This past Saturday, May 7th, I had the privilege of being involved in something that at first glance is replete with contradictions. I gathered with people I knew, but didn’t. I talked with students of an institution who had finished their program of study but who were, in many cases, making their first visit to that institution’s campus. I saw men and women who had taken a course together interact as if they were long lost classmates from an in-residence, multi-year program despite never having been in the same room. And I saw this from people who had to make travel arrangements and purchase tickets to come from all areas of the globe: from Australia to India, from Colombia to Qatar.

HBX ConneXt was wonderful in its own right but it was most important in the evidence it offered of what an online education program can be. When we set out to create HBX, we started by putting ourselves in the student’s shoes and thinking about the pedagogy (for HBS, this means the case method of study). In starting there, we realized quickly how important interaction between members of the community would be if the case study would be at the center of the learning experience. After all, the case method relies on students questioning and challenging each other. Through this back-and-forth, they come to induce principles and, in having to work for the answer to a problem, they come away with a more fundamental understanding of how to apply their thinking to a host of situations.

So our efforts to include a community in the platform had much to do with our pedagogy. What wasn’t anticipated at the time but which, in retrospect, should have been obvious, is that this online community that engaged to solve a real-world problem would form bonds that would transcend the course platform. That is what we saw at HBX ConneXt.

We saw digital world relationships become physical world friendships. We saw how helping peers online led to bonding with colleagues offline. We saw what I believe is the beginning of something very special.

As an employee and graduate of the school, I had an amplified sense of pride in what I saw. The employee in me thought about how well the team here executed in creating a wonderful platform and the courses that go on it. The graduate in me took pride in seeing the extension of the school’s mission – to educate leaders that make a difference in the world – take root in so many lives across so much of the world. HBS Dean Nitin Nohria noted to the HBXers assembled during one of the day’s sessions that the world is in desperate need of leadership everywhere. After seeing the enthusiasm of the HBX students, relatively early pioneers in the new world of digital education, I think I can say with confidence that we have many who are ready to answer that call of leadership.

ConneXt community
Patrick Mullane

About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of HBX and is responsible for managing HBX’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School - to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.