THINK YOU’LL BE FLYING SOLO? THINK AGAIN
When exploring online MBA programs, the terms synchronous and asynchronous are two terms you’ll want to familiarize yourself with. These terms refer to the format in which the online MBA material is delivered; whether it’s on your own time, on your own schedule with weekly deadlines and assignments to meet (asynchronous) or it’s at set times on set days of the week wherein everyone logs on for class via a live session (synchronous).
There’s a tendency to think — expect, even — that whether synchronous or asynchronous, online learning is mostly a solo experience, but this isn’t the case when you’re getting an MBA online. While you may never have to set foot on campus, you can always expect large amounts of group work.
“Group projects would be in our international course, for instance, where we ask students to research the business environment for a country then make a recommendations on whether to invest or not invest,” says Dean Skolnik from SUNY-Oswego. “In marketing, they’ll often do community-based projects such as one where there was branding for a local town and the students worked together looking at ways to elevate the town’s profile.”
In Babson College’s Blended Learning MBA program, incoming cohorts typically fall in the range of 70-72 students, but upon starting the program, they are broken into smaller groups. The learning groups, as they are called, are made up of five to seven students and they remain intact for the first eight courses of the program — completing assignments together, presenting group projects, and more. Students then form new learning groups to finish out the remainder of the curriculum.
Adding to the group work dynamic is the fact that online MBA programs are made up of students who are spread out at various points across the world. “One student recently spoke about working with a classmate who was in India and another in China and the need to coordinate across multiple time zones,” says SUNY-Oswego’s dean. “What was morning for them was evening for another student on the other side of the world. What’s nice about this is it models what we see in business environment as we collaborate with colleagues who are in different parts of the world.”
WHATSAPP, GOOGLE HANGOUTS, AND OTHER TOOLS TO FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH
Of course with group projects and virtual learning teams comes the need for seamless communication. But if you think you’ll get by with just email and old-fashioned phone calls, guess again.
With tools such as WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and Facebook groups being the norm, today’s online MBA students need to be both tech- and social media-savvy to keep up.
“There are 100 different connectivity tools you can use to communicate,” says Gunnar Bergeson, an online MBA student at Arizona State. “During orientation, most groups said we need to keep some standards for how we’ll keep in touch. If we need to share info or share research, it’s Google docs. For face to face meetings where we need to talk, Google Hangouts seemed to be the best and has worked perfectly. For daily communication, this was a little interesting. Some people like to use texts, some like email. We experimented, and gave WhatsApp a try. You can share documents, pictures, etc. I would say it accounts for 90% of our communication.”
Chelsea Coursey, a May 2017 graduate from the online program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s College of Business, backs up Bergeson’s account. “Because it’s virtually so easy to stay in touch with people nowadays, we had all different forms of communication,” Coursey recalls. “We had a Facebook group we maintained to touch base and that we still use, phone numbers to text, video conferences, video lectures, and of course email. I communicated much more in the online cohort probably than I did during my undergraduate degree in a more traditional setting.”
PACK YOUR BAGS AND STUDY ABROAD
Just because an online MBA program is virtual and done through distance learning technology doesn’t mean the importance of international business is ignored. You might be surprised to find out that international travel is an option in many programs and, in some, it’s even a required part of the curriculum.
At Hofstra’s Zarb School, they’ve linked a study abroad trip to its required international business course. The experience involves a week and a half cultural immersion, company visits, and more. In 2016, Zarb’s online MBA students traveled to Tokyo and Seoul and, most recently, students traveled to Dubai and New Delhi.
Kaushik Sengupta, associate dean of business graduate education at Zarb and the school’s Online MBA Program director, says the international trips involve a slightly more extended assignment where students are in partnership with an overseas business. “Students work on an assignment before the trip then they present their findings to the company when they get there,” Sengupta says. “We did this with Dubai this year. But we want to expand it next year. Typically, there are six to eight company visits. We’ll probably move to less visits, while making the trip more experiential.”
At other schools, international travel isn’t required, but it is an option. Mississippi State offers a three-credit Study Abroad class and trip each year, which can serve as an elective while Northeastern University students may take part in an International Fields course where students — alongside a faculty member — study abroad for one to two weeks.