Online executive education technology Featured

1:12pm EDT May 15, 2006
Today’s executive is busier than ever, thanks in part to a global economy that means more travel and work distributed across a variety of time zones. Many of these executives have the desire to obtain an MBA but find it difficult to manage within the traditional executive education system, creating a need for more flexible options, according to Anne Ferrante, director of the global leadership executive MBA program at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Management, which uses blended delivery combining classroom and online technologies.

“The combination of people working more hours and traveling for business has really created a need for online executive education,” she says. “People who want to pursue an advanced education simply can’t afford to take time off from work while also trying to balance family and personal commitments.”

Smart Business spoke with Ferrante about the online technology options available to professionals seeking an MBA and the unique benefits this technology brings to the MBA programs.

How do online courses differ from more traditional executive education programs?Traditional executive education programs are based on a modular delivery where the student takes three or four courses at once. The delivery is in the classroom, listening to and having face-to-face discussions with the instructor and other students.

Online programs are typically sequential so the student takes one course at a time. This allows students to master the subject matter before moving on to the next course. In a completely online scenario, students have little or no face-to-face interaction, but communicate via text- or audio-based technology and data sharing. In the blended delivery scenario, students meet and get to know each other and their instructors at periodic intervals then follow up using online communications technologies. Students still interact with other people; they just aren’t in the same physical location — similar to what happens when workers are not located with their customers or colleagues.

How can executives and other professionals use online technology to obtain an MBA?
The two main technology modes available for obtaining an MBA are either a completely online program that offers no face-to-face interaction, or a blended MBA program that combines both face-to-face and online course work. Blended programs offer executives and professionals all of the benefits of the traditional executive MBA programs - cohort-based classes, teamwork, networking — plus the flexibility and portability of online programs.

How do professionals benefit from online technology?
Online technology offers two main ingredients that traditional executive education programs do not: flexibility and portability. The programs are flexible because students can take courses at a time and in a place that makes more sense for them, allowing them to work around professional and personal commitments. These programs are also portable, allowing students to continue pursuing a degree even if they have to travel or relocate.

Students also learn a very valuable set of secondary skills: how to work effectively in a virtual team. More and more, people aren’t actually located in the same physical location as other team members or clients, yet they’re carrying on business, interacting and collaborating with each other. Online educational technology emulates today’s business practices and utilizes the very same tools that people are already using at work.

Lastly, because we aren’t geographically bound, online technology helps to build a richer, more diverse class. Participants can come from anywhere in the world and from different industry segments.

How would an executive use online technology when pursuing a Masters of Business Administration degree?
Some of the more interesting aspects of online technology include discussion forums and Web conferencing. Discussion forums allow for posting responses to thought-provoking questions on contemporary issues. Students have an opportunity to collect their thoughts and prepare their responses in a thoughtful way because they’re not being forced to give a response on the spot as they would in the classroom.

Web conferencing has become a very effective form of educational technology and allows for real-time sharing of data and collaboration among students and instructors. Instructors can demonstrate things online, providing students with a visual image to go along with the audio and text content.

What special skills or equipment is necessary for someone to use online technology for executive education?
Aside from the basic technology of a high-speed Internet connection and a personal computer that is multi-media ready, it is important to know that these programs aren’t for everybody. The two main make-or-break factors for online executive education — given that the admission criteria are met — are the student’s motivation and ability to manage his or her time effectively. However, in my experience, most successful professionals have mastered both of these skills already. So this technology is not really the primary issue, it’s the enabler.

ANNE FERRANTE is director of the global leadership executive MBA program at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Management. Reach her at (972) 883-6467 or ferrante@utdallas.edu.