Online education has been on the rise in recent years, but the corona crisis has accelerated this development. In March, all educational institutions in The Netherlands, including Maastricht University, had to switch from offline to online education in no time. Before the virus turned our world upside down, we spoke with Dr. Boris Blumberg about the possibilities and future of online education.
Normally, Problem-Based Learning is central in the education of Maastricht University. Personal contact between students and between teacher and student plays an important role in this system. When the government announced that all educational institutions in our country had to close immediately, our largely offline university suddenly turned into an online university. Both technically and didactically, teachers and other employees had to adapt to a completely different way of working. Now that we are a few weeks later, it seems that students and staff are slowly getting used to their new daily routine. In studies that allow this, the university will continue to offer online education until the end of the academic year.
In early March, when everything was still ‘normal’, we spoke to Dr. Boris Blumberg about online education. As captain of MaastrichtMBA, he was closely involved in setting up and organising the EuroMBA Online Track. This online MBA programme has been part of the MBA portfolio of UMIO since 1 January 2020. The biggest advantage of online education is the flexibility it offers, Blumberg acknowledges. “By attending online education, students are not tied to a fixed location and can decide for themselves when to study and at what pace”, says the MBA captain. “This can be an interesting option for professionals with a busy job, but also for people who naturally prefer to sit behind a laptop than next to a fellow student. In addition, it offers opportunities for people who live in remote areas. We may not be bothered by that in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, but I know that, for example, Stellenbosch University in South Africa has many students who have to deal with it.”
Relocation of infrastructure
Do educational institutions themselves also benefit from offering online education? Is it, for example, cheaper than offering regular education? Blumberg thinks that nothing sensible can be said about that at this stage. “Replacing regular education with online education is actually a shift in infrastructure and therefore costs”, he says. “After all, you replace classrooms with server rooms, online platforms and other online facilities. And make no mistake, those facilities also cost a lot of money. I think it is currently still very difficult to make a statement about the difference in costs between the two types of education.”
EuroMBA Online Track
Lower costs are therefore certainly not the reason why Maastricht University started the EuroMBA Online Track on 1 January 2020. Blumberg: “Compared to the US and the UK, we are lagging behind in online university programmes in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. For the past 25 years, UMIO was a partner in the EuroMBA programme. When this programme was discontinued last year, we decided to create a new online MBA track to serve an emerging market. It was high time to start with this, because other markets have already developed much further.
Dr. Boris Blumberg.
Here, the megatrend of digitalisation comes into play. The opportunities to provide high quality online education have grown tremendously. The quality of video and audio is much better than a few years ago, as is the quality of online education platforms. And for our MBA target group it is very natural to communicate digitally; after all, they have been using mobile devices for most of their lives.”
The different nationalities of the students are a major strength of the EuroMBA Online Track. “The students all have different backgrounds and different world views. By discussing and exchanging ideas, they enrich each other’s thinking. That is very valuable. The personal approach is also a strength of our programme. There are 3 residential weeks in which the students come together at various universities in Europe. And within the online modules we work with small groups. We will never allow mass groups of students, because then we cannot guarantee personal attention. Last but not least, the education of the EuroMBA Online Track is of high quality. We work with top teachers and have maximum international recognition with our Triple Crown accreditation from the AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA institutions. Our track recently finished as the highest-ranked online MBA study in the Netherlands in CEO Magazine’s Global Online MBA Ranking. Globally, we finished in 13th place. That says a lot about the quality we offer.”
Blumberg is not afraid that the EuroMBA Online Track will keep students away from the Executive MBA Track of MaastrichtMBA. “I think it is important that students choose Maastricht University, and in that respect we have only increased the MBA options. So hopefully we will be able to bring more students here.”
High quality education
Online courses are often criticised because there is little or no proper and regular interaction between students and teachers and students. As a result, students may not be able to learn at the same level as students in regular education. What does the MBA captain think about this criticism? “There is some truth in it, of course”, he begins. “You give lectures via the internet and have no influence on what the students actually do behind their laptop. In addition, you cannot simply cast your regular 1.5-hour lectures in the format of a webinar. After half an hour of screen time people drop out. It must therefore be shorter, without this being at the expense of depth and differentiated thinking. You have to be creative with that. On the other hand, current techniques allow us to monitor much better to what extent students have really learned. We can find out exactly how long they have been active within our platform and what they have contributed.
As I mentioned earlier, we keep the level of education high by giving students a lot of personal attention. In addition, we ensure that the assignments for students are of master’s level. This means that we do not work with multiple-choice answers and that we assess the result – be it a paper, presentation or video – with substantive feedback. So not only a grade, but also an explanation. The students learn from that.”
Online versus regular
Online education is the future, according to Blumberg, but that will never be completely at the expense of regular education. “There are always people who have a strong preference for face-to-face education. In addition, not every subject is suitable for online education. For example, an ICT course such as learning to code is very easy to set up online. However, that does not apply to a management course on leadership skills. Personal contact is very important in this. That is why we chose the balance between online modules and residential weeks on location at the EuroMBA Online Track.
Maastricht University has always been an innovative player within the Dutch academic playing field, and I think that we are now also confirming this reputation in the digital age.”
If you are interested in more information about MaastrichtMBA, then please visit maastrichtmba.com.