Personalization Key to the Online Business Student ExperienceMike Burton | Campus Dean and Assistant Professor of the Forbes School of Business, Ashford University
With increasing numbers of students looking to climb the corporate ladder and earn leadership positions, demand for high-quality, graduate-level business education has skyrocketed. That said, with so much of the demand coming from working professionals, business schools are having to adapt their programming to meet the needs of the non-traditional student segment, and many schools are taking their degree programs online. In this interview, Mike Burton shares his thoughts on the misconceptions students typically have about online business education and discusses the importance of meeting student expectations.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are a few of the most common misconceptions prospective non-traditional students have about online business education?
Mike Burton (MB): I believe that many students assume that once a business degree is attained, it will automatically result in career success. Earning a degree from the Forbes School of Business is a great accomplishment and it certainly puts our graduates in a very good position to succeed, regardless of their goals. However, students need to understand how to actively apply the knowledge they have received from Ashford. This involves taking the concepts gained through their education and combining it with their job and life experiences. If this can be achieved, our graduates will be more likely to maximize their potential.
Evo: How do you and your team work to debunk those misconceptions?
MB: The most effective way to address this issue is to facilitate the active use of the concepts that are covered in our courses. At Ashford University, this has been exhibited through the development of learning outcomes and assignments that require students to engage in critical thinking and problem solving. In regards to our business courses, the association with Forbes provides a vast array of real-life articles/case studies that demonstrate the application of concepts that are covered in our classes. In addition, Ashford instructors can provide further guidance based on their own knowledge, experience and subject matter expertise. Therefore, we are not necessarily debunking a misconception, but educating students on how to think for success.
Evo: What expectations do online students have about the level of service and engagement to expect from their institutions?
MB: In my nine and half years of teaching online courses at Ashford University, it has been my personal experience that the majority of online students want to know their instructor is engaged in their life and their education. This engagement can involve interaction in discussions, feedback on assignments or timely responses to questions. Basically, I believe students want to know their teachers care about them as an individual person and are interested in their education. If teachers can do this, it will increase a student’s chances for academic success.
Evo: How do students react when those expectations are not met?
MB: Drawing on my own experience and observations as an Ashford University instructor, I would state that these students are more likely to perform poorly in class. In addition, they are more apt to engage in negative comments and communicate these opinions to classmates and to outside parties. The educational process is, for the most part, a service that is evaluated subjectively based on the experience of each student. If expectations are not met, then students may act accordingly. Ashford has developed a number of services to assist students when issues may occur and to improve opportunities for academic and career success.
Evo: What kinds of strategies and tactics do you have in place to ensure you are meeting the expectations of online business students?
MB: From an organizational standpoint, I follow the guidelines and standards that Ashford University has established to enhance the educational experience for our students. The improvements that I have witnessed over the past nine years are truly amazing. In my opinion, our university truly has developed effective online strategies for educating students.
In regards to my own tactics, I utilize methods which address the student expectations I previously discussed: respond to all of the discussion posts of each student each week; provide individualized feedback on writing assignments; and respond in a timely fashion to their questions and concerns. I mainly want to convey, however, that I care about the students as people first and as learners second. I know it may sound cliché, but I believe our students really want that personalized connection to their instructor and to our university.
This interview has been edited for length.