Northwood incorporates cohort approach in online MBA program


A business school is adding a new MBA program to its repertoire with the launch of a fully integrated online curriculum for students in January.

Northwood University announced Oct. 9 the DeVos Graduate School of Management is currently accepting applications for its inaugural online Master of Business Administration program, which is designed for the working professional. With its first cohort class beginning in January, the 12-course program is expected to take 24 months to complete.

The online MBA program incorporates a total of 36 credit hours. Students will progress through one course at a time, resulting in eight-week semesters for each three-credit class. They will spend roughly 15 to 20 hours studying, completing assignments, participating in online activities, and engaging in discussion with classmates, according to the press release.

Lisa Fairbairn, dean of the DeVos Graduate School, said the online delivery method allows students to optimize success both as working professionals and as graduate students by balancing the demands of education with other aspects of their lives.

“It offers the same content and rigorous academic standards — and the same faculty — as our traditional graduate degree programs,” said Fairbairn in the release. “The only difference is the deliver modality. We make no distinction between our on-campus and online graduate students.”

Courses offered in the traditional MBA program include: human behavior; managing and leading people; critical thinking, reasoning and analysis; financial reporting; corporate financial decision making; corporate strategy; global markets, policy and reform; and a management and leadership capstone.

Bill Bateman, associate professor at the DeVos Graduate School, said the curriculum is set up as a general business administration program and allows students more flexibility than a traditional program.

“There are some students in our traditional program — even though we have centers all across the state, including the one in Grand Rapids — whose schedules, due to travel or work, family commitments, other things they are involved with, simply can’t commit to being at the same place at the same time every week,” said Bateman.

“This supports the flexibility so they can do all the assignments, deliverables and assessments online on their own time. We also find online learning is a great modality for really deep learning.”

The online MBA program also incorporates the university’s cohort-based approach, which is used in the traditional programs at DeVos Graduate School to develop a sense of teamwork among a group of students as they work through the entirety of a curriculum. In a traditional setting or classroom, the individuals participating in the courses spend time working and studying together.

Although the new MBA program is the first time to fully incorporate the cohort model online, Bateman said the university has had experience using it in a blended program where students do most of the work online and then meet once a semester.

“What we have found is the cohorts bond and work together online as well as if not better than in a face-to-face or traditional setting. They are doing projects together, they converse on what we call the discussion board, and there are other synchronous and asynchronous activities where they do interact quite a bit. There really is a bonding process,” said Bateman.

“We are also finding, even though we don’t have a cohort model in our Master’s of Science of Organizational Learning, informal cohorts are built and students have found a way to bond in those, as well.”

With the online MBA classroom facilitating engagement among students and faculty with discussion boards and small group activities, Fairbairn said one of the benefits of earning the degree online is the flexibility.

“It allows the students to decide what time works for them to complete the necessary deliverables and engage in discussions with their cohort and faculty,” said Fairbairn in the release. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

As a fully online course, students are not required to visit a campus location during the 24-month program but do have the option to take the final capstone course as a one-week residency in Midland.

Northwood University’s DeVos Graduate School also offers additional business programs, such as accelerated, evening or traditional programs, executive MBA curriculums and a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership.

Northwood University is a nonprofit academic institution specializing in managerial and entrepreneurial education with two main residential campus locations: in West Palm Beach, Fla., and in Midland, Mich. The DeVos Graduate School has locations in Grand Rapids, Troy and East Lansing.

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