Market research firm, Global Industry Analysts, rightly predicted that the online learning market would reach $107 billion in 2015. More recently, Research and Markets forecasts indicate that it will almost triple to $325 billion by 2025.
A map detailing the number of Smartly Institute students in each region around the globe.
E-learning isn’t the future — it’s here already. And with applications to traditional MBA programmes waning, institutions and providers need to stay relevant to the digital economy in order to thrive — and indeed survive — in today’s highly competitive market.
It’s easy to see why new online learning models are proving so popular with professionals looking to acquire new skills and expertise. E-learning is often more cost-effective, efficient and flexible, enabling learners to integrate it more easily into their busy lives.
This is exactly what prompted Tom Adams, Alexie Harper, and Ori Ratner to set up Smartly Institute in 2013.
“The goal was to deliver education through innovative pedagogy and high-quality content that enables successful and measurable outcomes for learners who have been stymied by traditional approaches to continuing education,” explains Alexie Harper, Chief Academic Officer and Co-Founder at Smartly Institute.
Smartly Institute is reshaping the executive education landscape by making MBAs more accessible to professionals at various stages in their career. Candidates can choose from a free mobile-first MBA, an Executive MBA and a range of short courses covering topics such as analytics, management and accounting.
We caught up with the Smartly Institute team to find out more about how it all works — particularly in relation to student recruitment and teaching and learning.
How do you go about recruiting students for the Smartly MBA?
Allison Harper, Admissions & Career Services Director:
Smartly Institute students find us through many methods. We love to see students applying and enrolling after they’ve heard about us from their friends, classmates, and co-workers.
In fact, we often have several students from the same workplace enroll in the program together. In additional to “word of mouth”, students find us through our outreach efforts on traditional advertising platforms.
Our students hail from top undergraduate and graduate schools, drawing from diverse backgrounds spanning engineering and finance to humanities and the performing arts. Many have careers in business-oriented fields like consulting and banking, while others are entrepreneurs, lawyers, and even veterinarians.
“Students are prompted to engage with the learning material every 8 seconds on average, and are provided with frequent, interactive feedback.”
We have roboticists from Tesla and Amazon (the company), the founder of a tea company that gives revenue back to indigenous farmers in the Amazon (the jungle), and even a student who is a former White House Fellow!
Do students get any face-to-face teaching, or is it all done online?
Alexie Harper, Chief Academic Officer and Co-Founder:
Smartly’s key differentiator is its learning platform, rooted in a strong understanding of how people learn best. The curriculum is delivered via a proprietary teaching method that follows the principles of Active Learning (as opposed to passive learning, which is often the case with lecture-based models).
Students are prompted to engage with the learning material every 8 seconds on average, and are provided with frequent, interactive feedback. This teaching method helps learning to be fast, effective, and memorable. Additionally, without the need for a required in-person component, the program is flexible and convenient for students.
“Students in the Executive MBA program have the opportunity to attend optional networking weekends that are held throughout the year in cities around the world.”
Program instructors don’t provide face-to-face teaching as part of the program, however there are several ways in which we enhance student learning through projects, peer collaboration, and social experiences:
Projects, Presentations, and Peer Collaboration
Students are given multiple opportunities to utilize the knowledge and skills they learn with Smartly, as well as interact with their classmates. Projects, presentations, and weekly exercises are assigned to students throughout the program to help them apply what they’ve learned, while also providing important teamwork experience and strengthening their presentation skills. Students collaborate or work individually on projects and other assignments as their schedules allow, and their work is reviewed and evaluated by the Smartly academic team.
Smartly uses the Slack platform to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and to post relevant and topical articles for students to read and interact with. In our Slack communities, students can exchange ideas, engage in discussion on course materials and concepts, and receive notifications about course administrative topics.
Students in the Executive MBA program have the opportunity to attend optional networking weekends that are held throughout the year in cities around the world. These weekends involve business workshops, site visits, student presentations, and more.
The weekends provide a great opportunity to meet classmates from around the world in person and to tackle challenging business exercises together. The most recent event was held in Singapore in 2019, and guest speakers included Joshua Morris, founder and CEO of The Progression Group and the lead international team coordinator in the Thai Cave Rescue in Mae Sai, Thailand in July, 2018. The next event is being held in Washington, DC in the fall of 2019.
Smartly Institute's recent event in Singapore.
In addition to the EMBA networking weekends, we hold less formal meet-ups to enable students in the MBA and Executive MBA programs to meet other students and alumni in their particular region. These events happen in big cities and small towns across the world, including Lagos, Perth, Dallas, and the Mojave Air and Space Port!
We’ve organized tours of the Facebook offices in NYC and facilitated a tour of Parliament in London that finished with a discussion of Brexit with a member of the House of Lords. So far, our meet-up events have been held in over 35 countries and thousands of students and alumni have attended.
Student and Alumni Network
A third way that we facilitate social and in-person experiences is through the Smartly Student and Alumni Network. The network is accessible to students who are logged into their accounts and it connects Smartly students and alumni around the world.
Within the Network, students can explore a global map of current students and alumni, search by industry and interests, and contact peers safely and easily.
“We’ve entered an era where the pace of change across industries is like nothing we’ve seen before, yet education has been slow to progress.”
We created the Network to enable students to forge real-world connections and discover inspiring peers in the Smartly community. Smartly Institute students work in today’s most exciting industries and at top companies, giving them access to an impressive ecosystem of experienced professionals.
And finally, what do you think the future of executive education will look like?
Rachel Fletcher, Director of Marketing and Brand:
We’ve entered an era where the pace of change across industries is like nothing we’ve seen before, yet education has been slow to progress.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and online degree programs have promised innovation and the democratization of education, but many have fallen short by not addressing critical aspects of how people learn best in an online environment (hint: it’s not a video lecture) and by neglecting the value brought forth by traditional, residential programs — things like peer-learning, a sense of community, and a valuable alumni network.
It’s our hope that Smartly Institute — which combines the best in innovation and accessibility in online education with the top value propositions of a traditional university — will be the future of higher education.
Our mission is that students can gain a world-class education, a thriving, global alumni network, and have access to top-tier job opportunities upon graduation, without compromise.