This MBA programme goes digital amidst the global health crisis

SOURCE: Olivier Douliery/AFP
Amidst the global health crisis, many higher education institutions have to quickly adapt to digital distance learning.

By U2B Staff 

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The recent COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted many events and programmes that have been scheduled for the rest of the year and beyond. The higher education sector is mainly affected by this as faculty and staff have to scramble to adapt face-to-face programmes to a more digital platform. 

An Executive MBA programme at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business which was planned as a face-to-face course was quickly adapted into a digital mode of delivery.

The seminar-styled course which has been running for four years was scheduled to be delivered every spring in San Francisco. Sponsored by Batten Institute, the programme centres on the influence of technology in business models and marketing. 


Led by Darden Professor Raj Venkatesan, the programme provided the opportunity for students to visit leading corporations and innovation hubs to gain a deeper insight. 

As the course themes vary year by year, this year’s theme was supposed to be focussed on advertising, innovation and privacy. The course also was scheduled to feature key industry leader speakers from tech giants Google and Apple to category disruptors such as Stitch Fix, StubHub and Airbnb. 

Of course, with the onset of the global pandemic, none of the face-to-face seminar and guest speaker sessions were feasible at the moment and much of the programme had to be quickly translated to a distance learning medium. Face-to-face seminars were to become virtual Zoom calls in a matter of days. 

Nevertheless, where there could have been a significant loss in a prime opportunity for collaboration between some of the biggest and brightest in the industry, the team behind this executive MBA course acted quickly with all scheduled company leaders maintaining the agreement and would join the course remotely instead.

digital platform
Face-to-face seminars are quickly transforming to virtual video conferences. Source: Piero Cruciatti/AFP.

“We had to make some decisions that would maintain the learning objectives of the course, provide as many peer-to-peer learning opportunities as possible, and keep the engagement with our companies and speakers on the West Coast,” said Venkatesan, who has a fair share of experience in virtual teaching and learning. 

The students were not hindered by this transition at all and even engaged the speakers in an interactive Q&A session via Zoom. 

According to MBA student Karen Henneberger who is a US Department of Energy program manager for ship design, the course was dramatically different than what it may have originally planned as. Nevertheless, the shift to a digital platform went smoothly for a group (of students) who are already used to utilising Zoom for distance learning. 

“We had no problem shifting to the use of this technology to make the most of this week and guest speakers,” said Henneberger.

 “I think we are all still in shock from this whole situation, but we were committed to make the best of it. Raj’s (Venkatesan)  course was awesome.”

The students are currently working on their final papers and reflected on lessons learned from one of the industrial speakers. 


“I look forward to reading students thoughts about the implications of technology, especially in times of crises,” said Venkatesan.

This shows that it is still possible to carry out pre-planned events, seminars, workshops and programmes amidst campus closures. With the right expertise, infrastructure and cooperation from partners and students, the transition from physical to digital can be done quickly and seamlessly.

As the world faces ongoing challenges in light of this global health crisis, it is hoped that higher education institutes can come together and share more experiences and ideas on how to tackle these challenges together.