Taking the MBA Online and to New Heights

(Editor's Note: Today's post was written by Doug Shackelford, Associate Dean of MBA@UNC and Meade H. Willis Distinguished Professor of Taxation)

Discussions in the traditional MBA classroom can be:

  • elementary to some students
  • far too advanced for others
  • critically important to some
  • irrelevant to others
  • fascinating to some
  • boring to others

A professor’s answer to many questions is a veiled version of “Good question, but I don’t have time to discuss that right now.”

Faculty are frustrated because they know that they can only teach a fraction of what their students want to know. Students wish they could learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it, but after years of sitting in classes, they have become conditioned to expect to learn in the traditional delivery system. Despite its inefficiencies, that delivery system is so ingrained in our minds of how education is done that we find it hard to imagine any other options. I dream of a world where world-class professors can provide students with opportunities to learn everything the faculty know and where students can learn material at their pace.

Contrast education with Google. Suppose Google only provided access to a limited body of knowledge each day in a sequence it determined.  Suppose you were interested in hedge funds.  If Google wasn’t providing information about hedge funds that day, you would have to wait until Hedge Fund Day to search the web. On Hedge Fund Day, you might be exposed to derivatives, but since derivatives access is limited to one day in a few months, you would have to wait to learn more about derivatives. Of course, on Derivative Day, you wouldn’t be able to return to hedge fund knowledge because hedge fund knowledge would no longer be accessible.  Furthermore, on any day, Google would shut down after 80 minutes.

That sounds crazy, and no one would use this form of Google.  However, that’s how we do education. A few topics for a few hours one day each year. MBA@UNC is brand new, but we are a first step toward Googlizing MBA education.  Someday, we hope to have all of the knowledge of our world-class faculty accessible at any time to all of our students.

Today, our total faculty knowledge is like a huge wall. On the wall are small circles.  We teach the material in the circles.  A few circles overlap, but most stand alone.  At any moment, students can learn everything in a few circles.  During their matriculation, they can learn many circles, but only a tiny portion of the entire wall. One day, the entire wall will be filled with circles, all overlapping and cross-referencing each other.  Hedge fund knowledge will be accessible to everyone all the time and cross-referenced to derivative and every other piece of knowledge. Once in our knowledge system, students will travel seamlessly from one topic of interest to another at their pace and when they are interested, just like we do with Google now.

Step-by-step MBA@UNC is converting our faculty’s knowledge to an electronic form.  We have a long ways to go, but we can see our Google future.  No topic will be beyond the scope of an individual class.  In fact, the notion of a class – a restricted body of knowledge, constrained by time – will disappear. All knowledge will be available at all times to all students. Google made us extraordinary librarians by eliminating the cost and effort of searching the web. 

Likewise, UNC Kenan-Flagler, as the first world-class business school to promise an online business education that equals or exceeds the traditional MBA, is the vanguard of eliminating the time and space constraints of education. MBA@UNC will enable you to become extraordinary students. We aren’t Google yet.  It might be years in the making.  But we can see an exciting new world that will alter everything we know about business education.

About Doug ShackelfordDoug Shackelford is the associate dean of the new MBA@UNC, the Meade H. Willis Distinguished Professor of Taxation and director of the UNC Tax Center. He is a research associate in public economics at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass., and has published widely in accounting, economics, finance and law journals. He has held visiting faculty positions at Stanford University, Universiteit Maastricht in the Netherlands and Oxford University. A CPA, he was a senior tax consultant with Arthur Andersen in Boston and Greensboro from 1981-85. Doug received his PhD from the University of Michigan and his BS from UNC-Chapel Hill.