A Peloton Chat With The Dean Of An Online MBA Disruptor

Dean Jeffrey Brown at Gies College of Business on a Peloton

Since it’s launch in 2016, we’ve been fascinated by the iMBA at the University of Illinois Gies College of Business. From its incredibly accessible price point of $22,000 to its fast growth from a little over 100 students to more than 3,500 in just four years to the College’s full commitment in the online space by killing its full-time and part-time MBA degrees, the Gies approach has been novel. Simply put, at the moment, there is no other degree program like it on the market.

So this past week as many universities across the U.S. and the rest of the globe scrambled to move their programs online due to the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided to reach out to Illinois Gies Dean Jeffrey Brown. We also thought it would be fun to record the interview while riding a Peloton stationary bike and taking the same on-demand class. An avid cyclist, Brown officially moved indoors full-time after a bike wreck in August 2018 left him with a concussion and multiple broken bones. Brown says he continues to log rides almost daily and celebrated his 350th Peloton ride while participating in the interview.


“At Gies, we were in a pretty fortunate position relative to most schools because we had gone heavy into the online space with the launch of our online iMBA back in January of 2016,” Brown says. “So if you think about it we have across our college maybe 7,500 students in total. Close to 3,500 of them were in fully online programs already, our iMBA and our online Master of Science in Accounting, among others. So really for us what this means is that we’re now shifting all of our undergraduate and our other graduate courses online.”

Brown says the vendor contracts — and a lot of the other logistical issues were already in place. “So starting on Monday we are geared up to continue all of our classes with as much synchronous online interaction as we can,” Brown says. “Supplemented with, we have a pretty big collection of pre-recorded video content that we’re actually making available to other schools as well. Trying to do our part to help everyone prepare for this transition.”

But the transition doesn’t at all have to be a bad one or one that takes away from learning, Brown says.


“What works in a face-to-face classroom doesn’t always work well in a virtual classroom,” Brown explains. “But on the other hand, there are things that work extremely well online that might not work in a face-to-face classroom. And so the more that you can get your faculty to share with each other what works and what doesn’t and how they need to adapt their teaching styles the better. This is not just about how you explain and deliver the content. It is also about how you do grading and assessment when you have students who are remote.”

Brown says to lean on schools like Illinois that have already built massive amounts of online content available for free on platforms like Coursera.

“There are schools like us and we’re not the only ones. But we have enormous quantities of very high quality professionally produced videos for just about every business class you can think of that are already residing on Coursera,” Brown says. “And we have worked with Coursera to make it possible that over the next several months from now until the end of July if a business school wants to use our content they can access it for free, including pre-recorded videos, and they can use that if they find it valuable. And again it’s not just us. There’s a number of Coursera partners who have high-quality content out there.”


As for current and future students, Brown says not to judge the online degree space based on what pops up in the rush to move online over the next few weeks and months.

“There’s gonna be some bad online delivery coming out in the next several weeks and months from schools that just don’t know how to do it and don’t have the resources to do it and faculty that don’t have the experience to do it. And I would say don’t judge the quality of the potential online experience you get from a place like our iMBA based on these kinda hastily put together experiences that you might have in some classes where they’re doing it under duress and in an emergency situation.”


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