Face Time Key To Hybrid MBA Battle


As business schools take advantage of online opportunities, old preferences persist. - Marana Unified School District image

Business schools have fought each other for students ever since Grok opened the Paleolithic Commerce Institute right next door to Trog’s well-established School for Counting Rocks.

Eventually, the teaching and learning moved from caves into classrooms, and students and professors became a bit more, well, evolved, but for millennia, not a whole lot changed in terms of how business education was delivered: teachers stood in front of students and told them what was what. Students asked questions, received answers, sometimes broke up into discussion groups, and between or after classes discussed course materials and helped each other with homework.

But this century’s quantum leaps of communications advancement are bringing many schools into a new battleground: the hybrid zone, where age-old pedagogy meets modern-world technology.

Today, with teleconferencing, video chats, and live-streamed lectures, learning can take place over the Internet, across vast distances.


Caves, classrooms, campuses will soon be relics of business education’s past. Or will they?

As MBA programs evolve, they must do so in accordance with a key reality – a holdover, perhaps, from the Stone Age, but one well supported by data and anecdote: many students have a profound affinity for face-to-face learning.

Even as online education explodes in popularity, most people still want a significant amount of their education to be delivered in person, in the company of other students.

Hence the appearance in business schools across the land of hybrid MBA programs blending in-person teaching with internet-delivered learning, to meet the demand for campus time while offering the convenience of online education. Elite institutions have yet to embrace hybrids, but several schools in the bottom half of the top 25 are now offering them.


“Hybrid delivery is going to continue clearly to be an unstoppable force,” says Tim Westerbeck, founder of the business school consulting firm Eduvantis. “Hybridity will be a centerpiece of the market no matter what level of institution or what type of student.”

The hybrids allow schools to extend their reach, to lure students from further afield. UCLA’s Anderson School of Management in 2012 opened its 27- to 33-month “MBA Flex” hybrid program, requiring students to attend campus only one weekend per month, compared to all day every Saturday or for two weekday evenings in the school’s regular part-time MBA program. Of Anderson’s most recent entering Flex class, 75% came from outside the Los Angeles area, compared to 34% of non-Flex part-timers. Almost 30% of this year’s entering Flex students are from outside California.

Says Westerbeck, “The market will segment around the issue of how much campus time (students) want, need and can afford.  The key is that schools are going to need to offer choice and flexibility in terms of how students will access their programs.  Some people will naturally self-select into programs that have more on-campus time, because they really value that type of experience. Other people may just not want that or be able to pursue that approach for a variety of personal or professional reasons.