Rennes (F), September 2022 - Laurent Scaringella, professor at Rennes School of Business, investigated both hybrid and fully online teaching models to find out which one generates the highest levels of faculty satisfaction, MBA word-of-mouth reputation, MBA value, student satisfaction, and loyalty to a school.
The pandemic has dramatically impacted all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional. Suddenly, in March 2020, working from home became the new normal for many people, as offices were forced to close. In education, lockdowns meant that faculty had to quickly switch to remote teaching.
In the years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic, online learning had already been increasing anyway, but lockdown meant that it had now become a necessity. The pandemic also led to another mode of teaching being introduced: a hybrid model connecting a classroom both to on-site and online students during synchronous teaching.
As schools slowly return to normal, many are offering different teaching options: fully online, hybrid (50% in person, 50% online), or all in person.
With the successive periods of lockdown, online models of learning and working have become ingrained in our lives, and a 100% online programme does not seem to deter students, particularly as the courses can be considerably less expensive. In the 2020-2021 academic year in the United States, online MBA students actually outnumbered full-time in-person MBA students (45,038 vs 43,740). Worldwide, however, full-time MBA students still outnumber those in online programmes (78,061 to 53,281).
For many, fully online learning lacks the human element that hybrid learning offers. Furthermore, how do online programmes fare in terms of faculty and student satisfaction, MBA quality, attractiveness, loyalty, and ultimately growth when compared with hybrid programmes that offer the online/in-person option? In an era of digital economy and competition, should we teach in hybrid or fully online mode to maximize our programmes' reputation and success?
Together with colleagues, Scaringella examined both hybrid and fully online MBA teaching models using the Service Profit Chain. Developed in the 1990s, the Service Profit Chain illustrates the relationships between profitability, customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty. It has since been widely used in sectors such as hospitality, healthcare, retail, and banking - but never before in higher education.
Using survey data from 93 faculty members and 366 students from three American universities, the research study revealed a new picture in terms of faculty and student satisfaction.
First, in contrast with past studies suggesting that delivery methods didn't matter, the data revealed that the Service Profit Chain model was stronger in face-to-face-hybrid delivery than in fully online delivery. It was observed that fully online delivery methods might lead to a negative impact on satisfaction among students, whilst hybrid modes strengthen positive MBA word of mouth among students and alumni. Thus, positive word-of-mouth information transfer is highly important to business schools since prospective students are highly influenced by friends and family recommendations. Scaringella and his team also found that both female and older students are much more positive than younger male students when it comes to information about MBA programmes propagated word of mouth, so this is definitely something that business schools' marketing managers should keep in mind when engaging with specific target groups.
Second, it was observed that if students had high expectations of an MBA programme, they tended to rate it highly, meaning that students' pre-existing beliefs about their course hugely matters. This, in turn, led to the conclusion that expectation about an MBA programme positively relates to perceptions of MBA programme quality. Hence, business schools should raise the expectations of students coming to their schools, as a student with high expectations will then rate the MBA programme quality higher. This, therefore, strongly supports the principle of business schools massively investing in marketing to induce students to enter programmes with high expectations.
Finally, in contrast with past studies, it was found that that faculty satisfaction does not significantly relate to MBA programme quality, probably because a lot of faculty members see their work as routine. So, business schools should not consider the quality assessment of an MBA programme as an accurate indicator of the satisfaction or the dissatisfaction of faculty members. Instead, schools need to develop alternative forms of measurement to assess faculty members' job satisfaction. This is obviously hugely important for faculty retention.
In conclusion, during the COVID-19 pandemic, business schools were forced to shift to fully online teaching. Based on the research, Professor Scaringella and his colleagues found that the Service Profit Chain is much weaker in fully online programmes than face-to-face and hybrid ones. Students' judgment was also found to be more positive towards hybrid programmes than purely online ones.
It is therefore important that business schools keep at least a hybrid model, and technology investments should support this trend. Business schools can carefully select, use, and leverage disruptive digital technologies to develop unique digital capabilities that enhance the hybrid teaching model and create business value that will benefit their programmes' reputation.