The QS Online MBA Rankings for 2022 have placed Deakin’s MBA equal first in the world for class experience. We talk to MBA Program Director Dr Paul Harrison to find out more about this stellar achievement.
The first thing to note about this recognition is that it’s not a flash in the pan.
With the first waves of the pandemic in 2020, many business schools scrambled to get their courses fully online. But Deakin’s MBA was already thriving there.
In fact, it has long been highly rated for its online experience and was designed from the outset for people whose everyday life and work is often managed through their screens (pretty much all of us).
MBA Program Director Dr Paul Harrison says ‘Thinking about how people lived through the screen was a really important exercise for us, and I think one of the things that's really critical is that we've never thought about it as an online MBA. We've thought about it as a learning experience where people can learn in ways that have meaning for them, whether it’s through the screen, face to face, in residentials or even on study tours.’
‘In the online environment, students can learn online at home or on the bus or in a quiet moment at the office. But, because we’re integrating our MBA with the ways people live online, we’re giving people lots of opportunities to learn and to grow and to evolve as scholars and professionals’.
The course content was approached in a fresh way so, rather than just providing 11 weeks of lectures online, the staff were initially asked to develop learning modules around the question, ‘what are the critical things that that any senior executive or company director needs to understand about that discipline?’ says Dr Harrison.
‘It's a bit like learning scales if you're a musician – you have to have those basics to play the game.’
Then, the flexibility afforded by online teaching allowed the MBA to step up its responsiveness to developments in business practices and technologies as well as advancements in teaching itself.
‘This is key – business doesn’t stand still, so we designed the next stage of each unit to give faculty an opportunity to adapt and change elements of the program year to year, trimester to trimester as new technologies emerged, as new ways of teaching emerged, as new ways of operating a business emerged. An opportunity to focus the learning to keep it contemporary,’ says Dr Harrison.
Students’ growth as scholars has to be matched by their growth as professionals, or the MBA is not doing its job. And that’s where the academic staff of Deakin’s online MBA really facilitate the application of (virtual) classroom learning to specific industries and organisational situations.
‘One of the things about the MBA faculty staff members is that they are incredibly committed to the students learning experience,’ says Dr Harrison and, he adds, ‘any learning process doesn't work until you can take the ideas that you've learned back to your workplace and see how they apply.’
‘If you work in a hospital, or the defence force, or if you work in a bank, how does this apply to your workplace?’
The faculty staff of the Deakin MBA take the time to help students to adapt their learning to their particular work situation. So much so, says Dr Harrison, ‘we can probably say that there is a form of mentoring going on.’
And it’s beneficial for the academics since, says Dr Harrison, ‘no staff member knows about every context, every business practice, there’s a form of two-way knowledge transfer in play. We learn a lot from our MBA students. It’s a rewarding relationship for both parties.’
With an educational design that aimed to maximise the potential of learning through screens, Deakin’s MBA embraces the range of students’ learning preferences by incorporating a variety of face-to-face teaching modes.
Says Dr Harrison, ‘While the bulk of the program is online, it's not purely an online or a digital MBA. We have all sorts of opportunities for people to learn in different ways.’
‘We do networking and industry panel events, we have the residential programs, and we've got study tours coming back this year. We've got intensives, we're looking at block modes, and of course, the short courses and Masterclasses that can stand alone, but can also be used as credit in the MBA degree.’
He adds, ‘We're looking at all sorts of different delivery modes. because we know that students learn in different ways and different students have different lives. When we talk flexibility, we are flexible at both a horizontal and vertical level.’
And the team behind the MBA is not resting on its laurels with plenty of new innovations in the works. These include the upcoming MBA Big Think, a hybrid online and face to face event for MBA students to catch up with the latest industry and research-based thinking in a range of professional domains, such as consumer behaviour and marketing.
Dr Harrison says, ‘I can confidently say that our MBA staff are passionate about how we teach and it shows in the recognition that we are getting. And we are always thinking about how to evolve the learning experience in our MBA.’