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Reinventing MBA Degrees Online

How can U.S. universities create MBA students who are better equipped for global business?

June 22, 2005

How can U.S. universities create MBA students who are better equipped for global business?

On-campus education is good, but there are many different ways to improve the quality and the yield of learning. Distance learning can reduce costs.

A program can be structured to provide a much higher quality of education. The benefits are manifest at every level.

Not everyone can go to the United States, pay $200,000 in fees and give up maybe two years of “company life.” If they can, they are either very wealthy or very privileged.

In addition, the case study method remains popular in U.S. business schools. But if you look at the cases, half are no longer relevant — and the other half features companies that are now either bankrupt or absorbed into another corporation.

I am very excited about the potential of distance learning. It provides a new way of acquiring perspectives and information throughout life.

The advent of broadband technology means that much instruction can be provided to remote locations — indeed, to any location with suitable hardware and software

Because both are now widely available and affordable, there is no reason why providers of education should be imprisoned in university lecture halls, seminar rooms and laboratories that are inaccessible to those who are hungry for knowledge.

I am involved with an MBA course taught by Bond University in Australia — in which the students do not attend classes and seminars at the university, but study from their homes.

Our MBA candidates are hungry for both knowledge and success. They are paying their own tuition fees and sacrificing part of their life and experience with colleagues and family. I believe that they are much better students.

Obviously, it always takes two to tango. There must be a group of motivated, hungry students — as well as an equally motivated, flexible and broad-minded faculty.

I use a remote education system that I developed called Air Campus. Existing platforms were unsuitable because they were server-based — and that meant that I could not use them on the plane or the train.

Air Campus is a client-based system in which all the relevant information and contact protocols are stored on my PC. Once recommended, it will synchronize with the server.

My course is a one-year course in strategic management that contains two units out of the 12 required to receive an MBA.

I meet with my students electronically every day. Every month, I give them a video to watch, containing both text and video footage. It may also contain excerpts from entrepreneurs talking about a topic, or my own remarks with presentations.

This video streaming is distributed through the Internet to students wherever they may be in the world. I have created 4,000 hours of television-quality teaching content, some of it in English.

For communicating with my students, I use Air Campus, supplemented by a live 1:1 discussion tool called Interwise, which was originally developed in Israel.

I can stay in touch with my students, discuss points with them, answer their questions — and send them PowerPoint presentations.

Using the method I have devised, it is possible to initiate a real in-depth class discussion. The course finishes with an exam, but one with a difference. There is no standard exam paper — but rather 150 individual papers.

Each candidate receives a personalized paper. This allows me to challenge candidates who might have “played safe” during the course and to challenge their assumptions. Because each student receives individual questions, there is no cheating. It would be pointless.

At any one time, I might have 130 to 150 students taking my strategic management course for a credit toward their MBA. The course participants are mostly Japanese, because Japanese is the language of 50% of the course content. The remainder is in English. Some students come from as far away as Brazil.

In 2003, 50 students graduated with MBAs. This type of education is far superior to anything that exists in Japan — and even in some of the world's top business schools.

Benefits include that participants can continue to work in their companies and pursue their lifestyles. Admittedly, it does entail sacrifice in terms of time and money. The physical graduation ceremony in Australia is accompanied by a cyber-graduation for those unable to attend the former.

About 40 MBA candidates sit in front of their TVs (via satellite) or computers, viewing the ceremony. When their name is called, a pre-recorded picture with graduation hat and cape is shown while the graduate might be in his or her own home celebrating.

Business schools should also stop talking about the business models of the past. These belong in the realms of business history and can teach very little about the future.

Many students believe that the problems of global business can be solved by cognitive templates and "ready-made" solutions and frameworks. They may be taught to see business in terms of an often-played game, with a bulging rulebook.

In such a game, success comes from adopting the right game plan, maybe playing the game according to the well-worn and well-learned rules of the past, though playing smarter than the other guy. Yet, this is a recipe for failure.

In the global economy, nobody is sure what the rules are. They have yet to be reduced to normative prescriptions.

Case studies take a snapshot of a fast-moving car going through a chicane.

You may be able to learn something from it, but such a snapshot is seldom useful to a CEO who needs to learn from a Michael Schumacher where to apply the brakes, how much to step on the gas, how soon to steer — and where your eyes should be focused.

Instead of logic, statistics, market surveys, the opinions of industry experts, business school templates and case studies, one really needs to develop a sensory system for the 800 million cyberites — as well as the 700 million triadians — who have become the key drivers of the global economy and key players on the global stage.

The customer must be reborn as the most important agent in the business world. Whatever business structure is followed must inform customers that they are in control.

As far as possible, their involvement must be sought and catered to. It is a paradox that, in a world that is stretching towards farther and less clear horizons, one of the secrets to business success may involve greater attention to the personal and the intimate in customer relationships.

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