A new learning experience: Students respond positively to virtual MBA workshops

Learning and networking are social activities and for our part-time Master’s students, the opportunity for face to face contact with faculty and peers is a valuable part of their overall student experience. The Manchester Global Part-time MBA provides as much face to face contact time with faculty and peers as many full-time MBA programmes.

So, when face to face teaching and workshops were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Middle East Centre and the Global Part-time MBA students in the region embarked on a new collective learning experience, as planned MBA workshops in Dubai were quickly virtualised to ensure the continuity of the study programme. 
The task was made easier by the blended learning format of the MBA programme, which means that much of the course content is already digitised to some extent. All the courses and workshops are led by faculty based in Manchester, and both faculty and students had to adjust to the temporary online platform for the virtual workshops. For some students, this meant adjusting for the time zone difference, although the virtual workshops were timed to try and accommodate all participating students, whatever their time zones.  
The virtual MBA workshops in March accommodated over 200 students from all over the world. For many, it was the first taste of online interactive learning and the overwhelming feedback has been very positive, as many students were quick to share: 
Qais Al Shidi from Oman: “Indeed, it has been a very new experience to me as a student and also to the whole business world to move towards virtual meetings. To be honest, I thought it would not work well at the beginning but after a while, it became fascinating and the university made it more comfortable with the effort that they have made to ensure students are provided with the course materials and online lectures. We are missing out on the international face to face interaction with other students but again meeting people online and working together has some advantages. For instance, in LMGE B I worked with students from Japan and Hong Kong, and it added value to my learning. Ultimately, I thank you and the university to keep the show running without interruption.”

Both the Manchester Global MBA team and the Middle East Centre team worked hard to help prepare students for the new experience of virtual workshops, and it paid off.

Edmund Bala-Gbogbo, from Egypt: “I am very pleased with the outcome of the workshop. The excellent planning and effort put into the sessions demonstrated the resilience of the Manchester MBA programme to swiftly adjust to these trying times. The various sessions during the workshop were quite informative and tailored to meet real world scenarios. The facilitators demonstrated a strong grasp of the subjects, they were helpful  in providing guidance on the course work, and assignments alike.”

The workshops hit the right note in terms of content but of course, the physical  ‘face time’ with peers and faculty was missed by some. 

Jean-Pierre Hayek, from Lebanon: “The Virtual workshop for the LMGE B was of a great value I didn’t notice the difference in delivering the content other than getting together with my colleagues and spend some time with the professor during the breaks to ask more questions that might help me in my future career.”
Mostafa Sadek, from Egypt: “I would like to thank you all for your great efforts as all people at the university did their best to replicate the face to face tuition at the virtual workshops, although the human interaction is priceless and the virtual workshop won't ever be the same as the face to face sessions, the university has tried to present the best tuition quality feasible at these hard times.”

Students were appreciative of the efforts of the faculty and the support teams in Manchester and in the Middle East Centre in Dubai to make the virtual workshops a success.  

Monica Tomescu, from Bahrain: “The virtual workshops have been very informative, interactive and the experience was great overall, given the current situation. There were no concerns but appreciation for the efforts put in by the tutors and the university staff.”

Students were sensitive to the challenges of some of their peers and different teaching styles of faculty. 

Nabil Hamdan, from Saudi Arabia: “Tutors were well organised, although both Arif and Sarah had different approaches. There were less conflicts in groups as all students were interested to get the tasks completed. I believe the virtual sessions were organised well. Students from Japan and other time zones had to work harder as they had to carry on with the group tasks late in the night. However, they were very co-operative for the group work.” 

The virtual workshops not only delivered the learning and content but the technology and 
tools worked to support the student experience.

Hagop Kalindjian, from the UAE: “The virtual workshops went very well in terms of learning and interaction, moreover, the tools provided were excellent in making the workshops smooth. We eagerly wait for the situation to become better for face to face workshops to become possible again in our remaining semesters. I would like to emphasise the importance of the workshops in generating learning and interaction, also the assignments given during the workshop are absolutely necessary for learning and applying what we read into practical business.” 

As ever, successful workshops rely on strong teamwork – students, faculty and the centre support team. The virtual experience worked – and we all look forward to meeting again.

Sherif Mousa, from the UAE: “Overall it was a great experience for my first virtual workshop in my life. The BAF tutor Dr. Aref Khurshed is very knowledgeable and was able to cover a heavy finance topic smoothly. I was very lucky to have a well experienced colleagues within my team and was able to communicate properly.  Thank you so much for the hard work and dedication during this period and looking forward to meet you in Dubai Campus once we resume back.”

Randa Bessiso, Director-Middle East, comments: “Learning and networking are social activities and the Middle East Centre team has done a fantastic job of quickly virtualising all our planned outreach activities. Most importantly, this is about student experience. All our part-time Master’s programmes are faculty-led and delivered through blended learning, which includes significant face to face contact time. It was essential to ensure continuity of studies and provide rich interactive online learning and networking experiences. We have been using all the experience we have gained over many years of delivering blended learning programmes, which include online self-study components, across the region. We have been delighted with the support and feedback from students and faculty, in making these sessions such a success.” 

Meeting the challenge and learning the lessons

Xavier Duran, Director of MBA Programmes, adds: “We strongly believe in the benefits of our face to face workshops as part of our blended learning approach in the Global MBA but the fast evolving pandemic presented us with a dilemma: how can we provide uninterrupted continuity for our students' MBA journeys whilst minimising any potential impact on the student experience? Working with all our academics, e-learning technologists and administrative teams, we decided to put all our efforts to develop and deliver virtual workshops at short notice. Our guiding principle was to deliver learning outcomes as effectively and interactively as the technology allowed. This was certainly a great challenge, given the unusual teaching and learning approach and the very short time we had to train academics, redesign workshop structures and work out logistics. There are some activities we could not replicate in a virtual environment and there is certainly a social and networking gap from online delivery. However, we are very satisfied with the quality of teaching and interaction we were able to deliver and the continuity of service we were able to offer to all our students. We have also learnt from this experience and no doubt will be able to use this learning not only to improve on future potential virtual workshops that the pandemic may dictate but also to improve the way we deliver our programme in normal circumstances. All our students and academics are itching to get back to a physical class and meeting everyone in person.”


About Xavier Duran

Xavier Duran is the Director of MBA Programmes at Alliance Manchester Business School. He provides leadership and management support on academic, delivery and programme development issues for the Global MBA. He also advises on and manages projects that contribute to improving the student experience.

Xavier obtained his BBS from the University of Barcelona in 2000 and his Master of Business Studies by Research from the University of Limerick (Ireland) in 2002. Xavier stayed working as a lecturer in Economics in Limerick, which he combined with teaching in the Managerial Economics course for the Global MBA programme since 2003 and until 2012, when he took up his position as Associate MBA Director.