Integrating global perspectives into virtual classrooms

If you want to do business in the global village, it helps to have an international perspective, and that’s exactly what students get when they enroll in an Online MBA for executives program at Athabasca University (AU), Canada’s largest online post-secondary institution.

Reece Thomlinson, CEO of Intraline Medical Aesthetics

“Because the program is delivered online and paced, it allows students to study wherever and whenever works for them. We also have the distinctive advantage of enlisting faculty from around the world because of our online format,” says Farid Noordin, AU’s Faculty of Business (AUFB) manager for marketing and alumni relations. The graduate faculty at AUFB is unique – they are called “academic coaches” and they facilitate students through the process of peer-to-peer learning with an academic rigour of graduate-level study. And because this is an Online MBA for executives program, students must demonstrate at least eight years of managerial experience to qualify – less if they have an undergraduate degree or certain designations — they learn as much from each other as they do from their coaches.

The online format suited former student Reece Thomlinson perfectly. “I had a good job, but I wanted to advance my career with an MBA, but it would have been difficult to take two years off and travel somewhere to do my master’s,” says the CEO of Intraline Medical Aesthetics, a Kelowna, B.C.-based business that after only two years has an office in London, England, and does business around the world.

In addition to the convenience of learning online and being able to apply himself to his studies at times that suited his needs, he says the international faculty allowed him to develop a better appreciation of cultural differences and the way they relate to how business is done in the international arena. “There are nuances to doing business in other countries,” he says. “If you go into a market overseas and assume it’s the same as doing business in the U.S. or Canada, you’re setting yourself up for a world of challenges. You have to do your research.”

The best part was the daily interaction with other students, already high fliers in management around the globe. “They were all very committed and engaged,” he says. And despite the fact that students don’t meet face-to-face, they often forge lasting friendships and important connections. “I developed a number of good friends through the program, and one of my fellow students even sits on my advisory board.”

Will Baber, who leads a course in operations management from his home is Japan, says coaching from abroad has distinct advantages. For example, he can use examples culled from experiences and knowledge he has gained locally to illustrate exactly how business works in Japan. “One thing that’s done very well here is the delivery of high-quality and complex food with a huge degree of accuracy and satisfaction, so I am able to use examples from the restaurant industry,” he reports.

He adds that developing an international perspective is crucial to success. “To get an advantage over your competition, you need exposure to a wide range of ideas and to think flexibly, and these kinds of internationalized virtual classrooms do that very well.”

Also delivering “aha moments” to students is Dr. Oliver Mack, who coaches operations management, but in this case from his home in Austria. He says that recently he’s been updating students on the impact of digital disruption, which is more mature as a topic of business application in the European arena. He reports that he’s been impressed by the calibre of students in his program. “Their entrepreneurial skills and attitude are very good, and they appreciate the integration of theory and practice that we specialize in at AU where we encourage them to apply theoretical knowledge they have learned to their own situation and context.”

Without sacrificing academic rigour or peer-to-peer interaction, AU’s executive MBA program is helping managers on the go to move on up, no matter where they are.


Article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail Western Schools section.