Over the past few weeks on the Discover Darden blog, we’ve explored components of our Executive MBA program including global residencies and weekend residencies. Today, we explore distance learning, which has never felt so relevant. (For the latest updates on UVA’s and Darden’s response to the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, visit the School’s coronavirus information and resources webpage and the University’s coronavirus website.)
If you’ve been researching working-professional MBA programs, you know there are seemingly an infinite number of program schedules and designs — from completely online to fully in-person. As you evaluate your options, it is worth keeping in mind your preferred learning style, and the schedule that works best for your life and lifestyle.
What Is distance learning?
Distance learning is the virtual portion of our Executive MBA program, and it is simply another way of saying “online class.” Our program is hybrid in nature, and it consists of in-person components: leadership residencies, weekend residencies and global residencies, as well as a virtual component: distance learning.
Students complete roughly two-thirds of the program in person and one-third online. Distance learning is one of the program elements that allows Darden to feature a once-per-month weekend residency schedule.
How frequently do distance classes meet?
Our students typically have online class two nights per week: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7–8:30 p.m. ET. As a general rule, there are no distance classes during the week of a weekend residency.
To help contextualize this information, consider a hypothetical four-week month. In this month, you would have six distance sessions (3 weeks x 2 classes per week) and one weekend residency: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (Friday classes begin at noon, Sunday classes conclude around 3 p.m.)
Are these classes prerecorded?
When it comes to online class, you will often hear the terms synchronous and asynchronous used to describe the mode of delivery. Synchronous classes are live, while asynchronous classes are recorded. At Darden, both our faculty and students prefer synchronous classes, and most of our online classes are live. However, there will occasionally be recorded or asynchronous sessions.
What are the benefits of distance learning?
Distance learning is the part of our program about which our prospective students typically have the most questions, but it has many benefits.
These classes allow you to stay connected to your classmates between residencies, while enjoying a schedule that minimizes your time away from work and home. If you are considering a fully in-person program at another institution, you may be looking at 40 weekend residencies (or more) over the course of two years. Our students will tell you the once-a-month weekend residency schedule is one of the factors that initially attracted them to our Executive MBA program, and they value the flexibility the distance sessions offer. When presented with the choice between another weekend commitment or a couple nights online during the week, they chose the online classes.
At Darden, distance learning is delivered via Zoom. Fun fact: If you’ve participated in one of our Executive MBA webinars, you’ve already experienced this technology. During an online class, you will be able to see the faculty member and your classmates. Just like our in-person classes, the sessions are exceptionally interactive. Faculty members can call on students and students can offer comments and ask questions both verbally and via chat box.
Online learning has been a part of our Executive MBA program since its inception, and our faculty are very comfortable with the medium. The technology has gotten much better over time, and our faculty know what content works best online and what works best in-person.
Prospective students often wonder if the online classes are case discussions. Some definitely are, but faculty also use these sessions for more technical discussions. As professors will tell you, the online setting works particularly well for these kinds of conversations because students can share spreadsheets and participants can easily look at the same information.
Seeing your classmates online also allows students to remain connected between the weekend residencies. Students typically have Learning Team meetings around the distance sessions, yet another point of contact. Distance learning (and the preparation for these classes) means students are often connecting with their classmates every few days between weekend residencies.
And last, but not least, it’s also worth talking about the team that supports the distance learning experience! The distance learning team will be online with you, supporting every one of your distance classes, throughout your time at Darden. Interested in learning more about this group? Check out our podcast conversation with Jarrod Tibbs, Darden’s manager of live studios and distance learning.
What other expectations should I have for distance learning?
All live distance classes are recorded, but students are expected to be online. At Darden, participation is often a significant portion of your class grade, and it’s hard to participate if you’re not present.
When speaking with your family, friends and colleagues, you should present distance learning as another required academic activity, and you will want to make sure you have carved out space and time in your schedule so you can be fully engaged during these sessions.