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.

  • Ethan Baron

    George, undoubtedly true, both about the lack of challenge to the widespread focus on hauling in piles of loot, and about the insufficiency of profit alone as a standard (hello, financial crisis?). Although you’re referring to traditional businesses, as opposed to social impact enterprises, perhaps the trend toward social entrepreneurship (http://poetsandquants.com/2010/08/13/social-entrepreneurship-the-best-schools-programs/) suggests a societal/demographic change that will also play out in traditional organizations. Fingers Xd!

  • I agree with you, George. Over my ~20 years teaching at business schools I can say that teaching the same topic with undergrad, full-time MBA, and Executive MBA is very different. There’s no doubt that experienced managers and professionals learn more efficiently thanks to both incorporating their previous experience and current opportunity to apply course topics immediately in their careers.

  • georgelehman

    I would add that students in their 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s pick up and integrate classes in leadership and organization culture much more effectively than the students in their early 20’s who have little workplace experience.

  • georgelehman

    As the program director for a small MBA program for working adults I find this article to be quite helpful in defining and interpreting the landscape for MBA programs.
    One assumption that I rarely see challenged in this article or elselwhere is that the only purpose of an MBA is to qualify a person to make a whole lot of money. I am not opposed to the idea of earning a good salary but I think that education that is focused primarily on salary does not serve individuals well and certainly does not serve society well.

    We need more managers who build strong organizations with a culture in which employees flourish and the communities in which the organizations are located become great places to live and work. To do this the company has to be be profitable but profitability alone is not a sufficient standard. I doubt that many elite MBA graduates have the ethic of community service that makes them valuable employees toward these goals.

  • Ethan, there are many paths to an MBA degree. Business schools have created these various options and formats in order to attract as wide an audience as possible. If you understand your own goals for earning an MBA then the most appropriate path (or paths) should be easier to identify.

    Not everyone interested in earning an MBA wants to join a full-time program or is able to do so. Let’s draw a parallel to undergraduate university education for a moment. Most people who went to university straight from high school and spent four years of full-time study earning an undergraduate degree will tell you how life changing that experience was. An immersive process that overlaps with the change from teenager to young adult has that potential.

    But what if you didn’t go to university right out of high school? Say you’re 30 years old and want to earn a bachelors degree now? Is it helpful for people to tell you that you should quit your job and study full-time for four years along side the teenagers right out of high school? Even if the people offering that advice believe passionately that four years of full-time study is the best way to earn a bachelors degree (probably because that’s the way they did it), isn’t it really implicit that this advice is far more compelling if offered to an 18 year old rather than a 30 year old?

    The same is true with full-time MBA programs: they make sense at one point in your career. But if that window is closed that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from an MBA experience, it just means that you’ll benefit more from a different MBA experience, one designed for someone further along in his or her career.

    Does earning your undergrad degree at 30 “replace” the experience you missed not going to university right out of high school? The 30 year old is looking for different experiences than the 18 year old, not a “replacement”. The same is true for various MBA candidates – they aren’t all looking for (or will benefit from) the same experience.

  • Ethan Baron

    Thanks for the insights, Daniel… The 28-year-olds of today are already fully immersed in the digital world and are still applying to full-time programs – unless Danos’ wildest fantasy comes true, I’m not sure what could fully or even mostly replace that experience.

  • It’s worth noting that, in general, corporate recruiters focus on full-time MBA programs today, not EMBA’s or other MBA paths designed for working managers and professionals. The reason for this is that most corporations recruiting from schools are looking to fill relatively junior, entry-level positions that do not require significant previous work experience. The best candidates for those jobs are those attending full-time MBA programs given the narrow demographic these programs target.

    In my experience, corporate recruiters spend almost no time focused on potential candidates from EMBA programs, even those that are 100% classroom-based and offered by the same schools where they are already recruiting from the full-time MBA program. The reason is fit – EMBA programs are populated with students who typically have far more work experience than required for the roles that corporate recruiters are looking to fill.

    So, most technology-facilitated MBA programs are Executive or part-time, targeted at experienced managers and professionals, and most recruiters are focused on full-time MBA programs which are generally classroom-based. It’s this disconnect that has corporate recruiters keeping away from technology-facilitated MBA programs, not the incorporation of technology in the learning process.

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  • HondaK

    Unless we see MBB hire from other forms of MBA as they do for full time, there will be no major change. It is all about how the elite recruiters perceive such programs.

  • For the most part, innovation in MBA program delivery through the use of technology (whether hybrid or fully-online) has been focused on students who wish to continue working while earning an MBA degree. Call these paths Executive MBA, part-time MBA, Professional MBA, or Flex MBA, the one thing they have in common is that these are programs designed for working managers and professionals.

    There is no one “correct” or “best” program format for working managers and professionals to balance their careers, family, and studies. Students gravitate towards the format that suits them best. Even setting technology-facilitated formats aside, I have seen candidates choose EMBA programs based on whether they are held on weekends only or require every other Friday off of work. What the hybridization of MBA program formats is creating is more choice and wider access.

    In contrast, hybridization will hold little appeal for the narrow demographic that is looking for a full-time MBA program. These candidates want to quit their jobs and spend their time immersed in the MBA experience. If you’re about 28 and looking to switch careers then that makes sense. On the other hand, if you’re 38, or 48, and need to keep working while you earn an MBA then a hybrid option may be ideal.

    Full-time, classroom-based MBA programs are not going away for a long time. They are targeted at a specific student type looking for that experience. Any full-time, classroom-based MBA program that is well-designed and delivers the value proposition it claims will not go the way of the caveman for the foreseeable future.