Taking Learning Online
As an ever-evolving educational landscape drives the demand for more flexible learning opportunities, the Wisconsin School of Business is prioritizing the development of alternative delivery modes to serve students via high-quality online learning opportunities throughout their lifecycle as a learner.
Since 2013, philanthropic investments have enabled WSB to evolve the educational opportunities available to learners by strategically transitioning high-demand courses from traditional classroom delivery to also be offered in blended and online modes. In moving learning beyond the boundaries of a physical classroom, students gain flexibility and access to high-quality learning opportunities with significantly less disruption to other aspects of life.
“Students find that taking online courses opens doors for them to advance their education without needing to physically be on campus,” says Chris Dakes, director of educational innovation and learning design at WSB. “Students who study abroad or do internships can still take courses, and learners with other life circumstances that require flexibility can find online learning opportunities that are directly related to what they’re doing in their day-to-day lives.”
For many students entering college today, learning through on-demand, online modules is a natural progression from their pre-college life as digital learners. They have grown up with broad access to technology and online educational environments, making the transition easier for them to learn and interact beyond the traditional face-to-face format.
“I think online discussions allow students to go more in-depth and think carefully about their responses in ways they might not in an in-person class with more limited time,” says Cameron Neusen (BS ’19), who took Introductory Financial Accounting online last summer.
Neusen, like many other students, found that WSB’s online course offerings open new avenues to pursue business education. She studied personal finance through the School of Human Ecology as an undergraduate and used WSB’s online introductory accounting class to prepare for entrance in the Graduate Master of Accountancy (GMAcc) program.
Starting in Summer 2020, non-business majors pursuing the Certificate in Business will be able to complete required courses in an online format, providing students with more opportunities to complete popular business courses in the summer while keeping them on pace with their graduation timeline.
As WSB pursues advancements in online delivery, leaders in educational innovation are focused on high-quality learning experiences, academic integrity, and student ownership of learning when designing digital courses and choosing the technologies to support them.
“There’s a level of intentionality and rigor that goes into the design and review of online learning,” says Dakes. “Instructors and instructional designers collaborate on the design and development using a well-defined set of criteria. All this adds to a thoughtful, consistent, and intentional approach to how a course is designed.”
“The key with online learning is to think quite broadly about how we can create multipurpose modules that fit the needs of many different kinds of learners at different points in their journey,” says Ron Cramer, strategic learning technology consultant at UW–Madison, who has worked extensively with WSB. “It’s important to have faculty go through development programs and take what they’ve experienced in the classroom and then think about it in the online context.”
WSB faculty and instructors are proactively considering how to best translate student engagement in traditional classroom activities to an online space.
“Research on online learning identifies student engagement and faculty presence as key ingredients for the efficacy of online courses,” says Terry Warfield, PwC Professor in Accounting and Richard J. Johnson Chair of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems. “In moving to online delivery of Introductory Financial Accounting last summer, we implemented tools such as discussion boards, text-based homework with feedback, and interactive tutorials to facilitate student engagement. These technologies help students feel the presence of their instructor in the course.”
— Ron Cramer,
strategic learning technology consultant
To date, WSB has focused much of its growth in online classes during Summer Term, a time when students are able to work, intern, and live anywhere and still take high-quality courses. Online courses saw the highest increase in enrollment over the past two summers, with students taking popular foundational classes like General Business 306 and Marketing 335 that typically fill up quickly and are difficult to get into during the regular semester.
“Taking an online course during Summer Term allowed me to knock out three credits while living at home and working a summer job,” says James Domach (BBA ’22), who is majoring in finance, investment, and banking. “Being able to take an online class in the summer can be beneficial to all students who might want to lighten the credit load of a future semester.”
In addition to taking standard business courses online, WSB has launched a number of offerings unique to the online space. A new MBA Bootcamp, for example, prepares incoming non-business students for graduate courses through a series of self-paced, digital modules that teach basic business concepts. Marisa Mackey Palmer (BS ’99), a senior lecturer in the Department of Finance, Investment, and Banking, developed a 9-module online course in financial modeling that prepares business students for careers in investment banking. The modules are also available to other learners on campus as a non-credit, open educational resource. These courses, which offer students flexibility in pacing and location, speak to online delivery’s potential to widen both reach and accessibility.
Looking ahead, WSB will continue to serve students through innovative investments in online learning. A proposed redesign of the evening MBA program would feature a blended format of delivery, with 50% online and 50% in person. The reimagined program, called the Professional MBA program, offers the flexibility that working professionals seek through online delivery while retaining the strong cohort and relationship building that is unique to face-to-face delivery. Built to be a platform that enables innovation, the program would also introduce a curriculum designed around a system of digital badges that allow students to customize their program based on their career interests. The proposal is moving through the university’s shared governance processes and, if approved, would be implemented in Fall 2021.
By making the design and delivery of top-quality online classes a strategic priority, WSB can benefit learners beyond the boundaries of the traditional classroom. Not only do today’s students expect to be able to learn in flexible, online formats, they thrive in it. In meeting that demand, WSB can become a hub of lifelong learning, serving students and alumni throughout their career—whether in a classroom or on their computer, wherever they may need to be.
This story was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent transition to alternative delivery for all our courses. Knowing that digital learning will be critical to the future of a flexible, responsive business education, we made significant progress in online delivery in 2019. As the COVID-19 situation evolves, we have seized the opportunity to adapt, learn, and enhance our online learning capabilities.