The growth of the Internet has paved the way for the evolution of many interesting developments in multiple industries.
The education sector is one that embraced such changes.
With the swift development of online classes and programmes at all levels, students are now able to choose from a plethora of digital options that supplements classroom learning. In some cases, these online offerings completely replace the need for a physical environment.
Business schools around the world, too, are adapting to this change in delivery, with more and more beginning to offer online MBA or Executive MBA (EMBA) programmes.
However, many busy professionals are still choosing to pursue these programmes in the conventional way: a classroom setting.
Why do these high-flyers deem the classroom experience such an important factor in executive education that they are willing to sacrifice time outside of work for it?
No alternative for the real thing
For students who thrive on face-to-face communication, there is simply no replacement for a multi-sensory and ‘live’ classroom setting. It is easier for them to go the extra mile in their learning when they can actually see peers who are just as inspired as they are to learn new things and share their thoughts.
Dr Farok Contractor, distinguished professor in the Management and Global Business department and a lecturer in the Rutgers Business School Executive MBA program, concurs.
He said that the demographic of those pursuing a Rutgers EMBA comprise middle- to senior-level executives who have broader, interdisciplinary, multifunctional responsibilities.
“In short, persons who will be, or already are, key players in their companies,” he added.
For these people, Dr Contractor said, there is no substitute for face-to-face environments where complex, integrative, broad-based leadership ideas are discussed.
He said: “Very simply, the role of managers at senior executive levels involves top level strategy and leadership, which has to integrate concepts and personnel across the various departments and divisions of a firm. Such integrative skills cannot be taught online.”
That face-to-face element certainly comes to play in a classroom setting. With direct access to the instructor, interaction comes immediately. Students are able to help shape the lesson by asking questions, clarify doubts, and initiate or participate in discussions. This allows the instructor to gauge how involved and attentive their students are, or if they are able to keep up with the lessons, and tweak their delivery accordingly.
For Ms Michelle Lim, 42, this access to illustrious faculty was one reason she chose to pursue the EMBA programme at Rutgers Business School Asia Pacific (RBSAP).
Ms Lim, who is the director of programming and creative services at AMC Networks International, Asia Pacific, said: “The lecturers are highly qualified and well versed in their fields and familiar with both US and Asian business environments.”
“Our classes are never a ‘lecturers teach, you absorb’ format. The professors take the material, and arm you with the tools to apply in real world situations through discussions, class activities and project work,” she added.
The sentiment is echoed by fellow student Sean Norris, 37, who looks forward to every class.
Mr Norris, managing director for Asia Pacific at Accuity, said: “I have looked forward to catching up with my classmates and working through the challenges of the course. Each professor has a different personality; the diversity of teaching styles and characters keeps you engaged through the course.”
A classroom is also a ‘safe’ environment for those that are less confident in verbal interactions. If this is an area where students wish to improve, pursuing a programme that has a higher interactive aspect can allow a safe space for encouraging interaction and being able to answer things on the spot – often a requirement in management.
An assortment of voices
Traditional classroom settings also allow discussion and dialogue to thrive, with plenty of impromptu questioning or interesting tangents that can help students to understand various concepts.
The sharing of multiple perspectives will help to broaden a student’s view and expose them to new thoughts or ideas, or to have a richer and deeper understanding of different issues.
For Ms Lim, the opportunity to work closely with and learn from her peers of diverse professional backgrounds at RBSAP is a huge plus point.
She said: “Learning from your peers is priceless in an EMBA programme. Collaborative, leadership and teamwork skills are developed as you learn to work with different personalities and cultures.”
Ms Lim added that, while class discussions can be intense “with very different views”, it is that diversity of perspective that led her to choose Rutgers over other business schools.
“Classes are not a one-way street. There are active and often passionate discussions that the professors encourage between students,” she said.
Mr Norris added: “We have an international group of people... all well-travelled and worldly. All of us do very different roles; the diverse cultures and knowledge complements the course.”
That exchange of thoughts and opinions also allows students to better understand who they are working with, which helps to foster teamwork and cooperation. This comes in handy when they are placed in teams to study or work together, or to mentor one another.
Working closely with peers who come from different professional levels, organisations and industries will not just lead to students forming strong and lasting friendships, but will see them build up a valuable network of work contacts.
Resources anytime, anywhere
But schools today cannot turn away from providing online learning support for their students.
Making lesson notes and materials available to a student online allows for plenty of flexibility in their learning. Students will be able to choose when and how to do any additional studying in order to keep pace with the class. They can spend as much or as little time as they need on the different topics according to what they feel they should focus on.
Blending classroom teaching with an online element also helps to make learning a portable affair for students. As busy professionals, these students may have to miss a class or two, due to their work commitments.
By allowing them access to some of the materials online, the students can still keep up with the lessons from anywhere and are able to remain on the same page as their peers.
While most classes are still live at RBSAP, EMBA students have that option. In addition to 38 classroom hours per module with the faculty, they also have access to supplementary notes and readings online to ensure that they get a thorough treatment of each subject.
But no matter how thorough an online learning suite may be, for some, there is just no replacement for the real thing.
For Mr Norris, an online experience cannot be compared to an in-class environment. Because an EMBA is a significant investment of both time and money, “having friends and teachers who are cheering you on when times get hard helps tremendously”.
“Rutgers has been an experience that I will treasure. It has already helped me grow into a larger role; I have built up new perspectives and made some lifelong friends,” he said.