Ahead of the curve

How the leaders in online education are maintain the lead

Online education is a pillar at UF Warrington. That was the case when UF developed the first online MBA program in 1999, and it remains the case as UF searches for ways to invigorate the student experience moving forward.

The story of online innovation starts with the MBA program. In the 1990s, UF recognized the need for flexibility in the MBA experience and prioritized finding a way to make that available. In 1999, the FlexMBA online program debuted to connect students from around the country to UF. Students who enrolled in the program were mailed VHS tapes of their lectures, and they were given free computers to do their assessments and projects.

Being an early adopter in the online MBA space built a foundation of success for the UF MBA program, and that’s still evident today. The rankings continue to point to the UF MBA Online program accomplishments. Publications such as Financial Times, Fortune and U.S. News & World Report all continue to rank the program in the top five in the U.S.

While the UF MBA Online program was the beginning of online innovation among UF business programs, it didn’t stop there. Within two years of the introduction of the FlexMBA online program, UF offered a fully online Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program. This allowed students from anywhere in the world to pursue their bachelor’s in business, regardless of their age, professional status or stage of life.

Just like the UF MBA Online program’s success, the bachelor’s degree has been nationally recognized as well, ranked as the No. 1 online business bachelor’s program in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

To ensure UF continued to produce high-level online business programs, the Teaching & Learning Center was created in 2012. The center works directly with faculty, program directors and staff to provide instructional design and ongoing support for UF’s online and hybrid business courses. They’re committed to helping faculty maintain collaborative and impactful online learning environments for students.

The Teaching & Learning Center played an integral role as the UF MBA program developed its first fully online program in 2017. Unlike the FlexMBA program which still required some campus visits, this innovation created a program where students never had to step foot on the UF campus. Some visits were still encouraged, notably for the program orientation, but none of them were mandatory for any student.

For the first time, there was truly nothing holding someone back from earning their MBA from UF.

That trend continued with other master’s degrees a couple years later. While specialized master’s degrees were popping up at business schools around the world, this is another area where UF was an early adopter. In 1994, the college saw the need for a more specialized graduate degree. The MBA program wasn’t the perfect fit for every prospective student, so specialized master’s degrees were created to provide a more specific academic program.

Today, UF offers specialized master’s programs in accounting, business analytics, entrepreneurship, finance, information systems and operations management, international business, management, marketing, and real estate. Many of these were already being offered only as on-campus programs, but the college shifted to start offering some of them online in 2019. Five of the programs are currently offered online and on campus, including recent additions of the marketing and business analytics master’s programs, with the goal to grow that number in the future.

While UF has set the bar for online business education innovation over the last 25 years, no one is resting on those accomplishments. Instead, UF is setting the pace for the future, ensuring that business students have the flexibility they need without compromising on the immersive experiences they expect from our programs.

With the foundation of strong online programming already built, there are more exciting innovations to come.

The most significant future plan that will impact how students learn is the dual modality classroom. Located in Stuzin Hall, this classroom will be a cutting-edge setting for flexible, innovative learning. The room is designed to unify both on-campus and online learners, giving UF business students the most flexibility to choose how they learn while maintaining one inclusive community within the classroom.

Rows of seats for in-person learning will be positioned within a circular design of screens on the walls that create life-size seats for online students. Those virtual seats will also have individual, directional audio, creating the most authentic in-person look and feel for virtual students joining a live class. Faculty and students alike will hear and see an online student as if they are sitting in the room.

Additionally, students joining the classroom virtually will be able to curate their classroom experience. They will have the option to choose between views of the presenter, various classroom boards with PowerPoint content or a smart whiteboard, or a general view of the classroom itself. Virtual students, like in-person students, will be able to select what matters most to them based on their style of learning.

Both audiences will have access to streaming technology that allows them access to a new and improved classroom experience and encourages them to interact as one classroom community. Faculty will also be trained to use the high-tech room so they can offer more interaction and active learning to their students.

Contemporary business students prefer more flexible program options, and UF is primed to meet students where and how they learn best. As The Gator Nation continues to expand, the dual modality classroom will bring students together regardless of location, lifestyle or learner needs.

It’s these innovations that set UF apart in online business education. The foundation of online education was set years ago to help establish UF as a leader, and maintaining that reputation is what continues to push us into the future.