Virtual Learning for a Real World

Last August I entered one of the most exciting, rewarding and difficult endeavors of my adult journey. I applied and was accepted into graduate school at Thunderbird School of Global Management.

I hadn’t intended to get my master’s degree. With 12 hours in graduate level human resources and after an international assignment (when distance-learning was not as prevalent), my mother’s terminal illness and the meeting of my future husband, finishing this degree was no longer relevant and was not a priority.

After 4 transformative years working on creating a physician-focused MBA within Gallup, learning from some of the smartest health care leaders and academicians in the country, it was clear to me that if I could find a program that contained the elements of transformation that our physicians had experienced, that maybe getting my master’s degree at this stage in the “game” would be an experience and a value to my career. The elements included: self-leadership focus, management, practical application and international immersion into business in another region of the world. Finally, the program must be “virtual” or distance-based with significant components on-line.

Few programs fit this list outside of the program we had created for doctors. Thunderbird fit most of it, with a heavy focus on international business and immersion with learning about global issues.

From my first of 4 didactic weeks, I have become a passionate advocate to others of this mind-changing masters in global business. My cohort met together to launch the program for 1 week in Glendale, during which we received a hard-earned 3 credit hours. We left with our books for the next 7 months since we would now be meeting with each other and faculty via gmail, skype, phone, video and many forms of instant messaging. This redefines the way in which people relate, build relationships and with limited time and complex demands, find effective ways to do group work, learn and ultimately get good grades.

As I reflect on the past 7 months with this trimester set to finish at the end of April, I remain a passionate advocate. Additionally, I am lead to wonder about how to raise the bar for this on-demand or virtual program, and how I might facilitate dialogue regarding.

A few ideas are being shared, virtually, amongst our cohort and with faculty. These have triggered other ideas including the potential that current on-demand students, who are mostly employed in full-time positions in management and leadership, could consist of a more formal approach to mentoring full-time students or new graduates without business experience. We are all taking stock of our careers up to now, and this immersion is likely a key catalyst paired with our common goal to change the quality of the world in which we live for the better. This vulnerability could be mutually beneficial to those that have stepped from undergrad right into grad school or those with less experience in the working world.

Additionally, there must be a way to ensure that faculty in virtual programs have what it takes to create, manage and engage students virtually. This is very hard job because we are social animals. The students get social fuel from each other and assignments, but the faculty are mostly uni-directional in their roles in educating. Not only is that difficult for them but is apparent in the disconnects that result, for the student learners and the barriers that come from interactions based on discussion board posts, solely.

Finally, I wonder if by creating a bi-directional approach for virtual courses, maybe where webinars include a virtual live classroom, the ability to ensure practical learning and practical application could be better achieved. This vs. the conceptual models and information upon which our great universities were built.

In June I head to Prague with a small group from my cohort and other cohorts for 3 credit hours and an immersion into European business. In September, we head to Sao Paulo to learn about business in South America. We have the choice to go to Asia as well as South Africa and eventually Africa. As my ODXI com-padre noted last night, maybe we should go to all continents to ensure we are truly prepared to be global managers when we earn our degree?