Graduate Management News
Effective Practices

Effective Practices: Warwick Business School’s MBA via Distance Learning

As a way of sharing what works in graduate management education, Graduate Management News occasionally looks in depth at specific programs in business schools.

With nearly 25 years of experience, the United Kingdom’s Warwick Business School has learned a lot about engaging students in a MBA program delivered via distance learning.

“One of the criticisms of online learning MBA programs is that students are too isolated and lack opportunities for networking and collaborative learning. That may have been the case a decade or two ago, but the advent of new e-learning study tools, online classrooms, intranets, and related tools means that students can work effectively with peers even if they aren’t physically with them on campus,” said Rachel Killian, marketing and recruitment manager for the Warwick MBA.

Warwick’s online MBA is designed for students “whose personal or professional circumstances mean that they simply can’t commit to a large number of weeks or weekends on a business school campus, but who still want access to high quality teaching materials, the latest research, and an impressive group of international peers,” Killian said.

Online students at Warwick take the same curriculum as their on-campus peers in the school’s full-time MBA and Executive MBA programs. They complete their degrees in anywhere from three to five years. At any one time, online students at Warwick hail from more than 100 countries.

Warwick’s experience has taught that active student engagement is a critical component of success in distance learning—and that the rewards of engagement can be significant. “Students want to learn from other students, want interaction with tutors, and want to gain a critical perspective from teaching faculty,” Killian said.  Through virtual study groups with people from different countries, industries, work roles, experiences, and academic backgrounds, she said, Warwick’s online students “get a much broader view on every issue. Instead of learning about cultural differences, they experience them. And instead of their MBA learning experience being a solitary process, it reflects a truly cross-disciplinary, multicultural, and global environment.”

The Power of “my.wbs”

How does Warwick nurture student engagement across such a far-flung population? An online hub, my.wbs, supports students both academically and administratively. Through the hub, students from anywhere in the world can watch live lectures and other campus events, view taped interviews, participate in peer discussion areas, communicate directly with faculty members, and conduct online collaborative work. They can also submit and receive assignments, check administrative details, view their progress, access library materials, register for events and modules, and even network with Warwick alumni. Both students and faculty get training on how to use the network effectively.

“My.wbs allows instant contact with teachers and other participants, and access to a myriad of library and online resources,” says Gemma McGoldrick, a Warwick student based in Japan.

The online hub not only connects the world to Warwick, but also links the fulltime MBA students on Warwick’s home campus to the global knowledge and experience of nearly 2,500 MBA students around the world.

“We really believe that my.wbs is the ‘virtual Warwick Business School,’ ” said Ray Irving, the school’s manager of learning resources development.  In use for nearly 10 years, the site was developed in-house by a team of software developers.

“The key differentiator between my.wbs and other systems is in the way we use it,” Iriving said. “WBS has delivered a distance learning MBA to students in over 100 countries for nearly quarter of a century. We therefore have a vast amount of experience of virtual program delivery. My.wbs has been built on the back of this, rather than the other way around, where we would have had to change the way we do things to meet the needs of an off-the-shelf learning management system.”

“We don’t presume that we can provide study materials and then leave people to it,” Killian said. “We also provide online tutor support, introduce students to colleagues  studying in the same city, ensure that students visit the campus at least once a year, and encourage shared learning through virtual study groups.”  

Warwick’s online program “allowed me to study at times that suited me and my work,” said Sweden-based student Thomas Johansson, who was able to continue learning even while he was changing jobs and location.

“The program’s flexibility has enabled me to try different study modes,” adds Elena Ponomareva, who is based in Russia. Through the program and its group work, “I’ve met a lot of interesting people with different experiences.”

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