Byrne: Obviously you’re going to have to do some tweaks. In your online action-based learning project will you break the academic calendar as you do in your full-time MBA program?
DeRue: So we’re not thinking that the MAP project would require in-residence to begin with. It’s a virtual team just like mini-consulting organizations operate today, where there are team members in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and South America, wherever you may be, and you’re all working together. We’re doing the exact same thing here.
So it’ll be woven through, and depending on the cadence of the curriculum and the schedule, more time will be dedicated to the projects, and so forth. So it’ll really depend on the students because one of the things we really wanted the experience to be is highly personalized.
You and I might be in the program at the same time, but the path that we take through the program is curated to our individual needs. So depending on the pace and the path that you choose, it might look a little different than mine, but that’s by design because we want it to be highly personalized to you and your needs, versus me and my needs.
Byrne: In addition to the in-residence sessions. you will also obviously have live classes online, right?
DeRue: If you think about the online MBA experience, what you have is asynchronous content. So this is content that you will consume at your own pace. And don’t just think it will be video content of a professor like me talking at you; it could be assessments, it could be simulations, but it’s not live. You can do it on your own time, at your own pace. So that’s asynchronous content.
Then there’s the residential pieces and the experiential pieces that we’ve talked about. And then in the middle sits the live synchronous class session. And this is traditionally what happens in a classroom.
We’re building the classroom of the future. It’s going to be this immersive experience where you actually feel like you’re in a room with forty or fifty of your best friends and an amazingly talented faculty member. We’re building a whole new platform for this in a studio that will allow our faculty to interact with the students, and importantly the students to interact with the other students in really interactive and immersive ways. Even things like three-dimensional content where you could see a supply chain of a particular organization in three dimensions so that you could actually understand how it’s operating and how the flows are moving. We’re really excited about those live sessions. We think that the talent we’re putting in that room will make those live sessions a lot of fun and a great learning experience.
Byrne: How often will they occur?
DeRue: It depends on the course, but each course will essentially have a handful, let’s say four live sessions associated with it, coupled with that asynchronous content, the lectures, simulations, assessments, and so forth. You put those four live sessions together with that asynchronous content and that’s a course.
Byrne: How will you deliver career services in an online environment? There’s a general assumption that if you want to accelerate your career with your current employer, a part-time or online option is great for you. But if you want to switch careers, it may be less desirable. What’s your view on that?
DeRue: We’re focused here on working professionals who are really after the flexibility and access to a top-ranked MBA education. So what we see in that market are several different paths. One is students who want to accelerate in the path they’re already on, and that’s certainly a segment of the population. There are segments that want to stay in the same industry, but maybe change organizations. And then there’s a third segment where they want to change industry, potentially role or function, and maybe even geography.
So if we go with the segment that wants to accelerate, really what they’re looking for is the business fundamentals and the tools that come with a top-ranked MBA education, with the coaching and support, the mentorship, the social network, that’s going to help them accelerate within whatever function or industry they’re already in.
That market is a little bit easier to support from a creative perspective because they’re already in the space they want to be in.
The second segment is where they want to stay in the same general space, but maybe change organizations. So every student that goes through this program will have dedicated career and professional development support in the form of coaching, mentoring, advising from our staff. Just like we would provide for our full-time students, our executive MBAs, and so forth.
Byrne: So even before they enter the program you will know what bucket they’re going to be in?
DeRue: We at least will ask. And they will likely have a sense, though we certainly find that students will change which bucket they’re in as they go through the program, which is perfectly okay.
So every one of these will have dedicated support. If you’re in that second bucket or the third bucket who wants to change industry, function, and role, having access to the hundreds of companies that come through the Michigan Ross School of Business every year is essential. Even if you’re not on campus, you still want to be able to interact with these companies so that you can learn about them, have access to the career and job opportunities that are in them. So we made a choice very early on in the design of this new online MBA to provide the same level of access to what happens from a career and recruiting perspective here on campus for our online students.
Now how we deliver that, and how we connect those students to the companies will of course change because we can’t expect students from California or New York to be in Ann Arbor at all times. So we’re having to change how we do those connections, but the commitment is the same. And that’s really important.
Byrne: Plus in an online program, you can have just in time hiring. In a full-time MBA program, employers hire in June, July, and August. But now if you know someone who wants to switch careers, and it’s January and you have them in your program, they can switch careers and continue the rest of the program.
DeRue: That’s exactly right. So the students who may not be in the same cycle as say your traditional residential full-time MBA. Many of the companies have defined hiring and intake processes. They take in students full-time from maybe July to September. But many companies are finding, just because of the demand and need for talent, that it doesn’t work to only bring in MBAs for full-time jobs between July and September. So what about January?
When we were doing the market research and discovery work for this program, we sought input and feedback from companies on what they would expect to see in a program like this? And a number of the companies, and some of the companies that everybody would love to work for, the Amazons of the world, made this exact same point. That what if we need talent in January or February or March, how does that work?
In the traditional system, it doesn’t. Here we’ll have more flexibility, and we’ll build capacity to have a 12-month career and professional development system through this online MBA. Which we’re really excited about, the students are really excited about, and of course the companies are as well.
Byrne: So you’re aiming for 60 students in your first cohort?
DeRue: The goal in year one is 60 students, could be a little less, could be a little more, but something in that neighborhood. And then we expect by year three to be at roughly 120 or so, and right now our projection is that’s roughly the steady state.
It could grow, depending on what we see in terms of demand. But we are going after high-quality students. Putting our very best faculty with them, and we don’t expect to be in a market where we’re serving thousands and thousands of students. That’s not the design of this.
We want the learning experience to be very hands-on, very experiential, very active. We want it to be highly personalized because we really believe in the power of peer-to-peer learning and that social learning that happens among students. If you try to fill a program like this with just thousands and thousands of students, you don’t really build the network and that peer-to-peer learning. So we’re building what I would call modestly sized cohorts, where you really get to know each other, just like you would in say a section of a full-time MBA program, or in an executive MBA program.
Many people assume that in an online MBA environment, you’re not going to build those relationships. We’re taking the exact opposite approach. How do we leverage technology to connect extremely motiated, talented people that otherwise would not connect? I expect that with those numbers and the platform that we’re building, students are going to graduate from this program with lifelong relationships in place, both professional and personal, that you wouldn’t get in any other online MBA.
Byrne: Those relationships would be cemented during the in-residence sessions, the experiential projects and the live sessions as well.
DeRue: That’s exactly right.
Byrne: So how does this fit into your overall digital learning strategy for the future of Ross? I imagine that you’re going to learn a lot by going through this program, and it’s actually going to come back into the face-to-face classroom.
DeRue: I would say there are two ways in which it’s going to fit into a broader digital education strategy for the school. If you look at top ranked schools, we’re taking slightly different approaches, but I think we’re all likely going to end converging in some common space. So if you look at schools like Harvard Business School, or Stanford, or Wharton, they are beginning in the non-degree space.
So they’re offering certificates of various forms and flavors. And we, too, are doing some of that. We’ve been experimenting in that world for now a handful of years. We’ve got I think the world’s most popular finance course, and my colleague and I have a leadership online course that are certificate based. So we have some experiments there. As you noted earlier, we’re the only top ten school to offer the degree, the online MBA, so we’re really starting in that degree space. We’re making a big, bold investment in that online MBA upfront.
That’s going to do two things for us. It’s going to accelerate the degree to which we can move into the non-degree space because you’ve built up the capacity and the digital assets that can then be re-bundled in different ways to create new and interesting certificates and non-degrees. You could imagine all sorts of possibilities there. Just like what happened in music, we expect to sort of disaggregate that bundle into its modules, if you will, and re-bundle those in very interesting ways in the future.
Byrne: So to use an old metaphor, I can buy the album if I want the degree, or I can buy whatever tune appeals to me through exec ed.
DeRue: Precisely. And we’re already seeing companies sign on and work with us. For a Fortune 50 company right now, we’re doing their design thinking and innovation leadership education for all of their senior executives. And we’re doing a lot of that in the residential space. The question they asked was, “How do we cascade this down to tens of thousands of people so that we’re operating off of a common language system?” So we’re actually using our non-degree certificate bundles to serve that market in new and interesting ways.
We’ll move in that direction, and have already started. But to your point, what’s also happening is because of what we’re learning in the online MBA degree space, we’re now able to take what we’re learning there and bring it into our full-time residential space. The technologies that we’re building to personalize the education can be transferred to our other programs. You and I may come from very similar backgrounds into the same MBA program, but we have completely different aspirations, different needs, different preferences. And the same tools and technologies that’s we’re building to serve our online MBA students, who are very diverse in terms of their backgrounds, we can now apply and bring over to our residential programs.
Our faculty are in production right now for their courses. And the number of them who have come to me and said, “I will never teach my in-person residential course the same way,” is nearly every single one of them.
Byrne: I hear this again and again from professors who had to convert their residential courses online.
DeRue: And it’s because you have to think about the student, and the learner in a different way. And our faculty are now curating experiences in the residential courses that are leveraging what they’re learning in the online MBA, in ways that we think are going to elevate and enhance the learning outcomes for our students. And if we see a greater, more positive impact on our students in our residential programs, then this investment, if it never grows beyond 120 students a year, is worth its weight in gold.
Byrne: And that result apparently occurs because everything you teach online has to be connected to a direct learning outcome. So it makes you really think hard about what you’re delivering and what you’re not delivering.
DeRue: That’s right, you start with the goal in mind. We always say in business, “Start with Y, and start with the end in mind.” Reimagining your course for an online format forces a rigor around starting with the end in mind. What’s the outcome that I want to drive? What’s the capability that I’m trying to build in this learner? And then working backwards from that in a really rigorous way. That principle or way of thinking is already finding its way into our residential courses in all of our programs.
Byrne: That’s terrific. Well, thank you for sharing these details on your new the online MBA program. Obviously the first cohort starts this fall. You’ll be 60 in number, and scale up from there. And I have a sense that it’s going to transform a lot of different things in the school.
DeRue: Thank you very much.
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