First, the ‘online MBA’ stigma
Are you familiar with the rather common statement, “He’s not a real doctor, he’s only a dentist,” in real life or the movies? Accredited online MBA programs have faced a similar stigma for many years. As recently as 2009, employers favored traditional, on-campus degrees. That stigma has started to erode, however. Today, an online MBA is a practical alternative for those who cannot attend full-time on-campus classes.
Two factors drive this change in attitudes. First, if a school has similar offerings on its campus and online, employers only care about the quality of the overall program. The delivery method won’t matter to these employers. Second, online MBA programs have become ubiquitous and extremely popular. Many of the top 20 business schools, including Kelley School of Business, Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, offer an online version of their traditional MBA programs. At quite a few schools, online MBA students outnumber their counterparts on traditional campuses.
A news article on the changing attitude towards online degrees found that employers accept them much more openly than they did a few years ago. Some employers even favor candidates who’ve juggled studies and other aspects of life. In a study of hiring managers by peer-reviewed electronic journal Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, a majority admitted that they do not differentiate between online and full-time MBAs. Hiring managers also said that it didn’t matter if the online degree was earned from a for-profit institution. When looking at applicants with MBAs, they cared more about the school’s accreditation, reputation, and use of real-world scenarios.
This, however, isn’t a unanimous sentiment. Some employers do consider whether the institution is profit or not-for-profit. The preference is for non-profit schools with the same faculty and curriculum for on-campus and online MBA programs. Though employers respect online MBA programs more, they still expect the program to offer quality learning for all students. As more reputable schools offer online MBAs, these degrees have gained greater acceptance.
Having said that, there should be no qualms about an online MBA being a reliable alternative to a full-time program. What you must now figure out is which method best suits your requirements, preferences and circumstances. This article will help you make a judicious decision as a potential student.
Online MBA vs. Traditional MBA Breakdown
How do the key facets of an MBA degree compare when they are related to a full-time on-campus program versus an online program? What are the advantages and drawbacks of completing your MBA from the comfort of your home? Here’s a brief discussion.
How do you measure the value proposition of an MBA program? By how well it develops your capacity for leadership? By the opportunities for career growth and salary enhancement? Or by the kind of environment it offers to interact with talented individuals; practice interactions and networking; and improve collaboration and problem-solving skills? All of these go into the final calculation.
Peer interactions in an online MBA program will be limited or at least not as dynamic as those in a full-time program. Some online programs make students spend a few days on campus each year. Others use interactive multimedia tools for student-professor discussions, and many group students into virtual teams. There’s a trade-off, but it’s not insurmountable.
Every other value-generating factor is shared between full-time and online MBAs. Here are some key ones to consider when you’re choosing either.
Naturally, the reputation of the B-School matters. Accrediting bodies like AACSB, AMBA, or EQUIS rigorously examine a business school’s programs, capabilities, and resources. This, in turn, serves as a reputation enhancer. Accreditation ensures that people will afford your degree the respect it deserves. This in turn helps during a job hunt.
You absolutely need to perform a comprehensive review of the MBA programs under consideration. Ideally, online MBA programs must offer the same curriculum as the on-campus ones. Both programs must comprise of the same readings, assignments, research and activities. Compare the curriculum, required courses and electives, materials, assignments, projects and exams for each.
Is one of your MBA subjects taught by a Nobel Prize winner? That’s a major draw with potential major drawbacks. Will the distinguished professor be available to help you learn between media events and book tours? The best way to review future professors is by interacting with current or past students. Confirm that on-campus instructors also teach online classes as well.
As an online MBA will be delivered electronically, technology is an important factor to consider. Assess the virtual classroom tools that will be used to support learning. If you’re open to hybrid MBA or part-time on-campus MBA classes, determine whether the software, systems and other learning aids will deliver a dynamic and interactive learning experience.
Campus vs. Online Learning
Many residential colleges have developed online versions of their traditional MBA programs that deliver the same content. The difference lies in the way they distribute information. Campus programs deliver information through in-person lectures, face-to-face discussions, and assignments that are turned in directly to instructors. Full-time MBA students may have lectures at all hours of the day and club or cohort meetings later at night.
Many courses offered in online MBA programs are asynchronous. Students don’t have to log in at a specific time to access lectures, and can view them at their convenience. This flexibility allows you to plan study time and absorb information at your own pace. Lecture videos and audio files can be rewound, paused, or fast-forwarded.
Course management systems will let you see each class’s lectures, assignments, and study guides. After completing an assignment, you can email the file directly to your professor or upload it to the system’s file hosting service. Some professors will prefer one delivery method over another.
The interactive element comes from web conferencing with professors for one or more subjects or coursework, and web chats with peers for group projects. You will need to make time for these occasions, but learning will otherwise be self-paced and comfortable.
Exam schedules can also be viewed by logging into your student account. The online exams may be proctored using a webcam or timed. In the former case, an individual from the school will supervise you. In the latter option, you will need to sit before the testing screen for the full duration of the exam. A few MBA programs expect you to take exams on campus in a proctored setting. Many programs may not conduct exams, and test your understanding through research papers, projects and essays instead.
A university’s career services center is staffed by professionals with the unique skills to assist you with career-related concerns. They may have a Master’s in counseling or an associated field or some experience in the corporate or non-profit sector. They can help with self-assessment and solve any issues on career planning that you may be facing. Many will pass on useful career-related information and trends they’ve noticed from their time dealing with employers.
That’s not all. Whether you’re looking for a promotion within your company, a change in function or a complete career transition, career days, alumni panels, on-campus recruitment, job and internship postings, job fairs, corporate information sessions, year-round networking programs, career management workshops, one-on-one career advising, interview coaching and personal branding toolkits are some ways in which a B-School can help you with post-graduate career opportunities.
Students in traditional MBA programs enjoy greater flexibility with career services. They can discuss their preferences with on-campus recruiters or have their resumes reviewed at the career services center. On campus, the approach taken can be more hands-on. Face-to-face involvement with recruiters and faculty keeps you focused and can help with motivation. Help is just a few steps away.
Online MBA programs provide much less versatility with career services. Always confirm that you can sign up for interviews with on-campus recruiters and that career services officers can meet you during non-standard hours. Some B-schools offering online MBAs may offer students access to a full range of career resources. Others may have the new technology to help with long-distance job interviews.
Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, for instance, provides several unique online services. Students in its online program can work with a dedicated career coach, access job-search resources, and connect with alumni. They have separate career development paths for students looking to start a new career and those seeking to grow within their company or industry. Fox School of Business at Temple University offers individual career management coaching, access to a Career Navigator online portal, resume review services, professional development workshops, executive lecture series, job boards, and other useful services.
Reputed online MBA programs generally offer the same career service resources as their on-campus counterparts. If career support from your B-School is a priority, sorting schools by this criteria in your college search online makes sense.
Are you pursuing your online MBA while still employed? Online MBA programs offer a few major benefits for working professionals.
You can complete your coursework at any time from any location.
You can schedule discussions and collaborations at your leisure.
There is no need to live in the same city (or same country) to attend university.
No commuting in rush hour to get to the classroom or wasting time waiting for professors.
Online degrees offer unparalleled flexibility. Remote learning allows you to schedule your study time around work and family commitments. If you’ve been away from a classroom environment for a long time and prefer to work in the comfort of your home, e-learning is a good option. Non-traditional students, those who’ve returned to school after many years, often prefer it. These students are often older and have obligations that prevent them from spending time in a classroom. Many MBA students fit into this category.
E-learning helps you accommodate education into your life as opposed to re-organizing your life around education. You can study in the early morning before the kids wake up, on your lunch hour, or a couple of hours into the night. You don’t have to worry about missing class due to work or your child’s recital or a parent-teacher meeting. If you need to travel a lot for work, you have the flexibility to study in your spare time.
With a traditional MBA program, you have less control over study time. On-campus courses are scheduled in a rigid format, with shorter 50 minute classes and others running longer. Some night classes can go up to three hours. So, you will need to plan your life around class schedules, projects and assignments. In contrast, when you’re pursuing an online degree, you don’t have to sit for long periods of time. You can take breaks as needed and study when you feel most active and focused.
A full-time MBA program will want you to live on or near the campus. If your university is far away from you, long commutes and traffic jams can become a problem.
Cognitive theory indicates that when students have more chances to interact, they learn better and enjoy it more. Some of the factors determining the level of interaction in a learning environment include: contacts between student and faculty, cooperation and reciprocity among students, prompt feedback, and expectations of quality communication. In a traditional MBA program, students can connect with professors and peers on campus readily and freely. Distance learning students face the disadvantage of not meeting their peers and faculty members.
Distance learners can still interact with teaching staff, though. Sometimes distance learners have a greater amount of contact in comparison to on-campus students. These traditional students attend lectures but otherwise don’t interact much. Professors will set virtual office hours during which students can message or talk in real time. Online students, however, can’t ask questions or get clarification immediately during a lecture. Instead, they must contact the professor during virtual office hours with questions and concerns.
The student experience, a large part of which involves meeting new people, making friends and attending social events, still changes. The online experience focuses more on academics and less on social networking and development.
A few universities encourage on-campus and distance learning students to form peer-assisted study schemes. Some student unions also work on behalf of distance learners. You can consider joining a union to improve your social experience as an online student.
Online forums, email lists and Facebook groups are some ways in which distant learners can connect with peers. It prevents isolation and helps create a sense of community. If your MBA program needs you to spend some time on campus, make the most of this opportunity to meet other students and get the help you need.
Full-time and online MBAs have their own merits and drawbacks. Compare them based on your own circumstances and you should find the choice that’s right for you.