Despite the scattered nature of classmates, relationships are cultivated, particularly in study groups. “There is a very genuine and deep friendship there,” says Hodson. “The entire relationship is via Skype, email, and videoconferencing. These are the mediums through which most people working globally have to stay in contact.”
In addition to two mandatory trips to IE’s Madrid campus, Hodson also was able to go on week long field trips to China and India. The school, he says,helped several students offset the cost by offering them scholarships that covered two-thirds of the additional costs.
There are occasional glitches. “We had situations where a professor couldn’t get to open a forum for discussion,” says Bach. “You know when you have to show up in a physical class, but 9 a.m. can slip by when you have to open a forum. Sometimes our learning platform can be a little slow. It’s like the students staring through the door into the classroom and not being able to get in. That happens once a year or so.” One time in the past year, adds Bach, the online forums weren’t working properly and the students simply took the discussion to Facebook.
But Hodson, 31, has few complaints or regrets. He graduated in December of 2010, returning to the Madrid campus for the formal celebration. “It definitely exceeded my expectations, but in ways I would never have anticipated,” he says. “I underestimated the international exposure and I never thought I would walk away with the network of friends I have now.”
Even so, Hodson believes an online program entails some sacrifices. “One is that inter-personal relationship you can’t replace. You can do Skype, but there is a spark when you’re face to face with people. I missed that sometimes. And in looking for an online program, I felt really limited in my options.” And he believes that sometimes technical notes read dryly as if they were translated from another language into English by a computer algorithm.
The other surprise? Hodson enrolled thinking it was a part-time program that would be very easy to accommodate with his current job and life. “It’s a huge amount of work,” he says. “In the last 18 months, I haven’t shopped for groceries, cleaned the house or done the laundry. My wife has done all that. It’s a huge commitment.”