Is the MBA dead? The future of business education is digital

The COVID-19 pandemic not only changed where we work — with a third of Americans who can work from home doing so full time — but it also changed how we upskill for our careers. 

For the first time, online MBA course enrollment overtook in-person enrollment in the 2020-2021 academic year, fueled of course by the pandemic. Perhaps more revealing, from 2016 to 2022, the number of online MBAs from accredited programs increased by 85%, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

While employers still slightly favor job candidates that hold in-person MBAs, and these more traditional programs can offer perks such as business networking with classmates, building better communication skills, and are particularly helpful for professionals looking to transition careers, a shift towards digital upskilling is imminent as more and more of our lives go online. 

MBAs take too long for our fast-changing work environment

“Business education is traditionally a lengthy process,” said Mila Semeshkina, founder and CEO of Lectera, an online learning platform. 

The average MBA takes two years, and Semeshkina says that their value “greatly diminishes by the time graduates reenter the workforce, and some of their knowledge can become outdated.”

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, just two in 10 respondents said their MBA prepared them well.

Where MBAs — even online ones — fail, according to Semeshkina, is their innate inability to provide nimble, quickly adapting curricula. “People need to rapidly master skills here and now, particularly niche, specialized skills,” she said. 

The future of education is bite-sized 

In the last decade, the proliferation of online course platforms like MasterClass, Udemy, Coursera, and Singularity have democratized access to quality education for millions across the globe. 

In fact, sub-Saharan Africa leads enrollment in professional skills courses on Coursera, growing at around 80% for the past few years. 

What’s more, these companies have influenced traditional higher learning institutions as well, with most universities, including Stanford and Harvard, offering massive open online courses (MOOCs). 

Mila Semeshkina, CEO of Lectera. Image credit: Lectera

While the rise in online courses has been great for democratizing education, pitfalls still remain in how these courses can provide more value to professionals seeking to upskill. 

According to Semeshkina, “One of the significant challenges EdTech platforms face in business and career training is a low course completion rate. This is often because learners tend to absorb the required knowledge throughout the course, losing motivation to complete it fully.”

A study from Justin Reich of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and José A. Ruipérez-Valiente from the University of Murcia found that “the vast majority of MOOC learners never return after their first year … and the bane of MOOCs — low completion rates — has not improved over six years.”

To tackle this obstacle, Semeshkina recommends edtech platforms focus on a “bite-size learning and minimizing excessive homework.” Lectera provides students with digestible courses on everything from finance, to marketing and soft skills, and according to Semeshkina, the process makes the learning experience “more enjoyable and less overwhelming,” and has resulted in a 86% completion rate for the platform. 

Creating a culture of continuous learning 

Another result of the proliferation of online learning is the shift towards an acceptance in the workplace of the need for continuous learning. And employers that don’t encourage this, could fall by the wayside. 

“Many businesses see business training as a one-off event,” said Semeshkina. “However, for employees to get the most out of it, management must create a culture of continuous learning. For example, businesses can offer ongoing learning opportunities and mentorship programs to encourage employees to take ownership of their professional development.”

According to LinkedIn’s 2024 Workplace Learning Report, “Companies with strong learning cultures see higher rates of retention, more internal mobility, and a healthier management pipeline.”

Semeshkina says companies should even incentivise learning among their teams. “While some employees are happy to give up their time to acquire new skills, paying employees for upskilling shows investment in their development, which boosts morale and reduces turnover.”

However, the employer also needs to be responsible for ensuring they’re getting a good return on their investment in upskilling their employees. Semeshkina recommends “tracking learner progress and skill development and gathering feedback” to analyze this data and adjust and improve their training approach. “This ensures they’re continually getting the most out of their investment,” said Semeshkina.

Disclosure: This article mentions a client of an Espacio portfolio company.

Sociable Team

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