How can online MBAs replicate the on-campus experience? |

How can online MBAs replicate the on-campus experience?

By Laura L

Updated Updated

Having the flexibility to work alongside your studies, being able to learn from anywhere in the world and gaining a truly global network are just some of the reasons why you might choose to study an online MBA over an on-campus programme. But can a virtual course provide the same experience as a traditional, full-time MBA? 

COVID-19 has significantly accelerated the growth of online learning, both in fuelling more interest to study online and ensuring educational providers invest as much time and attention in designing their online programmes as they do their traditional in-person offerings. 

That said, according to the recent QS Business School Admissions Pulse Survey, business schools still believe in the value of in-person classroom interactions, even though 79 percent of schools surveyed offer an online MBA or online business master’s.  

So, can the online MBA provide the same level of education as an on-campus experience? Here’s how some of the top online MBA programmes in the world are doing just that. 

Virtual classrooms 

Far beyond Zoom calls and online chats, schools are providing dedicated online platforms with advanced technology for a realistic classroom experience. Kelley School of Business at Indiana University received a $16 million donation to enhance the virtual classroom experience for MBA and business master’s students. 

The new Brian D. Jellison Studios include technology to create new course content online and advanced pedagogical techniques like ‘flipped classroom learning’ to make lessons more valuable and dynamic whether you’re in-person or at home.  

Chair of the Kelley Direct Program and professor of management and entrepreneurship, Will Geoghegan, said: “With the addition of our brand-new studio space, we have the technology necessary to bring a highly engaging, immersive MBA experience to all online learners. “ 

Innovation is taking place across other business schools too. Nottingham Business School has reshaped its global marketing management module based on a competitive simulation activity, after realising that online students were being denied the opportunity to engage in their physical consultancy experience due to international travel restrictions.  

The refreshed module offers an immersive team working opportunity, giving online students the opportunity to acquire skills that would only typically arise from an in-person experience.  


“Due to the nature of the online MBA, it has its own challenges, but it also creates a variety of opportunities,” according to Amir Michael, Associate Dean of the MBA at Durham University Business School.  

“It is important to understand the main motivations and circumstances of students joining the programme, to ensure that it meets their objectives and helps them to achieve their ambitious plans.” 

Flexibility and customisation are central to Durham’s online MBA programme, as you can personalise your degree to meet your career goals, with specialisations in entrepreneurship, consultancy, technology or analytics and data.  

Kelley’s online MBA is another programme with customisation at its heart, including a newly revamped curriculum that can be personalised to meet every student’s needs with 50 percent elective modules and 50 per cent core modules to gain the expertise they need to succeed.  

“Whatever their goals are, our online MBA students can receive a tailored education in line with their aspirations and desired outcomes, making the Kelley Direct Online MBA a customisable, personalised experience based on the needs of business professionals,” Professor Geoghegan said.  

Global networking 

Iain Cooper is an online MBA graduate from University College London School of Management and Senior Director of Finance at Jacobs. Having undertaken several on-campus qualifications where he wasn’t able to build many good connections, he was surprised to find that his online MBA provided him with a huge network of meaningful connections with people from across the globe and spanning numerous industries.  

“I didn’t expect an online degree to feel as supportive and as close-knit as it did. I was genuinely able to build camaraderie and companionship with my peers around the world. We helped to raise each other up to succeed and share our expertise through group workshops and more informal catch ups,” Iain said.  

In the same city, Imperial College Business School is the UK's top-ranked online MBA programme and its Global Online MBA is designed to allow students to build relationships that will last for your entire career, the same way you would on a physical MBA degree.  

Professor Markus Perkmann, Academic Director at Imperial College said: “We have also introduced new digital tools for students to connect and engage both virtually and in their home locations, to facilitate ongoing communication and exchange between peers. We’re also in constant contact with companies, start-ups and in other academic disciplines to ensure the classroom environment reflects and anticipates our online students’ reality.”  

See how an online MBA at Durham Business School helped Robin's career

On-location residencies 

While digital tools are going a long way to replicate the experience of studying at the university campus, having the opportunity to meet other students in person can be hugely valuable. Many business schools have incorporated a physical element to their online MBA programmes to allow students the opportunity to engage with local clients and industry experts, as well as each other. 

Kelley School of Business revamped its on-location residentials in response to student demand for in-person experiences. Traditionally, students had visited Bloomington, Indiana twice through the programme but that proved difficult for some students, so the school has included the opportunity to travel to various domestic of international locations for a ‘Kelley on Campus’ residential, enabling students to broaden their horizons across several destinations like New York, Athens, Dublin, Hanoi, Johannesburg and more.  

Durham University Business School’s online MBA students can also choose to attend immersion events in the likes of San Francisco, Manheim, Lyon and Madrid. Associate Dean Michael said: “Selected in person taught modules are attended with our full time MBA programme and Executive MBA programme students, which provides another great opportunity of networking and exchanging experience beyond the students’ cohort.” 

What is career coaching?

Dedicated time to focus on personal and professional development to enhance your career is just as focal in online MBA programmes as it is on campus. And it often goes beyond help writing resumes and finding new roles. At Imperial College, students are supported in transforming their mindset to become successful leaders. 

Professor Perkmann said: “With the support of our Careers team, we help students clarify their goals, career and leadership development plans, identify any limiting beliefs or unhelpful thinking styles, shape personal career narratives, and support them to realise their aspirations.” 

At IE Business School in Madrid, ranked first in the world for its online MBA programme, the online MBA is designed for self-transformation and discovering the ‘next best you.’ Lee Newman, Dean for IE Business School said: “Students are encouraged to maximise their personal brand and avenues of opportunity to add to their industry-specific skill set. They have access to career advancement resources like one-on-one career coaching, guidance from the Talent & Careers Team and networking opportunities with companies around the world.”  

This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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