Online MBA

Questrom’s Online MBA offers great promise for advances in learning at scale

The partnership between edX and the Questrom School of Business to deliver an online MBA degree represents one of the most exciting digital learning initiatives at Boston University to date. The Office of Digital Learning & Innovation (DL&I) is excited to support the production and delivery of the online degree and will be co-leading the effort with the Questrom School.

The strategic significance of this new degree for the Questrom School, at a time of profound change in the traditional MBA degree space, is eloquently articulated by President Brown, Provost Morrison and Questrom Dean Susan Fournier in the July 23rd BU Today article. In this note I am going to focus on the broader significance and opportunities that this initiative will generate for BU at large. 

The online MBA with edX builds upon BU’s long-standing experience in distance education, yet it is our first entry into large-scale degree programs. These are, typically disruptively-priced, online degree programs that enroll thousands of students from around the world. Georgia Tech has been a pioneer in offering such programs, including a $7k Master’s in Computer Science that now has more than 6,000 students and $10k Master’s in Data Analytics and Cybersecurity. We are currently at an inflection point in higher education and there are several alternative scenarios for the future that we need to be prepared for. The entry of global platforms edX and Coursera into the online Master’s degree space, coupled with the increasingly vocal concerns about the cost of education, suggest that we may see more such programs offered by peer institutions in years to come. Questrom’s online MBA will enable Boston University to build capacity and experience in delivering quality education at scale. Such capacity will enable our other schools and colleges to rapidly move in this direction, should it gain further momentum in the higher education ecosystem.

Learning how to effectively do marketing, student recruitment and admissions at scale is not trivial. Equally important, large-scale degrees introduce unique challenges but also offer unique opportunities for advancing the state of the art of teaching and learning. Delivering effective and personal learning experiences to thousands of learners represents a frontier in learning science. Traditional online programs rely on facilitators that engage with relatively small groups of students, playing roles similar to those of teaching assistants in residential programs. For example, the online degree programs offered by BU’s MET college assign one facilitator to every 15 students. Scaling this model for thousands of students would imply recruiting and managing a small “army” of 500+ facilitators, semester after semester. Large-scale degrees call for novel approaches that combine the use of facilitators with technology, and leverage the power of peer engagement among learners. Managing thousands of students across multiple cultures and time zones introduces a host of additional challenges. BU’s experience in offering some reasonably large “conventional” online degree programs, coupled with our 6-year experience in producing and delivering successful MOOCs and Micromasters to tens of thousands of learners around the world, makes us uniquely positioned to tackle these challenges with success.

Every challenge breeds opportunities; large scale degrees are no exception. Teaching a large, international student body offers additional dimensions not present in smaller-scale settings that instructors can experiment with to optimize learning outcomes and break new ground in the science of teaching and learning. For example, dividing students into cohorts and working groups in interesting ways has the potential of addressing issues of diversity and inclusion and provide complementarities that will assist all students perform better. The online MBA will be a laboratory for gaining deeper insight into online pedagogy.

By offering an online MBA degree through edX, BU opens itself to the world in a manner we haven’t done before. This initiative will bring a ton of new knowledge to the university that will be harnessed by all our schools and colleges in years to come. It reaffirms BU’s commitment to be a leader in digital education, boldly embracing new ideas that promise to make high quality education more affordable and more global. We feel excited and privileged to be central participants in this amazing journey.

Photograph of Associate Provost for Digital Learning & Innovation Chris Dellarocas


Chris Dellarocas is the Associate Provost for Boston University’s Office of Digital Learning & Innovation and Richard C. Shipley Professor of Management at the Questrom School of Business. As Associate Provost, Dellarocas leads the advancement of activities that enhance education at BU through the strategic use of digital technologies.