Creating an Online MBA at a Top Business School: The Latest from Michigan Ross

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One of the most ambitious efforts in online education is currently underway at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Since August, the #7 business school in the country has been working to put together an Online MBA degree offering for the fall semester of this year. Earlier this month, they announced they had signed with Noodle Partners, an OPM, to help the process along.

To learn more, eLearning Inside got in touch with Eliot Gattegno, managing director of the Office of Digital Education at Michigan Ross. Before heading to Ann Arbor, he taught at NYU Shanghai and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“I’ve been a professor for the past decade and I’ve had the opportunity to teach in a variety of disciplines across arts, humanities, business, and social sciences,” Gattegno said over the phone. “I think education done well takes a lot of work and there’s no difference between the [online vs. in-person] modalities.”

While Gattegno won’t be teaching any courses at Michigan Ross, he and his department are responsible for overseeing the creation of the Online MBA.

Optimizing for the Online Modality

With online courses, “it’s always about how you can create the optimal environment with which your student is able to learn,” Gattegno said. “This is done in a variety of ways in a variety of different learning environments. We’re taking the utmost care with the creation of the online MBA for Ross to create what we believe will be an optimal learning environment for students in the online modality.

“One thing that’s different about the Ross approach is we are really looking at this as a cohesive degree and a cohesive learning experience across the degree. That would be a differentiator from perhaps programs that are really just looking at this course-by-course, have launched a bunch of MOOCs, they’re putting them together, and then calling them a degree.”

“That is the complete opposite of what we’re doing at Ross. We’re designing our curriculum—both core and electives—in an optimal way for the online modality. And we’re also creating full residencies where people will come to Ross for an experience on campus that are supported by online materials before and after to best prepare them for the residential experience and also prepare them to best reflect on their residential experiences.”

Specifically, learners will travel to the Michigan Ross campus three times throughout their course of study to complete intensive in-person residencies.

Replicating the Michigan Ross MBA Online

The faculty and team currently developing Michigan Ross’s Online MBA hope to preserve all the rigor and quality of their in-person degree. In terms of pedagogy, the team is striving to highlight a series of tested and proven approaches. These include active learning, spaced learning (repeating previously covered information at specific times to bolster retention), and dual coding.

“We’re also actively pursuing the creation of a social learning environment for students as well,” Gattegno said. “With all these things in consideration, we’re taking advantage of the best available technologies and the best available practices and learning for the students in this program.”

While some educators still believe that online learning inherently falls short of in-person, Gattegno thinks some aspects of the digital modality will exceed the analog. “If you want to compare and contrast a residential experience with an online experience, in many residential experiences, a portion of your courses will be lecture-based. Research shows that lectures are not an optimal way to learn or even remember material. We’re taking the total opposite approach for the online program. Knowledge acquisition normally comes from lectures or even chunked up 15-20 minute videos, that’s still essentially the same thing. We won’t be doing that. We’ll be taking a completely active-learning-based approach.”

As studies often find that it’s difficult to replicate the social aspect of learning in an online environment, Michigan Ross has a unique take on social learning for their Online MBA.

“The students will have a lot of flexibility and choice in this program,” Gattegno said. “While social learning sounds good in principle, it’s often a point of contempt for many students. This is because it’s very challenging for many students to arrange their times to meet with each other, their schedules don’t align, and so on and so forth.

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