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Amid Burgeoning Online MBA Programs, Why Build? HBS Dean Discusses Value of Physical Campus

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As the world increasingly moves toward the digital, why is it essential to invest in physical spaces?

HBS Dean Nitin Nohria

Last fall Harvard Business School opened its newest building Klarman Hall. It’s a gigantic space that joins several recently opened facilities, including Tata Hall and the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center. These three buildings constituted a significant upgrade for the HBS physical campus, but was it necessary? According to HBS Dean Nitin Nohria, the answer is unequivocally yes.

“I believe the buildings that make up our campus are more than just physical structures,” she said. “They are carefully designed spaces that allow us to create transformational educational experiences—structures that are as important to our work as an acoustically inviting concert hall is to a symphony, or a well-thought-out ballpark is to a baseball team.”

In a recent blog post, Nohria further spoke about the case study method, which is taught in specially designed classrooms with semicircular, multilevel seating. In these rooms, every student’s name is on a placard, and every student has equal opportunity to see, hear, and participate. “I’m convinced that if we taught a case study in a room arranged like a single-level high school classroom, it would be a completely different—and lackluster—experience,” explained Nohria.

hbs class of 2020 profile

And outside the classroom, he argues that physical space is just as valuable. Students can collaborate on projects thanks to dozens of adaptable project spaces with room for whiteboarding, video conferencing, and group editing. There’s also the fact that HBS allows for living and studying together 24/7, which creates a truly immersive educational experience for MBAs and Executive Education students.

“I am convinced that if our MBA students were strewn about Boston in apartments, or if our Executive Education students resided in hotels, the relationships they form with their peers would be less deep, and the overall education we provide would be profoundly less transformational,” Nohria said.

In fact, Nohria believes that as online education continues to grow, that physical space will only become more critical. He cannot imagine online courses supplanting the experience of living and studying on campus, just as recorded music can’t supplant a live concert or watching a sports game on TV can’t replace sitting in the stands.

“The physical experience that is made possible by the brick and mortar of the Harvard Business School campus remains vital and irreplaceable,” stated Nohria.

Read his full blog post here.

Kelly Vo
Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and topics related to personal development. She has been working in the MBA space for the past four years in research, interview, and writing roles.