Hybrid vs. fully online: how different teaching models impact satisfaction

Laurent Scaringella, Professor at Rennes School of Business, presents new research into how different teaching models impact aspects of satisfaction, loyalty and course attractiveness

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 switch quickly to remote teaching. 

In the years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic, online learning was already on the rise, but lockdowns ensured it became a necessity. However, the pandemic also popularised another mode of teaching: a hybrid model connecting classrooms to both on-site and online students during synchronous teaching.

Many business schools are now able to offer different teaching options: fully online, hybrid (50% in-person, 50% online), or fully in-person. 

Growth of online

Online models of learning and working have now become so ingrained in our lives that a 100% online programme does not seem to deter students, particularly as they can be considerably less expensive. 

In the 2020-2021 academic year, online MBA students outnumbered full-time in-person MBA students in the US (45,038 vs. 43,740). Worldwide, however, full-time MBA students still outnumbered those in online programmes (78,061 vs. 53,281). 

For many, fully online learning lacks the human element that hybrid learning offers. But how do online programmes fare in terms of faculty and student satisfaction? And what about MBA quality, attractiveness, loyalty and, ultimately growth, when compared with hybrid programmes which offer both an online and in-person option. In an era of digital economy and competition, should we teach in hybrid or fully online mode to maximise our programmes’ reputation and success? 

Word-of-mouth recommendations from MBAs

Together with colleagues, we 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 and customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction, productivity and loyalty. It has since been widely used in sectors such as hospitality, healthcare, retail, banking – but never before in higher education. 

Using survey data from 93 faculty members and 366 students from three universities in the US, our research study revealed a new picture in terms of faculty and students’ satisfaction.

Our data revealed that the Service Profit Chain model was stronger in face-to-face and hybrid delivery than in fully online delivery, in contrast with past studies which suggested that delivery methods didn’t matter.

We observed that fully online delivery methods might lead to a negative impact on student satisfaction, while hybrid modes strengthen positive word-of-mouth among MBA students and alumni. Positive word-of-mouth is highly important to business schools since prospective students are highly influenced by the recommendations of friends and family. We also found that female MBA students are much more positive than male students when it comes to word-of-mouth, and so too are more mature students. This is definitely something that business schools’ marketing managers should keep in mind when engaging with specific target groups.

Expectations fuel quality perception

We also found that if students had high expectations of a MBA programme, they tended to rate it highly, meaning that students’ pre-existing beliefs about their course hugely matters.

In addition, we found students’ judgement to be more positive towards hybrid programmes than purely online ones. This leads us to conclude that as MBA programme expectation positively relates to MBA programme quality perception, 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 investing in marketing to induce students to enter programmes with high expectations. 

Programme quality is no measure of faculty satisfaction

In contrast with past studies, we also found that faculty satisfaction does not significantly relate to MBA programme quality. This may well be because a lot of faculty members see their work as routine.

So, business schools should not consider an MBA’s programme quality assessment as an accurate indicator of either the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of faculty members. Instead, schools need to develop alternative forms of measurement to assess faculty members’ job satisfaction. This is hugely important for faculty retention.  

Based on our research, we found that the Service Profit Chain is much weaker in fully online programmes than face-to-face and hybrid ones. It is, therefore, important that business schools that are reevaluating their offerings should retain in-person elements wherever possible, 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.

Laurent Scaringella is an Associate Professor at Rennes School of Business and a Research Affiliate at Kozminski University. He holds a DBA from Grenoble Ecole de Management and a PhD in management sciences from Université de Rennes 1.

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