The Advantages and Challenges of an Online MBA | TopMBA.com

The Advantages and Challenges of an Online MBA

By john T

Updated August 12, 2016 Updated August 12, 2016

This article is sponsored by the EU Business School. Learn more about the EU Business School Distance Learning MBA.

Technological advances have changed how we communicate. They have also changed how we learn. Online classes can provide flexibility for students while letting schools make the most of their resources. They are accordingly becoming more prevalent. In the US, one out of four students reported taking at least one distance education course, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Despite the growing popularity of distance learning, some remain skeptical about its merits. Russell Poulin, the co-executive director for WCET, which champions technological adoption in education, told U.S. News and World Report, “[W]hat I hear over and over again from people who should be more knowledgeable is that they still equate distance education with for-profit.”

For-profit schools are often derided for open admission standards and low graduation rates, with the biggest name in the market, the University of Phoenix, standing as something as a byword for low-quality provision (its MBA class is 30,000 strong). However, the one thing the for-profit sector has in its favor is early adoption, with innovation necessary to stay competitive in the sector. 

Over the past few years, numerous highly-regarded universities have added distance learning and online formats to their offerings. In recognition of this, most MBA rankings include the category, including TopMBA.com, which offers the QS Distance Online MBA Rankings. These programs are rarely all conducted by distance, with the vast majority of programs offered by reputable schools containing mandatory in-person elements.

Online MBAs Attract Growing Support

Across Western Europe, the average age of the population is rising. Similar increases are occurring in other industrialized nations, including Canada, the United States and Japan. Longevity, along with a desire for new opportunities, has driven many to embark upon multiple careers. A good percentage of ‘traditional business students’ may be supplanted someday by older, more experienced MBA applicants.

Unfortunately, by the time potential students reach their thirties, the demands of family and work can make full-time, on-campus education impossible. Universities have long offered night and weekend courses to accommodate their needs.

The first distance learning programs were pre-internet correspondence courses. Decades ago, distance learners combined attending classes and meeting faculty advisors on campus, with weeks or months of off-campus independent study. High-speed internet’s ubiquity has changed this, making online MBA programs a great alternative for busy adults.

There are drawbacks. Despite distance learning’s growing popularity, some top employers remain reluctant to recruit online MBA graduates. It must be borne in mind, however, that online MBA students often remain with an employer for whom they continue to work while studying, making opinion a little trickier to gauge.

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, former GE CEO Jack Welch discussed the for-profit program he founded. Welch compared the attitude toward online MBAs to the stigma once associated with online dating. “Today if you look at the [weddings section in the] New York Times on Sunday, how many of them meet online? What, meeting at a bar is better than online? It’s the same way [with distance learning]. Students are taking on this enormous debt. It’s brutal. It’s got to change. And the internet – online education, in my view, is what’s going to change it.”

Schools like EU Business School are working to alter attitudes by implementing programs that combine a traditional MBA’s rigor with distance learning’s flexibility.

Distance Learning provides new opportunities

Martin Schüler is a good example of the type of professional EU's online MBA attracts. When he was considering a graduate degree in business, he was already quite accomplished academically, having earned a doctoral degree from the prestigious St Andrew’s University in the UK, studying nuclear magnetic resonance, mass spectrometry and scientific publishing. He also works as a director of Schüler ORGAFLUOR which “provides tailor-made distribution services across the European life science industries [offering] a broad variety of specialty chemicals at highest quality standards and level of service.”

Schüler’s background, along with his demanding schedule, made him the ideal distance learning candidate: “The online MBA program at EU convinced me it would offer the best option for achieving both my professional and personal objectives,” he explains. “Not only did it provide tremendous flexibility and convenience through online meetings and conferences, held from virtually any place across the globe, but it also offered students the chance to meet international faculty members and peers personally through prescheduled modules across the various European campuses.”

His MBA paid an unexpected dividend – today he works at EU as a lecturer in statistics, decision analysis and sales management.

Time management challenges and the online MBA

The ideal distance education is complementary rather than disruptive of one’s time. As Eleanor Montgomery, director of communications at EU, explains in her article, ‘The Online Option: An Exceptional Education with Full Flexibility’, “Studying online is ideal for those who wish to continue working while studying; seek a blended experience of online and on-site education; wish to develop multidimensional business skills; are looking to move up in their companies; or want to study under a world-class faculty.”  

Time management is an ongoing challenge for students. This often increases with age as career and family exert their own pressures. For many, attending physical classes is difficult. Yet, working remotely means an increase in the number of distractions and time management challenges. It’s sometimes difficult to focus on classroom lectures when your electronic devices are competing for your attention. Working at home, staring for hours at the same tablet that offers innumerable distractions requires even greater discipline.

The challenges faced by many considering an online campus are one reason EU Business School’s Dr James Mulli explains that applicants to the online MBA program must have good time management skills.

The experienced, diverse and driven candidates who can get this right have much to offer, naturally. “Applicants with work experience bring added value to the experiential qualities of the program. In this respect, we also seek diversity in our student body and vocal engagement to build upon the already well-established community of learners. Therefore the more diverse our student body, the wider the networking net can be cast.”

A former compliance officer for a New York-based broker dealer and a portfolio manager in a fund management organization, Dr Mulli began lecturing on a full-time basis after completing his PhD. Today he applies his passion for exploring the ways educational technology is reshaping the world as the EU’s director of online MBA programs.

How does a cohort work in an online MBA program?

More than most advanced degrees, MBA programs are teamwork dependent. A traditional MBA cohort provides collaborative opportunities during the program. After graduation, cohorts make up the core of your network. So how does a cohort work when your studies are virtual and you meet your classmates online? 

EU Business School’s Dr Mulli says that, “The online program is not only asynchronous but also synchronous – live. Students will see and interact with each other and their instructors in live video transmissions, discussion forums, webinar-based breakout sessions, group case studies and during the Barcelona, Munich and Geneva campus weeks (which are broadcast for those who cannot attend). To create the effect of being in a classroom, participants will have access to microphones, webcams, the ability to raise their hand to gain attention, laugh, clap in appreciation, agree and disagree with what is being communicated through built in icons and tools. Although the online campus cannot mirror the physical nature of the site campuses, there is the eLibrary, and academic, technical and administrative support services for students to access. As students of the online campus, they are privy to and also have access to the services of the on-site campuses.”

It’s a brave new world in distance learning, one that is evolving rapidly. Not satisfied with traditional online programs, several graduate business schools are even offering avatars allowing students to interact in a virtual world almost as detailed as the real one. Except, as one recent participant noted, there’s no dress code: “I saw that people don’t really care,” New Delhi’s Parth Saxena admitted to the Wall Street Journal. So he switched his avatar’s dark suit to the jeans and a t-shirt. Something you can probably get away with a lot more if you’re studying online too…

This article is sponsored by the EU Business School.

This article was originally published in July 2015 . It was last updated in August 2016

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Content writer John began his career as an investigative reporter and is a prolific educational writer alongside his work for us, authoring over 100 nonfiction books for children and young adults since 2000.

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