|Functie:||Director, Academic Operations|
Online higher education is emerging as not just an acceptable option, but in many cases the preferred option for achieving a Masters.
Independent research conducted for Laureate Education by Harris Interactive in April 2005, showed that online higher education is emerging as not just an acceptable option, but in many cases the preferred option for achieving a Masters. Online Masters offer a good alternative to more traditional programmes;with benefits like time flexibility, international focus, and relevant and applicable knowledge, they are increasing in popularity with both degree-seekers and their employers.
Ambitious professionals are looking to build their careers and boost their value to their company by acquiring the management and leadership skills conveyed by an advanced business degree. Meanwhile, human resource professionals are expected to retain an organisation's most valued employees, keeping them focused on current responsibilities while encouraging them to develop themselves professionally and gain new perspectives. From both sides, the Masters degree looks like the best answer to achieving these goals. But what type of Masters? Traditional Masters degrees (and other professional development programmes) are effective at increasing the longterm performance and loyalty of key employees, but the disruption in employee work patterns is costly for everyone involved: the most valued employees maybe be out of the office for extended periods, and once they have graduated may even end up leaving the company to follow their ambitions. It has become obvious that finding a traditional Masters programme with the right 'fit' for both employee and organisation can be elusive.
By contrast, an online Masters degree (such as an MBA) may offer far better return on investment - and a virtually customised 'fit'- for both employees and their organisations. A 100% online programme such as that offered by the University of Liverpool/Laureate Online Education delivers valuable theory and practical knowledge that participants can use from the moment they enrol. They can fit study around their normal work schedule, remain flexible for unexpected business trips, undertake work-based assignments, and immediately apply new knowledge to current work challenges. The result: minimum disruption and maximum benefit for all involved.
No wonder ambitious career-oriented professionals, as well as HR managers, are beginning to consider the online approach to business qualifications very seriously indeed.
The University of Liverpool/Laureate programmes are emerging at a time when the profile of the business-oriented Masters degree is evolving and adapting to a more individualised set of requirements. "A degree such as the MBA is no longer 'one size fits all'", says Yoram M. Kalman, Senior Vice President for Academics for the Online Masters Programmes of the University of Liverpool/Laureate Online Education. "You should be aware of your personal needs before making a choice of programmes", he advises potential Masters candidates. He points out that, while academically-oriented Masters students may opt for a more traditional full time, on-campus approach to achieving their degree, the needs of career-oriented working professionals - who want to continue to work while they study - has been answered largely by part time oncampus programmes.
These are generally formatted as extended weekends (and periodically, full weeks) away from the office; the drawback for the student is that, even as they are studying to improve career prospects, they are losing precious time at the office. It's an irony that may be alleviated by the flexibility of online higher education.
Online higher education is a young industry, however; business models are just emerging. What differentiates successful online programmes? A superior design philosophy that puts the student first, and utilises advanced technology to increase (rather than inhibit) their sense of connection to fellow students, lecturers, and above all to the world of global business.
"The online experience should be more interesting, more effective, than sitting in class", says Kalman. He stresses that technology, rather than an end in itself, is a tool - enhancing the satisfaction of students by addressing not only their time constraints, but actually "increasing involvement, collaboration and interaction" between classmates. The online learning environment as designed by Laureate also includes ongoing personal service in the form of Programme Managers, who help participants stay on track in their studies - offering good suggestions and practical aid for students during life changes (for example, the birth of a child or sudden illness of a spouse) and generally going the extra distance to ensure the student is managing and thriving within the rigours of the course.
This personal service and interactivity is not what the words 'distance learning' convey. "A successful online programme counters the misconception that online study is cold, detached and impersonal", says Kalman. "The possibility is that this new breed of higher business education can, through an effective use of technology, achieve an academic programme that is superior to traditional business programmes, at least for some categories of students." Kalman identifies key issues which more traditional courses face: first are their ability to retain relevancy and provide applicable knowledge to current work situations, as opposed to being heavy on passively-received theory. "Many students are now looking to a change from the traditional approach to teaching, in which an academic stands on stage and lectures", says Kalman. "If you're on a professional career track, you want to study with someone who has real world industry experience."
One of the benefits of online education lies in providing this practical experience (which derives from the professional qualifications of both lecturers and classmates). Another is the necessity, in working within a virtual and international classroom, to continuously assess and improve interpersonal skills, collaborative and networking abilities - the very things that organisations are perplexed about achieving in training programmes. Kalman stresses that the online learning environment is not for everyone: it demands concentration, commitment and sheer hard work. Those willing to invest the energy and focus required are finding online higher education more than worthwhile.
"A key issue for potential Masters students is the importance of international exposure and its impact on interpersonal skills", says Kalman. "To what extent does international business interest you? How important for you is the opportunity to meet academic staff and classmates from other parts of the world? A successful online programme can offer true international interaction and ongoing collaboration", he says. He emphasises that the nature of such a programme attracts extremely diverse participants in terms of nationality, age, experience and industry; collaborative learning techniques like group projects help participants leverage the broad knowledge base contributed by fellow students. He adds that "interactivity within a very diverse group helps improve crucial cross-cultural communication skills; there is a clear message today that wherever you are, you're playing in a global market."
Within the University of Liverpool / Laureate Online Education's small classrooms (maximum class size is limited to 20 participants, but will more likely top at 15), students come from many different countries (participants from over 100 countries are part of the UOL / LOE programmes), offering the opportunity to understand global trends in a broad array of industries. On a practical level, global classmates provide a 'pool of experts' that can be tapped into for real-life problem solving from a wide variety of viewpoints.
"One of the many benefits associated with this course was the amazing diversity of students and tutors, who brought to each module their individual business knowledge to create an enriching learning experience", says 2004 Liverpool graduate Paul Allen of IBM UK; Susan Haley-Lajoie, Atlantic Health Sciences Corporation, concurs: "The wealth of experience and knowledge from such diverse classmates made the learning experience unique."
Successful businesspeople have always valued networking, and an online programme that encourages involvement, interaction, collaboration and interpersonal communication - with the added benefit of time flexibility - attracts them. Graduates of online programmes from the University of Liverpool say that one of its most positive aspects is that they learn with an international group of peers who are not only currently working in a wide variety of industries, but actively share their knowledge and explore their experiences. Such opportunities are so rare in traditional higher education that they are almost a unique attribute of online programmes.
"The collaborative classroom approach is outstanding, with much interaction between fellow students", says 2004 Liverpool graduate Aaron Osborne-Taylor of Prestige Mobility Ltd. "It was refreshing to hear contrasting opinions from a truly international perspective and was a far more rewarding personal and professional experience than I have come across in traditional 'face to face' academic environments", he adds.
Enriching, rewarding, relevant and interactive; these qualities, when added to the overarching benefit of time flexibility, make it easy to see that online higher education creates value - and a far better 'fit'- for career-oriented Masters candidates and their employers alike.