During our block of presentations, we discussed our experience of the transition to online teaching forced by the pandemic restrictions at classical MBA programmes. New questions and challenges arise now as the world is moving slowly back to normal life as well as universities. The “forced’ online experience for the offline students firstly was met with resistance; however, after some time, our students started to see not only the dark side but also many benefits of online education, which they want to keep in the future. During our discussion, together with our experts, we tried to find answers to the following questions: To what extent the format of classical offline MBA programmes would change? Should we keep some elements in an online format? How will quality continue to be assured? Would the difference between online and offline formats of MBA programmes vanish?
Effects and changes in MBA programmes
Today I would like to discuss the effects and changes that have occurred with MBA programmes in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. I will share our experience conducting MBA programmes at the Faculty of Economics of Moscow State University, Russia. We hope that our experience and research may be of interest to business schools and universities.
Our school started to offer an MBA programme in 2008 and online MBA programmes three years later in 2011. During this time, more than 1200 students from various branches of the economy and spheres of economic activity have graduated from our MBA programmes. Our students get international experience during their studies by participating in international modules run together with our European and American partners. Our students can choose between three MBA programmes: “Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship”, “Strategic Marketing”, “Financial Management”. These three options are also available for our online students. This online MBA programme was among the first ones in Russia. We’ve started it as a blended learning programme implemented using distance learning technologies and our online educational platform.
Online programme challenges
The 2020-21 pandemic period has become a great challenge for us, as well as for all educational programmes, and has forced us to rethink our entire experience of the MBA programmes. The pandemic period forced everyone to go online at once: students, teachers, staff. For more than a year, f2f communication became impossible. At the same time, people lived in a situation when almost all spheres of life went online. Therefore, we realized several problems with distance learning. The most common was the fatigue from the huge number of online communications, the complexity of a large volume of remote studies and lack of direct communication between students and teachers.
It was a difficult period for our offline MBA programmes and offline modules at distant programmes, but we were learning to live in this reality. Now we are analysing the experience that we received in 2020 and thinking about the new reality that we have today.
Is it possible to go back to the “good old days” – full offline learning?
No one thinks that way anymore. We need to find a new balance of online and offline learning. The focus of our attention is the question: what should we change now? To understand the new trends, in January 2021, we conducted a survey among students and professors of MBA programmes at Lomonosov Moscow State University to find out our students’ attitudes to the new digital reality. We asked those MBA students who had experienced both offline and online learning. 202 students shared their view on the effectiveness of online learning compared to offline.
- 65% of students recognized the high effectiveness of online learning and even its interchangeability with face-to-face learning.
- 35% of students still prefer f2f learning. The absolute majority of students recognized that it is convenient to study materials at their own pace via our online platform.
- And only 8% found it burdensome.
Students listed the following main difficulties of online education, which they had to face:
- difficulties with the perception of the material in the remote format (31%)
- difficulties in communication with other classmates (27%)
- difficulties with self-organization and self-discipline (26%)
- difficulties in communication with teachers (16%)
We believe that the difficulties students faced helped them develop some very important skills, including time management and self-discipline.
The main advantages that both students and teachers see for themselves in distance learning were related to higher flexibility and better management of their time. 62 % of MBA students stated that the online format helped them organise the learning process more flexibly. 60% of professors said that the opportunity to work from home was convenient and saved time for research activity.
One of the most important results of our survey was that 90% of our students rated their personal distance learning experience as excellent or positive, although they have faced some difficulties. And only 10% of respondents admitted that remote learning is not suitable for them.
Finally, we asked our students about the optimal ratio of full-time and online training. Where is the balance in their opinion? Only 5% of our students prefer exclusively offline learning. The rest of the respondents preferred another proportion of offline and online forms of work: about 55 % of students consider the optimal combination of 70% of online plus 30% of offline learning, 20% of students prefer another format of 70% of offline and 30% of remote learning.
Two weeks ago, we asked the same question to our new cohort of students. The majority of students prefer a combination of offline and online formats.
Our colleagues during the EOCCS Symposium also have shared their views. None of our colleagues believe that the pure offline or online formats should stay. We have to use a combination of these two formats and enrich our educational process with benefits and opportunities, which these two formats my provide.
However, the decision about the proportion of these formats depends on each business school vision. What do you think about the future of offline MBA programmes? What are your Business School perspectives? Please, share your ideas.