Bringing Experiential Learning To An Online MBA

Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business

Northeastern University has long been a pioneer in online education, having launched one of the first Online MBA programs in 2006, long before most universities would even acknowledge that digital learning was possible. In a bold move, the university’s D’Amore-McKim Business School has now launched an entirely updated Online MBA, leveraging its core competence in experiential learning and slashing the price of the program by $40,000 to just $45,000.

Rather than update its existing online curriculum, the school’s professors took a blank sheet of paper out and designed a more differentiated program with 20% of it devoted to experiential learning, a required social challenge, and the ability to customize this MBA to one’s own interests and passions. The first intake of students will occur this October.

The changes are in direct response to a vastly changed and cluttered Online MBA marketplace, with more than 350 Online MBA programs in the U.S. alone, many of them bearing price tags far less than Northeastern’s legacy online MBA which had been priced $85,000. The biggest development in the Boston market, of course, was the introduction of a $24,000 Online MBA from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business (See Boston University’s $24,000 Online MBA Is A Big Hit). In its first year of existence in 2021, the online version of its MBA became the largest single graduate program in the business school’s history.


Emery Trahan, interim dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business\. Photo by Adam Glanzman for Northeastern University

D’Amore-McKim’s new online MBA promises an entirely different experience than BU’s no-frills, no-electives option. From the very start, students in the new program will be able to select one of three concentrations–each with four electives–to allow for a deep dive into a specific area. The first three concentrations are in business analytics, finance, and innovation and entrepreneurship, though the school promises far more options in the future. Most of the coursework, in fact, can be chosen by the student, with 29 of the required 50 credits composed of elective courses. In fact, the faculty agreed to accelerate the core curriculum so students could do more to customize their studies with a greater choice of electives.

Even though the program is entirely online, with optional live Internet classes on a weekly basis, D’Amore-McKim says that one-fifth of the learning will be experiential, involving actual assignments with companies and organizations. Every student also will have a core course that involves a social challenge in sustainability, diversity, or another major social issue. The social challenge also will have an assigned experiential project. The degree can be completed in as little as 18 months or stretched out over three years. A standardized test is not required for admission.

“We were one of the pioneers in the space and I think we designed and ran a very good program but the world has changed a lot and we decided it was time for more than just a refresh or update to the program,” explains Emery Trahan, interim dean of the D’Amore-McKim Business School. “It was time to reimagine the program for the future. The production of the program is different. The way the courses are delivered is different. We are building on our long history of experiential education and really leveraging something very significant into an online, scalable program and the price point is very different.”


The school expects to enroll an initial cohort of 50 students but expects to scale it well beyond that level. “At steady state, there is no upper bound because it is built for scalability and agility and it is not a cohort-based program,” says Kate Klepper, associate dean of graduate programs. “There really isn’t an upper limit. When we launched our legacy program in 2006, we had hoped to start with 50 and be at 500 in the first year. We were over 1000 in the first year. This program is much more advanced and I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be growing just as fast as that.”

The design of the program benefitted from outreach to the school’s corporate partners and alumni as well as admitted students who chose not to attend D’Amore-McKim, a process the school used to redesign its full-time MBA six years ago. “It was a hard look in the mirror,” says Klepper, “but we got some great feedback. We found out that flexibility really mattered to them. They thought the core was heavier than it needed to be, especially if they had a background in certain disciplines. And they wanted the online experience to feature experiential learning.”

Assignments with companies and organizations tend to be a missing component in many online MBA offerings. But D’Amore-McKim faculty believed it was an absolute necessity in redesigning the program. “Experiential education is challenging to deliver online but it was really core to the design of the new curriculum,” acknowledges Klepper. “We knew this is who we are and if we can’t do it, who can? We do this probably better than anyone. It is our core competency. If we are not willing to double down on it, then we really need to think about what we are doing. We have committed resources to lean into our vast corporate partners and alumni who are raising their hands and asking how can we help?” 


Kate Klepper, associate dean of graduate programs at the D’Amore-McKim Business Scho0ol

In the first challenge, online students will take on the role of a C-level executive grappling with setting strategy. They will work on a team with classmates and consult with current or recently retired senior executives playing the part of CEO – and then make a set of recommendations. “Based on feedback from the CEO, you’ll make adjustments,” the school points out in its description of the first project. “In the process, you’ll deepen your knowledge of the business subjects you’ve studied, learn how to apply that knowledge to critical issues in real-world situations, and hone skills, particularly the human skills so pivotal to business success.”

Then, there will be an additional project based on a social challenge. The faculty team also discovered that today’s business students strongly prefer to address a social issue in their studies. That finding led to the decision to include a core course on the subject with a project. “Young professionals are very keen to have a positive impact on the world,” says Klepper. “And in this case, the students will get to roll up their sleeves and tackle a project. This is not a fad. It’s real. And we came to the realization that we should be jumping on it right away.”

The program is targeted at students with five or more years of work experience. “We want you to have gotten your feet on the ground and have an appreciation for what you are missing in your quiver of arrows,” says Klepper. “Somebody who has bumped up against the wall of being passed over for a promotion, that is ideally what we want to see and those students will do extraordinarily well in the program.”


To that end, D’Amore-McKim is also promising more career support than is typical in an online MBA format. “We are going to give them everything we give our campus students,” adds Klepper. “We will be modality agnostic. Students will have access to everything the career center produces, whether its support to rewrite your resume so it can be picked up by AI (artificial intelligence) in online postings to how to manage through job interviews and follow-up.”

The school hopes to break through the market clutter. “When we entered the market in 2006, we were one of two accredited business schools and now we are among hundreds,” reflects Trahan. “I do think we have a lot of credibility from the program we’ve done. I think we are well positioned to be recognized and competitive. We don’t want to do anything that is not quality. We are going in with a strong brand, a quality product, and differentiation.”

The school will have two intakes a year, with an Oct. 3 final deadline for the fall cohort that enters that same month, and a Dec. 12 final application deadline for students who want to enter the spring 2023 cohort.



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