The UK Complete University Guide estimates that some 108,000 students are studying a postgraduate course online at the moment, but is it the right option for you?
What is an MBA?
On the Master's of Business Administration (MBA) course, students attend lectures and work in peer focus groups to help expand their knowledge of business management and administration. MBA studies are aimed at business professionals who have at least some experience within a field that incorporates elements of accounting, finance, marketing, human resources and strategy as these are some of the mandatory core modules. Other modules can be chosen in MBA programmes which offer elective course or specialisations.
What are the different MBA delivery formats?
The most common form that the MBA takes is a one- or two-year full-time course, ideally suited to people who are flexible as to when their classes are and how much work there is to complete. The part-time MBA usually spans over three or more years and is conducted after working hours, tailoring to those business professionals who are working in the day as well as studying in the evenings and at weekends. For those who have substantial experience in business, usually 5 years minimum, there is the option of the Executive Master's of Business Administration. This postgraduate study is for professionals who have reached a point in their career where leadership is a key component for their success. Another delivery format that has gained popularity of late is the distance MBA, or the ‘blended MBA’ as it is referred to when combined with face-to-face study, and the ‘online MBA’ when it is based on autonomous, autodidactic learning styles using pre-prepared video and written content. It is perfectly suited to those who are studying from abroad, for those who want to combine work and study or those who find it easier to concentrate outside of a classroom context.
What are the typical features of distance learning in online and blended programmes?
Depending on the mode of delivery that you choose, you can expect different material, a different style of learning, varying levels of dynamism in class, different ways to network and varying levels of teacher-student/student-faculty communication. The distance learning mediums of study are usually created by a team of business professionals, educators and experts in pedagogy, so whatever they lack in classroom dynamics and peer support they usually excel in course material and flexibility.
Some distance learning online MBA programmes such as those developed by the University of London and The Open University do offer excellent material to be interpreted by students autonomously, but they have been known to omit the communicative aspect between the student and the faculty. Blended MBA and EMBA courses however, such as those which the IE Business School in Madrid offers, are much more interactive, which facilitates a good networking circle. This is available on some purely online MBA programmes through video chats which can bring together students from different backgrounds, adding to an eclectic mix of ideas culminating from different cultures, but it does not allow students to be in the same room as one another and subsequently exchange ideas more easily.
The other significant variation that occurs in distance learning programmes is the teaching methodology. Some teachers will lead online group chats and be available 24/7 for questions and general help; others will offer general, generic advice usually sent through email. It depends on the specific course. Make sure that you are proficient at working on your own and that you are self-motivated if you take an MBA or EMBA that has a strong element of autonomous content.
Distance vs. traditional classroom MBAs
Both systems work, as even the best educational institutions in the world such as Harvard, Cambridge and UCL have adopted the distance learning format and shown both to be effective. It even appears that both yield similar learning outcomes according to pedagogical studies undertaken by Athabaska University and Colorado State University. These studies seem to suggest that through online learning alone, students achieved better results in explanatory and cognitive learning whilst traditional classroom learning saw better results in students’ procedural and social learning. These studies also found that students fared better in quantitative, technology and theory subjects. As the MBA and EMBA entail a lot of theory, it could be a good option for someone looking to grasp the theory of ‘business science’. The practical and social business element however seems to be better learnt in a classroom.
Check out: Pros and Cons of Online Masters Programmes
Accreditation, reputation and rankings
With the rise of online education in major educational institutions, and so many successful professionals accrediting their success in their ventures to the things they learnt through online MBA courses, distance learning programmes have become a valuable addition to any CV. Easily accessible distance MBAs such as the free ones from The Open University and Coursera, or others that have minimal entry requirements such as those of the University of London, do not hold the same kind of prestige that courses from more renowned universities and educational institutions hold. The IE Business School in Madrid is the best institution for online distance learning MBAs and EMBAs according to the Financial Times. Other polls have adjudged MIT, Cambridge and Harvard to have the best blended courses.