width=280There are hundreds of MBA programs available for candidates to choose from but lately another one has been thrown into the mix. QS TopMBA looks at the rise of distance learning MBA programs.

Distance learning has been a feature in the world of education for a long time and older readers may remember the association with correspondence courses featuring boxes packed with books and valuable essays left at the mercy of the postal service. Even then the range of courses available to anyone in the world was extremely wide, but with today's technological advancements - particularly the Internet, DVDs, video conferencing and numerous other innovations this less traditional non-classroom method is even more viable.

The Distance Learning MBA or DL MBA for short, entered the arena in the 1960s and has been developing ever since. Recent figures from Keyworddiscoveryshow that, while MBA is the most searched for term, almost six times as many searches are done using online MBA' as for MBA programs. Wordtracker Keyword Researcher, suggests that only a little under half as many people search for online MBA as the term MBA worldwide. This boom in interest is in stark contrast to the scepticism that greeted the concept when the UK's Open University began their distance learning MBA in 1969. Prof. Richard Wheatcroft, Master's Program Director at Open University, says: Then, employers didn't take it seriously because they didn't have access to information about the course structure and what was taught on them. But through the 70s and 80s, before the business school came to the fore, it was demonstrable that graduates were as well educated as those from face-to-face universities. Convincing employers is key, particularly with DL MBA courses, because it is employers opinions of a course or a business school that will naturally influence who they choose to take on board. But the good news is that today's MBA recruiters rarely, if ever, consider a DL MBA inferior at all. Tom Harrison, Head of Corporate Relations at QS, and an MBA recruitment expert, says: I find that employers understand the constraints on individuals who are trying to get ahead with an MBA but for a large number of factors, such as family, wanting to stay in a fulltime role, or geographical constraints, are unable to attend the chosen campus.. As long as the distance learning MBA course is fully accredited and reputable then employers will have faith in it. Having said that, a valuable part of the full-time MBA experience is the concentrated time with academics and peer group and, while it's hard to quantify that value there definitely is some. DL MBA students will miss out on this to a greater or lesser extent Nigel Banister, Chief Executive of Manchester Business School Worldwide and an expert in distance learning, concedes this point: Interaction with other international students is of course hard to replicate. However when we talk about distance learning attop business schools, this doesn't mean studying alone the whole time. Students do come to Manchester for parts of their course and spend a few weeks here, in their holidays for example.

The mix of nationalities is very diverse so it's not missed out totally. While full-time MBAs clearly differ from DL MBAs in terms of the intensity of contact with peers and faculty, it is no longer the case that a DL MBA would put a candidate down the list in terms of pecking order. James Thompson, Lead Talent Search Partner at AstraZeneca plc, a pharmaceutical company, says: As a recruiter I am aware that different people learn in different ways, and that the constraints on some people's lives stops them from attending a full-time course, especially with the US two-year model.
Distance learning suits some people more than others. It's a cost-effective way of delivering learning. There are good reasons for why someone would want to take a distance-learned MBA and in fact it could even be a benefit as it shows recruiters what that person is made of. What a DL MBA graduate is made of, many argue, is resilience, self-motivation and the proven ability to focus on and complete a complex and challenging task - qualities that employers find valuable and transferable. Not only did the candidate get an education, but they did so in their own time and proved their adaptability and work/lifestyle balance. As Richard Wheatcroft says, They have demonstrated their self-motivation so that concern has genuinely been dispelled. Wheatcroft is also at pains to show that distance learning is not what many people consider it to be and that the school's infrastructure is essential in providing an education that employers value. We prefer the term structured open learning as it's a complete package of carefully produced materials away from a base, plus all the support. There are great advantages. Tutors only have a 15:1 ratio on the program, there are face-to-face seminars every few weeks, a large electronic backup and electronic support from the library. Schools need a very good infrastructure as this enables students to be self-directed learners, which is valuable to employers. With the rise of more and more candidates opting for
distance learning programs, be it MBAs or specialized masters programs, companies are taking note that online-degree postgraduate MBAs can be as good as full-time, on-campus candidates. The caveat has to be, as with any course, that the school needs to be fully accredited and reputable, perhaps more so than a full-time MBA from a top business school, which are well known to most MBA recruiters. The negative factor weighing on online masters programs is the lack of universal and recognised accreditation and official rankings, although QS TopMBA Scorecard (www.topmba.com/scorecard) does allow candidates to search and rank DL MBA programs to suit their individual criteria. It is a sad fact that the boom of the low quality 'online universities' have done nothing but to damage their respectable counterparts' reputation, though this downslide in reputation is being headed off by new age, savvy and well recognised multi-program schools like Aston, Instituto de Empressa, Open University and Manchester Business School. When considering the DL MBA option, bear in mind that when it comes to recruitment time it is up to the candidate themselves to prove their mettle to the employers. Doing an online degree can be just as intensive as an on-campus one - it is definitely not the easier option. In fact, this could be used as a tool to explain to employers how dealing with current obligations - personal or professional, and doing a course online has honed them into a more capable, agile and dynamic professional. And what more could employers ask for?