At colleges and universities Across the country, a sea change is taking place. Gone are the days of learning exclusively face-to-face in classrooms; now, nearly all institutions of higher education are incorporating online learning. Some include full-time online degree programs, others are hybrids in which parts of courses are taught online and others are conducted in person.
As examples, UCLA Anderson offers FEMBA flex-to-working MBAs, where half of the coursework is online, in addition to the MBA program's required online courses on résumé building, personal branding and LinkedIn. But one thing is clear: Online learning is inevitable in the future of education. Here, four Anderson MBA candidates discuss their opinions and experiences with online learning.
George Ingersoll, Moderator
Ingersoll is the director of hybrid learning initiatives at UCLA Anderson, where he works with faculty to develop the use of media and instructional technology across the curriculum. He earned an MBA from UCLA Anderson in 2009 and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in higher education, also at UCLA. Ingersoll's research investigates how different strategies of delivery for online education may have variable effects on key student outcomes such as comprehension and satisfaction.
Brian Schoelkopf ('15)
Schoelkopf is the president of the Anderson Student Association. In this position he has collaborated with the administration at Anderson in setting the school's policy and strategy for online coursework in the full-time program. Prior to coming to UCLA, he worked in sales management and strategy at the E&J Gallo Winery, and will be joining Amgen full-time after graduation.
Veronica Kalyna (FEMBA ‘15)
Kalyna is a senior coordinator of financial and statistical analysis at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. While working toward her MBA, Kalyna leads a team responsible for collecting and analyzing data used to construct the nation's money stock measures, levy reserve requirements and transact open-market operations. She graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a B.S. in economics in 2003. Her experience with online education includes a UCLA Anderson hybrid course on emerging markets and Knewton, an online GMAT preparation course.
Jack Warren (FEMBA '15)
Warren is a student council representative for the Class of 2015 FEMBA Flex section, the first such section to go through the program at UCLA Anderson. Flex has enabled him to participate fully in the FEMBA program while traveling extensively for business, both domestically and internationally. He works in finance at video game publisher Activision Blizzard, based in Santa Monica. He grew up in England and holds a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Oxford.
Jessica Kimball (‘15)
Kimball, who passionately supports making education more accessible, founded a college admissions company soon after graduating from Yale University with a B.A. in psychology. She helped students of various backgrounds get into college, and by using virtual learning tools, has worked with students in Spain, Hong Kong and throughout the U.S. In addition to her work in education, Kimball interned in the Global Talent Strategies group at Mattel Inc. and will be returning full-time after graduation.
Ingersoll: Let's begin with this: What has been your exposure to online methods of instruction, and what have your impressions been?
Schoelkopf: I've had limited exposure to classes that have been fully supplemented with online content, but I've had ample exposure to classes complemented by content that's online. We had some prep courses that we took before the start of the fall quarter that were 100 percent online.
Kalyna: Within Anderson, I took one hybrid course. With other classes, we have had online components but the lectures were face-to-face. Beyond business school, I did take a fully online prep course for the GMAT.
Ingersoll: Jack, you are in a program that has online as a specific part of the curriculum. Could you describe your experiences in the FEMBA Flex program and also your decision-making process coming into the program?
Warren: I was a member of the first ever Flex section. There were 35 of us admitted to the class of 2015, and that means for the first four quarters of the core, 50 percent of our instruction was in-person and 50 percent online. After that we go into electives, where we're open to take either Flex or the regular, in-person format.
In terms of the decision-making process, I actually moved to the U.S. literally weeks before the program started and started a new job here. My job required travel roughly half the time, so it would have been hard for me to do either the [all in-person] Tuesday/Thursday format or the Saturday format.
My experience has been great. You wouldn't have known that it was the first year of that format if we hadn't been told. I think that the design of the course is really critical to that — keeping people engaged and giving students that kind of flow you get from being in class every week and not losing people along the way.
Ingersoll: All right, Jess, same question to you.
Kimball: I've had limited experience here at Anderson with hybrid or online instruction. A couple components of our classes have an online tutorial or video. But I am a huge proponent of online. I don't get things right the first time, necessarily, but I work over and over and over to make sure I can. To be able to see the material and hit rewind is really effective for me.
Ingersoll: That's great, and you really touched on an important point for the second question here. When it comes to a specific topic, are there advantages and disadvantages that you see when it comes to learning online?
"I think that the design of the course is really critical to that; keeping people engaged."
Kalyna: I have to comment on the whole rewind thing. If you're a diligent note-taker, you can always pause, catch up and then continue writing. On the flipside of it, what I like about in-person is that if you are struggling with a concept, you can always get feedback immediately from the professor.
Schoelkopf: I would say that the effectiveness of online education does vary with the type of material. At Anderson, there is some course material that's very technical and you need to repeat it to get the process down. On the other end, there is the social education. We have classes about communication, for instance, and those would be very difficult to do online because so much of it is practicing that interaction with people.
Ingersoll: I think this is a very common impression: that there are some concepts that are more easily translated to an online environment, and some that are more of a challenge. Jack, do have any thoughts on this?
Warren: I agree with the overall point about technical versus soft skills. Having said that, I think it certainly is possible to teach and learn a more "soft" class online. For instance, organizational behavior was taught in a hybrid format and it went very well. We had an online discussion forum that was mandatory, and that discussion was of the highest quality. The other sections that met every week had a kind of optional forum, which was basically a ghost town with maybe one or two people carrying on a heated discussion and no one else even reading it.
Ingersoll: Is it possible that every course could be effectively delivered online? Is it just that we need to unlock the correct formula?
Kalyna: I believe the University of North Carolina has done that. I think what they do is limit the size of the class, where it's about 10 people. And you do live classes, live sessions. You talk to the professor and interact online, and that's how they deliver the class. So I think there are ways to do it.
Schoelkopf: But I think about the value that I gained from the classes. A lot of that comes from the passing interactions you have with the people who are with you, the conversations you have at break, going in and out of the class, hearing how people ask questions. It would be hard to capture 100 percent of the value of a program, or with any class I have taken at Anderson, if it were 100 percent online.
Kalyna: I think that's why the hybrid is the sweet spot. What you learn in the [online] lectures is the dyadic learning there is only one right way of doing it. Whereas in the class, you can use the Socratic method of learning and have the professor bring out the discussion.
Warren: Yeah, I would agree with that. I also think one of the benefits we've got from Flex is that it brings diversity. For example, out of the 35 in our section, four were current, actively serving military officers. We had five medical doctors of different types and quite a number of people with children, very young children, with childcare responsibilities. And, of course, the geographical split as well — not just people from the West Coast, but people from Chicago and North Carolina who are able to stay in the program despite a relocation with their jobs. So the downside of not seeing everyone every week is definitely offset by the fact that we've got a much more diverse group.
Ingersoll: This may be a pretty broad question, but I'd love to hear from each of you what you think is ideal for an online curriculum. What are some of the ways you would like to see online learning incorporated, and what are some of the things that are most sacred and need to remain on the physical campus?
Schoelkopf: I think that there's a lot of benefit to the complementary material that people have already alluded to. Being able to go back to the stuff you hear in lecture that may be hard to grasp on that first pass is really beneficial.
"Use online for the practical portions as a precursor to the courses themselves, and free up more time for in-class discussion and social interactions."
Kimball: I think you can see a lot of benefit by having access to the material earlier. Especially at UCLA Anderson, our incoming first-year class is starting October 2, whereas when we look at the other top 20 MBA programs throughout the U.S., they start in August. So our incoming first-years, once they step foot on campus, would be one month to two months behind the rest of our MBA class. I think we could definitely do more pre-orientation online learning — like we see with the Parker Career Series — to tackle some of the early material in the Core, the very foundational material.
Kalyna: I think case studies need to be part of the on-campus experience. We all come to get an MBA, to learn the soft skills, and also to be more open-minded to diversity and ideas. Being in a classroom is the best forum for that.
Schoelkopf: I want to support exactly what you just said with an anecdote. We have learning teams that you go through with for your entire first year in several of your core classes. We spend a lot of time with them. And the school tries, very intensely, to design them so they have people from different backgrounds. I remember an experience in ninth week, where everyone is sort of at their wits' end, coming up on finals, pretty run down, and being at the library with my learning team. And we were just screaming at each other, screaming over a project, and having pretty passionate viewpoints about it. How you deal with that, and how you bring people back to the table and how you try and bridge the gaps between one another —that experience is really hard to get if you're working on a case via Skype or emails or message boards.
If I had to make a case for why a full-time, in-person program would be superior for a job, I think that I would really base it on the type of social education you get from being on campus and interacting with your peers — those who are easy to work with and those who are not — on a daily basis. The repetition of that type of interaction hones a skill set — that social intelligence, that EQ that you hear employers talk more about valuing — to a degree that is just hard to replicate when you don't have that repetition of experience.
Warren: The counter-argument to that is, I think what we learn and the skills we develop as hybrid students actually reflect the way the modern world works in business. Most large companies are multinational and have multiple offices within the country or the state. You are working with people who are not geographically co-located with you. So a lot of my work is done via video conferencing, via email. Developing the ability to maintain relationships, while not sitting opposite someone, and being able to work with and collaborate with someone who may be in a different state or a different time zone, are very valuable skills that we certainly get to learn and polish in the hybrid format of the course.
Ingersoll: So, if it's alright for me to pivot here, there's been a lot of discussion about the future of higher education and how it may be impacted by online instruction. If you were in the position to be calling the shots in a major U.S. business school, what would be your recommendations for how to respond and incorporate this wave of growth?
Schoelkopf: I think that you have to do both well. Something we have heard a lot of tonight is that one of the perks of these online programs is that they expand access. If you don't do that, and if you don't keep up with your competitors and the other schools in the ecosystem that are doing that, then you miss out on a lot of really great, high-caliber students, like Jack and the rest of his cohorts. And you have to simultaneously grow and protect the on-campus MBA program, because there is going to continue to be a high demand for that going forward.
Warren: I think we can't predict with any certainty how far technology will go. It's hard, for the moment, to imagine any technology being able to completely take the place of in-person interactions. Let's not forget that a lot of the networking and the value we get out of our relationships in the program comes from the social aspects — the post-class happy hour or going to dinner with people. None of that stuff would be happening if it was purely online; that part you can't replicate.