Today's Reinvented MBA Program: The New Learning Environment

As the global business landscape shifts and changes, M.B.A. programs are following suit. In many ways this is changing and expanding the way learning is approached in M.B.A. courses.

A Stronger M.B.A. Degree Grows Out of a Richer Learning Environment

Hand in hand with curriculum improvements, business schools are finding new ways to strengthen teaching and foster enhanced student-faculty relationships. For example, the most exciting part of Wharton’s cross-functional curriculum, Sam Lundquist, chief of staff in the dean’s office at Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania says, is that teams of faculty members teach the same students for the entire first year, which “drastically improves the quality of relationships between students and faculty members.”

As advanced business programs bolster the quality of the learning experience, they are focusing a laser beam on how well professors help students learn. A sampling of M.B.A. programs shows that Pace University views faculty members as the managers of the student learning process. As a result, all programs and courses have objectives that are measured by student exit surveys, faculty questionnaires, and yearly performance evaluations for faculty members. Any underperforming teachers are coached at the school’s Center for Faculty Development and Teaching Effectiveness, where their syllabi are reviewed and their classes videotaped.

Teaching methods continue to evolve, M.B.A. courses not only the traditional tools of lectures and case studies but computer simulations, collaborations with local entrepreneurs, and group projects involving other schools. Harvard’s curriculum reform, for example, was notable for adopting alternative teaching methods in addition to its reliance on the traditional case-study approach and for developing ways to have faculty members spend less time teaching basics.

Top M.B.A. Programs Make Greater Use of Learning Technologies

Advanced business programs are making increasing use of distance learning. The University of Maryland University College (UMUC), for instance, uses distance learning to provide working adults with the flexibility to balance their job and family responsibilities while pursuing their M.B.A. degree or other educational goals. The online M.B.A. program features courses taught by teams of faculty who focus their professional and academic expertise to help students apply business and management theories and practices in the context of their organizations.

Distance learning is also favored heavily in Europe, where virtually all programs are part-time, according to Roger McCormick, former director general of the Association of M.B.A.’s in the United Kingdom. Distance learning in an M.B.A. program allows students to learn at their own pace, which is especially helpful for remedial courses and quantitative work, he says.

The quality of distance learning programs covers a wide range. The top M.B.A. programs, those that garner the most respect from the business community, are usually offered by institutions that also have a residency-based M.B.A. program. In such cases, the institution has already established its reputation and is using distance learning and its online M.B.A. program to leverage its brand.

Business schools are avidly employing other technologies, as well. Projects that involve other schools move forward with the help of videoconferencing. The Internet is often the primary medium of communication among students, faculty, and remote facilities. Students also make use of collaborative software, wireless networking, and web-based document exchange.

Classroom facilities are being redesigned to accommodate the growing use of technology in the classroom. For example, the home of Case Western Reserve University’s business school boasts one the fastest academic broadbands, which can be accessed from any desk. The building’s infrastructure also supports multimedia and videoconferencing, enabling students to communicate with organizations in other parts of the world. The school’s highly innovative design is the work of famed architect Frank Gehry. Classrooms are interspersed among faculty offices, imitating a real-world environment where workers interact daily with their bosses.

M.B.A. Courses Offer More Applied Learning

In most programs, there is some version of a “capstone” course that pulls together everything that students have learned throughout their M.B.A. degree studies. It is usually offered late in the program. With these so-called living cases, teams of students are assigned to an organization and work on a solution for a real-world problem, such as helping a U.S. company enter the European market, for example. When you are evaluating an M.B.A. program, ask about the capstone courses they have recently offered and the projects’ outcomes.

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