In one of Africa’s fast-growing and congested cities, online business education is on the rise. Lagos Business School is among a number of universities in lower and middle-income countries that are using technology to attract students who are unable or unwilling to attend university full-time.
Online education allows people to learn at their own pace and study from wherever they are — whether on business trips, in the office or working from home to avoid wasting hours in traffic to make it to a campus.
It also allows them to connect in new ways with universities’ resources. They can watch lectures live or catch up on pre-recorded sessions, and take part in discussions with classmates who are based all over the world.
Lagos Business School has so far focused fully-online learning on “open enrolment” classes, says Uchenna Uzo, its MBA director. These are short, online programmes that act as a “teaser” to encourage students to consider taking one of its higher-value courses.
“We use online to offer highly subsidised courses to market and generate awareness of programmes for people to come on to campus,” says Mr Uzo.
He says the school offers these taster courses in a range of “hot, trendy topics” such as financial inclusion and sustainability, which “students wouldn’t normally get elsewhere”. The programmes typically include five to 10 web-based sessions for up to 100 participants and cost 25,000 naira ($69) each, according to Mr Uzo.
The school “still values face-to-face teaching” for its degree programmes, yet there is some flexibility for busy students. Much of its part-time executive MBA programme is offered online, Mr Uzo says. Indeed, students on the school’s modular MBA course mix online learning and webinars with on-campus classes.
The pattern is similar elsewhere. Piet Naudé, director of the University of Stellenbosch Business School in South Africa, says it offers some fully online courses in executive education. These tend to be for topics that are heavily fact-based like project management and managerial accounting.
The school requires attendance on campus for at least two of the modules in the executive MBA, however. As with Lagos Business School, this is because both students and faculty value in-person teaching and interaction.
The internet has the power to extend the reach of more established business schools, including many in the UK and the US, into developing markets.
Angus Laing, dean of Lancaster University’s Management School, says technology helped its part-time, two-year executive MBA programme attract more students — and from further afield. He says that the second cohort of students on the course at Lancaster University Ghana have recently graduated. Students on this course studied in Ghana, but also travelled to the UK and undertook some learning online.
“One advantage of being a relatively late entrant to online is that we are developing systems for the current generation of devices from the start,” says Prof Laing.
That includes a focus on mobile phones rather than desktop computers, allowing students to join discussions remotely from all manner of locations.
Prof Laing says technology has also forced teachers to change their approach. “It’s been very valuable at getting academics to think about different ways to deliver content and learning outcomes.” This has improved interactivity, engagement and feedback for students, he adds.
But technology also comes with some frustrations, notably bandwidth in west Africa. That has led Lagos Business School to offer more pre-recorded sessions that students can watch at any time, rather than only live streaming key events. It has also adjusted its timetables, scheduling online sessions for times when fewer problems with connectivity are expected, notably early mornings and Saturdays.
Mr Uzo cautions on the lack of guidance and regulation for online courses in Nigeria and other countries. He notes that some local and regional institutions offer digital degrees that are very cheap, but there is a risk that these will be of poor quality.
It remains difficult to provide the same level of quality without at least some attendance in person, says Mr Uzo. “You still need interaction with your peers and networking.”
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