Inside The Online MBA: Inside The Experience

Inside The Online MBA: Three Kelley Direct students describe what it’s like to do an Online MBA program

Byrne: You’re both toward the end of the program. Do you feel like you’re different in any meaningful way in terms of the level of confidence or competence that you have at work?

Spenser: Beyond technical expertise and knowledge that you obviously gain by just learning about these courses, I feel like I’ve gained a better understanding of how to facilitate discussions and even controversial discussions. Often in class, we’ll start diving in and people have opposing views, and so I think I’ve learned how to facilitate a discussion and participate in the discussion where not everyone agrees or starts in the same place and then get to a conclusion that’s universally accepted.

Byrne: Will, are online students different than full-time MBA students?

Geoghagen: They have different characteristics. Obviously, the residential students have far more intensive time together, so that the cohort model is a little stronger. They share information probably a little better than some of the KD students. Many of our residential MBA students have experience, but I would say very few of them have the level of experience that our KD students have and the level of autonomy and responsibility. It’s far more useful for me to act as a facilitator for the KD students rather than as a lecturer. When Brooke’s in my class and we’re talking about corporate strategy, then I can immediately call on Brooke and say, ‘Well, Brooke, this framework that we’re talking about, do you use it on a daily basis? How do you use it? What insights have you developed as a result of that?’ She’s immediately sharing, within reason, insights that will benefit the other 25 people in the class.

Byrne: Given the diversity of students and the wide range of experience they bring to class, is sharing that learning as strong a part of a virtual class as it would be in an in-person class?

Holt: I would say absolutely. Thinking through a marketing class, the case we were asked to work on for the entirety of the quarter was essentially how do you bring solar panels and battery storage to the mass markets? What’s the business case around it? How are you going to present your go to market strategy around this? On our team, we had a finance person, an ex-Marine, a VP of operations, and myself. None of us had a marketing background which was actually really good because that allows us all to start at the same point. The Marine was able to talk to procurement. Our operations person was able to say, “Well, what happens if we move operations to the U.S. and what does that do to our supply chain?” Because we were all still working, that information doesn’t fade. If I had been in procurement or operations two years ago, I may still remember some of that, but if I’m doing it day in and day out, I’m going to have more vibrant stories to share, and they resound more with me.

Spenser: I would agree with that. I think working in groups that have a diverse perspective is really important because  I’m a firm believer that working in diverse groups ends with a better product.

Byrne: You’re both going to graduate this year but if you had to do it over again, would you do it differently?

Spenser: I would do another Agile program, and I would do it earlier in my Kelley career. I slipped into this weird place, and maybe this happens in online programs, I don’t know, but I got into this rhythm of just doing my online classes alone and working in my group projects. I was really focused on my job. I was really focused on my schoolwork, and so I was just cranking it out and forgot that I needed to step back and touch base and diversify my experience. Going to India was like a wake up call for me, because we were with a group of 20 students and we’re sitting on a bus and we’re put in very uncomfortable situations and new cultures, and being in those experiences with that group of students was an incredible bonding opportunity, and it reminded me how rich and robust other people’s experiences are when they share them with me. I had really missed that high level of discussion and interaction. I had forgotten about it almost, so after doing India, I was like, ‘Darn it. I wish I could go back and do another one so I could have another touchpoint there.’

Byrne: Tripp, what about you? Is there something you would do differently?

Holt: Kelley has a whole lot of services that most of us honestly don’t take advantage of. One of those is not just career counseling, but also our class advisors. It would have been a good idea to reach out to them earlier and say, ‘Here are the things I’m interested in. Which classes do you think would be best for me to take with which professor do you think I’m going to get the most out of?’ Reaching out and having those conversations earlier I think would’ve been more beneficial.

Byrne: Will, in traditional case study classrooms, class participation often makes up half the grade. How do you do this online?

Geoghagen: For my strategy class, participation isn’t as heavily weighted as it is in a residential class. If you’re clearly engaged, if you’ve read the case study, it’s pretty obvious even in the online class. Most of the rest of my grade is based on projects, worksheets, and application tasks rather than strict participation. If you do miss my live class, you will have to write up a four-page case summary in lieu of attendance, You can still get 100 points in the case summary and you can still get 100 points in the participation.

Byrne: Brooke, do you have a preference having experienced another graduate education that was traditional?

Spenser: I think both have their merit and value, and experience-wise, I should really enjoy the online program. It gives me so much flexibility in terms of how I participate and when I fit it into my life that I think, if looking at it from a whole life point of view, it’s given me a much better work/life/social balance to be able to insert education where it’s convenient and not where it’s mandated. When you’re an undergrad, you could have all the time in the world to go to school and be on campus, but I don’t have that luxury anymore.

Holt: If I could go back and redo my engineering master’s, I feel like it could have been more efficient to do it online, honestly. The reason I say that is because if I have to show up to a lecture to have someone explain to me what I’ve read in the textbook, then A, the textbook didn’t do a good job, or B, I’m just dense. It’s probably a little bit of both.

To me, that’s really where the prerecorded lecture comes in. I can do that on my time once I’ve read the material, because if I’m late reading the material, why should I go listen to someone talk for an hour about something I’m not going to understand, anyway? So I honestly wish that the majority of my master’s in engineering had been online just to allow for that application time in the classroom, not the lecture time in the classroom.

Byrne: Thanks, everyone.

Inside The Online MBA is sponsored by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business


Candid perspectives from Kelley Direct students and Kelley School of Business officials




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