Dr. Lindsay Redpath: Executive Director of
the top-ranking Centre for Innovative Management (CIM), Athabasca University
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive
interview with Dr. Lindsay Redpath, Executive Director of the Centre for Innovative Management (CIM), Athabasca University (AU).
Dr. Lindsay Redpath joined Athabasca University in
1992 and became one of the first faculty members for the Centre for Innovative
Management's newly launched online MBA program. Between 1997 and 2002, Dr.
Redpath was Director of the Centre, leading the organization through a rapid
phase of growth. In November of 2004, she assumed the position of Executive
Dr. Redpath’s research interests include
the changing nature of work and employment, organizational change and learning,
and managing across cultures. She is currently researching the growing use of
contingent professional workers and the human resource implications for
In 1996, Dr. Redpath received the Craig
Cunningham Memorial Award for teaching excellence. This was a tribute to her
dedication to high quality online education, a priority that she continues to
promote in her role as Executive Director of the Centre for Innovative
Q: Lindsay, there are tremendous demands on
your time so we appreciate that you have taken the time to do this interview.
A: It is always a pleasure to discuss our MBA
Q: The Financial Times of London ranks your
program as one of the top 75 out of 500+ EMBA programs worldwide. Canadian
Business Magazine ranks it within the top 3 and first in major categories. What
factors has contributed to these rankings? What are your medium to long-term
goals with regards to your Canadian and World standings and how will you
A: Although there are many factors that have led to the international
recognition we’ve received . . . I think that our dramatic success in the MBA
world can be attributed to several things.
First, we are fortunate to have many
academics in Canada and around the world contributing to our dynamic online learning
environment which engages students and academic faculty in intense and rich collaborative
dialogue and discussion. Every day, and every week . . . our students, with
their academic leaders, discuss business issues and then apply them to their
own work situations. It’s this direct applicability that has been the one of
the hallmarks of our program.
The diversity of the students . . . they
represent every industry, every sector and almost every geographic region—means
that the discussion and learning offer a truly global perspective . . . far
beyond what is possible within the confines of a more ‘traditional’ MBA
classroom held in city or region that draws heavily from surrounding
populations. The world is quite literally ‘our classroom’ . . . and that
collective force of ideas, learning, and perspectives that are shared and
applied on a daily basis . . . has
catapulted the AU MBA into recognition well beyond our borders.
AU launched the world’s first online MBA in
1994, and no online program since has been able to capture or imitate the power
of our online learning environment. Business is now so firmly rooted in the
Internet that our program really replicates the way business is done today –
through a vast electronic network of inter-connectivity and ideas shared across
borders and boundaries. We’ve proven that this not only works, but that it is
often a superior way to learn.
Our students and alumni continually affirm
the power of their experience, but it is very gratifying to get the external
validation that comes from something as prestigious as the Financial Times’
ranking of the World’s Top EMBAs. We benchmark our program with the world’s
best . . . because we know ours is the world’s best online EMBA program, and
we’re proving it nationally and internationally.
Our goal is to continue to provide the kind
of high quality learning experience that works for managers and executives who
need the flexibility and portability that we provide ... online. We’re
committed to continuous improvement so we evaluate every aspect of our courses
to ensure that they’re not only up-to-date and relevant, but also that they’re
of the highest quality and delivered through technology that makes online
collaboration and learning a uniquely rewarding exercise.
We’re also submitting a proposal to the
Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education to offer Canada’s
first online DBA or Doctorate in Business Administration. This is a natural next step for our business
school, and will address the growing demand for a post-MBA doctoral program
that will have a rigorous applied research focus. As you may know, there is a
growing shortage in Canada and North America of qualified doctoral level business grads, and this new program
will build on the online success that we’ve had with the MBA, and will focus on
innovative approaches to management practice.
Q: You have an outreach program for
business and technology professionals worldwide. As one example, in Canada, people
with a Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), ISP (Information Systems
Professional) designation plus five years of management experience are accepted
for entry into your program. [Ed. Note: The ISP is also accepted for entry into
the AU Master of Science, Information Systems program.] What prompted this
innovative approach in Canada, and what are your plans for professional groups worldwide? What
has been the reaction from students?
A: We recognize that students with enough management experience and a
professional designation bring a wealth of practical knowledge and basic
theoretical understandings that enable them to do well in our program. We have
very successful agreements with associations such as CMA and CGA—Canada,
and their members bring rich accounting and financial management backgrounds
that add greatly to the online learning environment.
We accept people into the MBA program on a
conditional basis without a bachelor’s degree . . . however; we do require
significant management experience. We
have had great success with students who have joined the program through this
Requests to assess professional
designations come from students, and in some cases, directly from professional
associations. We look at the rigor of
the curriculum, evaluation processes, etc.
The response from students and prospective
students has been overwhelmingly positive as they are pleased that our
University acknowledges the significant work that they have done to achieve a
We also partner with other professional
bodies and organizations. In fact, we’ve just signing a formal agreement with
the Canadian Police College to offer our MBA with specialized electives that will be developed in
collaboration with the CPC. This gives mid to executive level members of police
associations and services an excellent opportunity to earn their MBA with a
focus on the important strategic, operational and leadership issues that are
key to management effectiveness today.
Q: In the US,
regional accreditation is the highest level. Can you comment on this process
for the Center of Innovative Management (CIM)? What will be the impact of
achieving this accreditation and how will it ultimately benefit your students?
A: We have worked with Athabasca University as a whole to provide the Middle States Commission on Higher
Education (MSCHE) with an understanding of our Centre, how it works as a
self-supporting and sustaining unit within the University, and how we operate
and deliver our graduate programs. The visiting team, on their final site visit
to the University, was able to meet with our faculty members and students who
were in Edmonton for our residential electives—it was the perfect opportunity
for the accreditation team to get a sense of the impact and reach of our
program . . . as we had students from all over Canada and other countries . . . and they were able to give the team the
all-important student perspective.
We expect to know the final determination
of the MSCHE in terms of AU’s accreditation in early July. If the University receives the MSCHE
accreditation, we will be the only university in Canada to have all of
its programs accredited by one of the six U. S. accreditation
Clearly, we’re very hopeful and optimistic
about the MSCHE’s decision, and we know that U. S. accreditation will
increase our profile and presence in the United States and internationally. Any student applying to our program, from
Canada or elsewhere, will be pleased to know that we’ve undergone the rigorous
accreditation process . . . it’s a powerful external validation of the quality,
rigor, and standards of Athabasca University and the Centre for Innovative
Q: You have the largest program in Canada
with more than 1000 students, just under a third are woman, 5% are
international, an average age of 40, 9
years of management background, and most in middle to executive management. What
other demographics can you provide? How will these demographics shift in the
future and how will you influence these changes?
find it interesting that the largest proportion of our students, about 44%, come
from Ontario, and most are from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). This is quite
significant for an Alberta-based university and demonstrates the importance
that head offices place on supporting employees for the AU MBA. Alberta is next in terms of
students, followed by British
Columbia. Close to 56% of our students receive some or
all tuition support from their employer, and those employers represent every
one of Canada’s top 50 companies, as well as over 300 others in Canada
As the baby-boom generation moves into the
retirement years, we are all forecasting shifts in demands for MBA education,
and some new trends in terms of how the workforce will be constituted in the
years ahead. For example, immigration is projected to increase to address the
anticipated shortage in many industries and professions for highly skilled
knowledge workers who can compete in our increasingly globalized world.
Our program is offered online, and
increasingly this is the way that business is conducted throughout the world. We
think that our program will be particularly appealing in the years ahead to
managers and professionals who want to ‘do their education and learning’ in the
way they do business . . . with the immediacy, connectedness and high level of
application value that comes from learning in a highly collaborative online
Q: With your strong history of successes,
you are in the ideal position to make some predications. How will the landscape
for graduate level education change in the future?
A: As many senior managers and
professionals retire in the next few years, we’re predicting smaller cohorts
with higher levels of educational attainment. There will be pressures for
higher level credentials in all professions and across all sectors. In fact, we
are experiencing new demands from our MBA grads for doctoral-level studies. Managers
are faced with more complex work environments, a faster pace of innovation and
change, unstable political conditions, and many moral and ethical dilemmas . . .the formulaic or ‘best practice’ approach to
business decision making is no longer enough.
Q: Chindia has 2.3 billion people and
there’s a demand for graduate-level education. China in particular
has surpassed the UK and France in GDP and is now ranked fourth behind the US, Japan, and Germany.
Moreover, there’s more than 100 million internet users in China for 2005, second
only to the US. What are your plans for these areas?
A: Our online environment is based on the fact that anyone in the world can
take our degree wherever they live – this would make it seem as though China and India
would be prime markets. However, there are many socio-economic factors that
influence demand for education in these countries. India and China are
completely different in so many ways that I think it is unwise to lump them
together as if they were a single entity. Our challenge is to find ways to
connect with the mid to senior-level managers in these countries who need the
kind of management education that our program provides. As the economies of India and China grow
at an increasingly rapid rate, their industries will mature requiring more
talent at the managerial levels.
Q: From research …: For 2.5 to 3 years,
students spend upwards of 35 hours per week, completing 13 courses, though the average
is 20-25 hours per week, 2-4 hours online per day. They are given case studies and
problems to solve and analyze individually and as groups on group projects; and
they post their daily analysis in a community collaboration forum using Lotus
Notes technology. Moreover, students actively must provide analysis and
evaluation on the postings of others. All contributions must add to the
learning of the community bringing in wisdom from the assigned text, supplemental
readings, multitude of AU databases and library resources, external reliable
sources, and experience. The emphasis is on application, analysis, synthesis
and integration, plus evaluation. An often asked question is: So what? Some
students make more than 50 individual contributions or postings to the forum
per week. A non-collaborative end-of-course research paper can be on the
student’s organization providing an applied element that can yield real
benefits in real-time. It’s a rich environment with dynamic learning from the
cohort, each feeding off each other and the assigned faculty known as coaches. There
is a compulsory one-week residential course from offerings held in major cities
including internationally. Students write a comprehensive exam after completing
their first and second years and write a thesis in the form of a major applied
project in their final year.
Can you comment on how this format came
about and how it will evolve into the future? What do you hope to accomplish?
What are your findings from the research conducted on graduates?
program was developed when the Internet and online learning technologies were
in their infancy. The program was built on the promise and premise that
learning online in a highly interactive and collaborative way could be as
successful, or more so, than traditional classroom learning. We’ve come a long
way since the early days, and the international recognition that our program
has received points to the power of online learning not only as an alternate
method for delivering education, but also as a superior way of providing high
quality graduate management education.
In our program, students work during the
day (or night) at times that best suit them, so they can concentrate on their studies
without being distracted . . . plus they have time to reflect on what they are
writing, what other people are saying – all leading to more well-thought-out, and
reflective discussion that isn’t always feasible in a traditional classroom
where often more reserved or quiet students are side-lined in favour of their
more vocal classmates.
Our graduates are our best ambassadors
because they not only continually attest to the value of the learning experience,
they apply their learning every day in their workplaces . . . and this is the
ROI that is critical to our students, our grads and their employers.
Graduate surveys have placed our ‘student
satisfaction’ ratings at 97% . . .a statistic that few schools can claim. Over 91% of our graduates rate the value of
the investment made in MBA program as “excellent” or “exceptional.” Graduates
contribute to the surveys conducted by a number of external bodies, such as the Financial
Times of London, and the benefits that they derived from the program contribute to
the growing recognition that our program is receiving world-wide.
a crowded market, what differentiates the EMBA program at AU?
continually focus on what differentiates our programs from the others . . . and
we know that our online teaching and delivery model with its learner-centered,
highly collaborative, experiential approach . . . enables students to connect theory to practice in the workplace .
. . within a flexible environment where students contribute at times and places
that are good for them. I saw one of our
students on an airplane with his laptop in tow . . . working on a course
assignment that he would then submit while he was working in another
integration of technology and business has impacted the business model. What
are your top ten tips for success in the MBA program?
- Motivation . . . you have to WANT to do this program, and you
have to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices. This program is not for the faint of
heart . . . it requires the support of family, friends and an employer who
is committed to supporting your learning. If you have dedication, support
and perseverance, as well as the intellectual gifts and personal traits to
achieve . . . you will do well.
- Time Management. You
have to establish a disciplined routine for course participation and
activities . . . time management skills are definitely enhanced through
the duration of the program, and are a ‘must’ for program success.
- Participation is key. Many students, particularly at the beginning of the program, are
reluctant to push the ‘send’ button for the first time. They’re nervous about sharing their
perspectives and ideas in what for many is a new learning environment. Once involved in the discussions,
students learn that they bring so much experience and expertise to the
table. The beauty of our learning
environment is that continual and mandatory participation fosters high
levels of learning . . . and that is accomplished through both student to
student and student to professor interaction.
- Learn from others: This may seem obvious, but the program
teaches the importance of learning from each other . . .as well as the
professors and academics who provide course leadership and facilitation.
- Rely on your extended network. The flexibility and portability of our program has made it easier
for full-time working students to complete programs while maintaining
commitments to family and friends. Although the study demands are high, our
students’ families and their extended support networks contribute greatly
to their success . . . through patience and understanding at particularly
busy times, and through moral and morale support at throughout the program.
- Develop relationships with other students. We’ve found that students are amazingly
inventive in terms of connecting with other students and alumni to discuss
course issues, assignments, etc. In fact, informal ‘study buddy’ groups
have emerged in many cities across Canada and beyond . . . and these have developed through the efforts
of local students and alumni.
- Seize every opportunity to apply what you learn. As I
mentioned, one of cornerstones of our program is the high application
value and ROI to the organization in which the student is employed. Students
continually link projects and assignments to ongoing work . . . and then
share the results with their employer. We have great evidence of the many
- Know that managing your career requires more than an MBA. The
MBA provides students with the skill sets, knowledge and confidence to
explore new career options and opportunities, but personal initiative and
drive are key to ensuring that your MBA takes your career in the direction
you want . . . when you want.
- Take advantage of the many opportunities to connect with
students and alumni. We offer many events throughout the year to support
our students and alumni in major centres and other locations across Canada. Attendance at alumni and student dinners and luncheons,
information sessions, and Meet and Greet events, is a sign of the cohesiveness
of the growing community of AU MBA students and grads, and an important element
of the social and networking aspects of our program.
- Know that discouragement can be part of the experience. In any
rigorous and time-intensive program, there are periods when students
wonder if they will ever finish. We’re proud of the intensity of the
learning experience we provide . . . this is no MBA “lite.” When students
cross the stage to receive their hood and parchment at Athabasca University on graduation day, their and our joy bear testament not only
to the rigor and quality of our program . . . but also to the tremendous
dedication, tenacity and spirit of our students.
Q: What motivates you? What goals do you
still hope to accomplish both professionally and personally?
am continually motivated by the trust that our students place in us to help
them achieve their goals through a learning journey that is nothing short of
remarkable. The overwhelmingly positive
impact that their learning has on their careers and personal lives and their
thirst for continued learning . . . inspires me on a daily basis. Nothing could
We have so many plans to extend the reach
and impact of the AU MBA throughout the world. . . we take it one day at a time,
but these are exciting times to be leading a business school.
Lindsay, thank you again for your time,
and consideration in doing this interview.