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The Case for Blending: Four Reasons Why Business Schools Should Consider Going Hybrid

Co-written with George Ingersoll | Director of Hybrid Learning Initiatives at the Anderson School of Business, UC Los Angeles

The EvoLLLution | The Case for Blending: Four Reasons Why Business Schools Should Consider Going Hybrid
Offering hybrid pathways to business education degree completion presents significant benefits not just for adult students but for the institution as well.

Today, with over one third of U.S. college students enrolled in online courses, it is hardly surprising that a number of highly ranked business schools have begun to incorporate the tools of online instruction into their MBA curricula.[1] Over the past few years, several top-tier business schools have launched MBA programs that are primarily online. This group includes the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the University of Southern California Marshall School of Management—which will launch their first online MBA program in the fall of 2015. Other institutions, such as Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business and my own employer, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Anderson School of Management, have opted instead to develop hybrid MBA curricula that blend both online and classroom instruction. While hybrid programs can take a variety of forms, this article will focus on some of the reasons that business schools may benefit from blending instruction at the course level. This hybrid format, in which classes combine online learning with regular, in-person meetings, offers notable opportunities and advantages that traditional or more radical online approaches may not. Here are four reasons why business schools should consider developing courses that utilize hybrid instruction:

Reason #1: It’s easier than you think

When it comes to delivering lessons online, the content of the instruction is considerably more important than the production value of the media. In order to be effective and engaging, an instructional video does not need to rely on expensive animations or b-roll footage. With a well-prepared instructor and the help of a knowledgeable instructional designer, it is surprisingly easy to create high-quality online learning objects that can effectively complement an interactive classroom experience. The majority of business programs will already have access to most of the tools that they will need to get started with developing online content. The only important resources that a school may not immediately have at its disposal are:

  • A champion from the academic administration to rally and lead the faculty
  • Media development capabilities—such as a studio, an editor and a streaming server
  • The above-mentioned instructional designer

Also remember that, if you start modestly in terms of the scope and complexity of your hybrid methods, there will always be opportunities to grow later on. Even if your vision is to launch a highly innovative and visionary program that relies heavily on cutting-edge educational technology, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t begin with the more vetted and easily-accessible tools and formats as a way to get your sea legs, so to speak.

Reason #2: Opportunities to explore new educational opportunities at low risk

Several major meta-analyses have shown similar or superior student outcomes for hybrid instruction when compared to traditional or fully online courses—both in terms of students’ performance on assessments and in surveys of their satisfaction with the learning experience.[2] Furthermore, hybrid instruction avoids many of the major drawbacks of fully online classes, such as problems with student disconnect and higher rates of attrition. In terms of outside perception, I would also argue that hybrid programs are generally regarded as considerably less of a departure from the norm than those that do away with classroom meetings entirely. Finally, by encouraging some of your faculty to develop online courses, you may find that they readily share best practices and favorite tools amongst themselves. Even if not all of your instructors will ever teach in a hybrid format, you are likely to find that most, if not all, will start to adopt online tools and media for their classroom courses in order to increase accessibility and to improve the student learning experience.

Reason #3: Added flexibility

Along these lines, another major advantage of building hybrid courses is that the online content your faculty develop for those courses is likely to be reusable in a variety of contexts. With an existing online library of instructional media and tools, plus the capacity to build more, it becomes possible to quickly respond to a variety of student learning needs using multiple formats and schedules. This capacity also make it possible for the school to more easily pursue different strategic opportunities and to respond to competitive forces in the MBA marketplace.

Reason #4: Increase the applicant pool and support additional students

Because hybrid programs typically require less time in the classroom, it is possible to reduce the number of visits that students must make to campus. By doing so, it may be possible for hybrid programs to expand their geographic reach and to target students who might not otherwise be able to complete an MBA due to work or personal constraints. Hybrid courses also scale more easily, by reducing demands on classroom space and faculty teaching time over repeated iterations of the course. Thus, adding one or more hybrid sections to an existing MBA program may make it possible for the school to expand the applicant pool and to bring in more students without incurring equivalent constraints on the school’s capacity to support the additional section(s).

At UCLA Anderson, we have been offering a hybrid scheduling option as part of our Fully Employed MBA (FEMBA) for the past three years. Our hybrid “Flex” sections come to campus every third weekend and receive the other half of their instruction online. FEMBA Flex is currently at 160 students and growing, accounting for approximately 20 percent of the overall FEMBA population. Aside from notable differences in geographic distribution and employment, the academic profiles and program outcomes for our Flex students are identical to other FEMBAs. Significantly, in a recent poll of our Flex students, four out of five indicated that they would not have attended UCLA Anderson for an MBA without the Flex option.

As a final note, I would encourage those of you who are considering the use of blended instruction in your MBA programs to avoid thinking of online education as a replacement for traditional methods of instruction. Online versus classroom instruction is not an either/or proposition. Rather, the media and activities associated with online learning are nothing more than useful tools of instruction, which, in this context, may allow students (whether currently enrolled in an MBA program or considering one) greater access to business education. To that end, I see no reason why we shouldn’t make use of every tool at our disposal.

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[1] Allen & Seaman (2014). Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States. Sloan Consortium.

[2a] Sitzmann, Kraiger, Stewart, & Wisher (2006). The comparative effectiveness of web‐based and classroom instruction: A meta‐analysis. Personnel Psychology, 59(3);

[2b] Bernard et al (2004). How Does Distance Education Compare with Classroom Instruction? A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature. Review of Educational Research, 74(3);

[2c] Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, K. (2010). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U.S. Department of Education.

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