“No! It’s not long-distance learning ― although it might be a long distance.” This statement best describes the biggest misunderstanding or, rather, misconception about online education. Although it is location-independent, it has nothing to do with the, entirely self-study-based long-distance learning of the past.
Online education, and especially online MBA programs, delivers broad and interactive learning experiences that can be considered a viable alternative to location-based traditional education.
To explain the virtues of online education, it is best to look at the intangible expectations, and thus challenges, of an online MBA. Reputation and networking spring to mind immediately: Will an online MBA have the same value to employers? And will an online MBA give me the access to a strong and useful professional network?
When examined closely, both questions are rather irrelevant. According to the 2010 Sloan Survey of Internet Education, 66 percent of academic leaders consider online education as good as or better than traditional education. Furthermore, the chances are that someone doing an online MBA is working at the same time, thus not only taking the burden of work but also of studying on their shoulders. What better signal of a highly motivated individual is there to the employer or a potential employer?
Concerning networking, apart from a few exceptional business schools, choosing your business school based on the possibility of joining a network seems outdated. First of all, those people you’re studying with must graduate in order for them to be able to use the network, and secondly, what about the networks you already have access to? How much are you making use of them? Well, if you are not, it is questionable that the MBA network will make any difference.
Now that we have ruled out this dilemma, it is best to take a short look at how an online MBA is structured. There are basically two types of programs being offered:
All-online programs ― these make all the course content available online, which means that students never have to attend classes on a physical campus.
Combination programs ― these are a mixture of distance learning coupled with classroom learning. Various courses can be completed entirely online, while other courses must be taken in a campus-based classroom.
What about the pros and cons of an online degree?
Online MBAs are normally cheaper, but these too can range from as little as $3,000 a year to as much as $30,000, or even more in some cases. Looking on the bright side, scholarships, low-interest student loans or even financial aid from employers are readily available.
Flexibility is also another great advantage, especially for students who are currently employed. The student can study at any time from any location and does not have to quit their job or spend precious hours commuting or sitting in classrooms.
Lectures can be accessed at any time, which means that very little time is wasted waiting for professors or traveling through rush-hour traffic. Most institutions offer a form of electronic mentoring, which makes it easy to communicate with lecturers and administration staff should problems or questions arise.
Even though there are still some employers who prefer candidates with campus-based degrees, this number is definitely on the decline. On the other hand, the reputation of providers and the perceived value of online MBAs are certainly on the rise.
It goes without saying that the online student must possess a high level of self-discipline. After working for 10 hours, the student comes home, the sun is shining, all their friends are going to the bar to have a good time, and this poor soul must stay indoors and work on the computer. This can be very frustrating at times.
Some potential students are put off by the possibility of technical problems arising during online studies. However, these are increasingly rare. If the student invests in quality computing equipment, technical problems rarely occur.
In conclusion, here are some of advantages to completing an online MBA compared to a campus-based one: A lot of online providers offer exactly the same curriculum as their campus-based competitors; courses can be taken from any location in the world, even when traveling or on holiday; financial support is readily available and on the increase and the learning pace is regulated by the student.
Also, you can learn as slowly or quickly as you like, or even join an accelerated program. The only things you need are a computer and a good Internet connection.
By Sascha Liebhardt
Sascha Liebhardt is a professor of strategic management and dean of the European University Business School in Munich. ― Ed.