digital skills (which includes online MBAs and other online qualifications).

Carrying almost as much weight as traditional degrees, digital MBAs cost less and also allow employees the flexibility to continue working while studying.

One of the commonly cited concerns over online education, though, is that it is too passive, with students wanting more interaction.

As a result, some schools – like Harvard – are upgrading their business education delivery model for the digital age, embracing the concept of “blended learning,” an education program that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods.

The IE Business School’s Madrid campus, for example, installed a room with 48 screens that uses artificial intelligence, emotion recognition systems and the presence of experts using holograms to create a space where students can virtually connect to each other from any device, anywhere in the world.

Some critics, however, warn that such over-accessibility will diminish the worth of MBAs on a whole. In the US, there has been a sevenfold increase in the number of MBAs awarded by business schools since 1970. Putting “MBA” across the top of a CV no longer carries the kind of influence it once did.