The 2u founder Jeremy Johnson may be on to something. Recently voted as one of the 30 most innovative, entrepreneurial and disruptive forces under the age of 30, he has quietly started an online revolution for higher education. Partnering up with renowned universities such as American University, Duke, and the University of Southern California, you can now enroll in a Master of Arts in International Relations and also complete undergraduate courses for credit. If you are looking for an MBA, 2u also teamed up with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Is going 100% online the new way forward for universities? If we follow the money (2u received $98 million in venture capital funding), he is setting a trend and will likely be partnering up with other universities soon as well. If we are to believe the article “How to Manage Disruption” in Harvard Business Review (Dec 2012 issue) however, online universities inherently cannot attract two types of students: those who want to enhance their CVs with exclusive university “brands”, and those who want the community and feeling of belonging to a student body.
What an MBA means to me
In June 2012 I graduated with an MBA from the International University of Monaco. I enrolled the year before in the accelerated MBA programme because I wanted to learn everything there was to know about business and because I wanted the coveted ‘MBA’ title.
Yes, I could have learned all that on my own by reading all the books that the students of the MBA programme were reading, but I would have been missing a (for me) crucial part of learning; the team work, the delivery of the message (interacting with the professors) and the feeling of pressure to perform (make it or lose your spot in the MBA programme, as well as “face”).
Enrolling in the MBA programme is not only a commitment of time and energy (it typically means plenty of sleep-deprived nights), but also a commitment of money. This is certainly one reason why some students go to universities who offer an online MBA.
Benefits of online education
An online MBA programme offers students the same knowledge as when you are doing an on-campus MBA. A vast amount of students can technically enroll in the online MBA (and pay the lower fee), which renders the university more profitable, and so the admission process is not nearly as stringent (they need not be; there is no restraint on campus facilities for example).
Through an online MBA, education is democratized, as a teacher can hypothetically reach many more (hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands) students in one lecture than is possible in a traditional campus setting. The MBA is no longer reserved for the ones with deep pockets, but is available to everyone with a computer with internet access.
Another benefit of an online MBA is that it is more convenient; no need to attend a lecture at a certain time (with regards to asynchronical MBA programmes) and place. Just watch the lecture at your own pace, hand in your work via email, do the exams real-time online.
Drawbacks of online MBA programmes
Having completed an accelerated on-campus MBA and having paid roughly 30,000 euro for it, I would naturally argue in favour of a traditional “offline” MBA. The main reason being that you can never emulate working in a team (full of sleep- and fun-deprived people) by working online together. The (anti-)social part of the MBA is part of the learning process. You learn to deal with deadlines, manage projects and teams with different agendas, negotiate, and to get the work done even when there is a personal mis-match in a team.
The future of education
There is no doubt that internet has profoundly changed our lives – perhaps it is inevitable that education is going to go fully online as well. When even more renowned universities offer complete programmes and courses for credit and degrees, who is to say what will happen. Just like the high streets are emptying of the shops because of the emergence and convenience of online shopping, perhaps the university buildings will soon be shrinking rather than expanding. Maybe Harvard Business School will one day be a designated research centre rather than a university brimming with life of students rushing from one class to the next.
What is certain is that when we are democratising education and spreading knowledge to all corners of the globe, this surely can only be a good thing.