Recently there has been an influx of institutions and business schools offering online MBA programs. Depending on the institution, these online MBA programs are called anything from 'blended learning MBAs', to 'e-learning MBAs', and from 'fast track MBAs', to the more traditionally branded 'distance learning MBAs'.
Online MBA courses are designed for convenient access from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. If they choose, students can embark on the tough challenge of studying part time while working to pay the bills, looking after a family, or even studying full time on the opposite side of the world from where the actual business school is based.
For clarification, TopMBA.com defines online MBA programs as courses that are taught solely online, without visiting the school. Distance learning MBA programs are hybrid courses, where the predominant mode of study is online, but the student will be expected to attend some campus based lectures, such as a residential course during over a long weekend.
But with so many different studying formats, and with few previous students as a result of the online MBA's relative infancy, how does a potential MBA student decide which online MBA course is the right choice?
One option is to look at business schools that have already been accredited after operating regular MBA courses on campuses for many years. Many of these schools argue that MBA students are taught very similar if not the same curricula, and therefore graduate with the same skills.
No matter which MBA platform a student chooses, everyone earns the same [qualification] explains Jason Simmons, manager of admissions and recruitment, W P Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in the US. While he points out that options for elective courses may differ depending on which medium the MBA program is taught in, all involve the same core curriculum, which includes a strong foundation in accounting, management, finance, marketing and supply chain.
While one obvious drawback to any MBA program taught exclusively online is the lack of face to face with fellow students, many argue that learning deep online skills is essential for the technologically evolved world.
Teamwork is still a key component so students learn how to work in geographically dispersed teams, which is becoming commonplace in the corporate world, says Eric Richards, chair of the Kelley Direct Public Programs at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, USA. Our online courses are very interactive, just as our face to face classes are. The only difference is the way in which the interaction occurs.
A crucial aspect of online MBAs when compared to traditional campus based MBA programs is the availability of the online lectures, usually 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As Richard Wheatcroft, masters program director and senior lecturer in management at Open University in the UK tells TopMBA.com, sometimes it matters more what the individual is doing, than the institution they are studying at.
From a recruiter's point of view, at a top business school with both full time and online MBA programs, graduates come out having studied a very similar syllabus. However, a graduate who has studied full time can only claim they can work hard. An online MBA graduate has already been working hard [while studying part time] for the last two years, Wheatcroft notes, drawing attention to the benefits of gaining work experience while studying.
However, Wheatcroft, whose distance learning MBA at Open University is predominantly taught online did concede that there are drawbacks to an online MBA. Networking is a problem, as online meetings simply can't replace face to face interaction with fellow students, he explains. Also, there clearly isn't the same [on campus] recruitment going on, as it's a disconnected network, so it's impossible.
Eric Richards at Kelley School of Business points out that the need for an online MBA student to have a great deal of self-discipline to graduate. Since you are not required to be in a certain location at a certain time you must be disciplined enough to join in discussion forums, chat sessions, team meetings, and do your class assignments on a regular basis throughout the week, he explains. If you need to be at a class at a certain time to motivate yourself to keep up with your studies, an online program like Kelley Direct is not for you.
Value to recruiters
Finally, probably the most important consideration for any online course, MBA or otherwise is how much it is valued after graduation. Accreditation is very important here, points out Wheatcroft, whose MBA course is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The other international accrediting body that accredits schools overall is EQUIS, based in Brussels. AMBA (the association of MBAs) is based in London and accredits individual programs rather than schools. There are a number of schools that have one, two or even all three of these heavyweight accreditations.
There are also national accrediting bodies in separate countries, says Ross Geraghty, managing editor of the TopMBA Career Guide. As there is little to stop almost anyone starting a business school or online MBA, it's very important that online MBA candidates seek out and research a school's accreditation before handing their fees over.
In fact, many experts are becoming concerned over some online business schools that seem to operate purely for profit, rather than to educate their students. Sometimes you want to ask, are you running a business or a business school? Andy Policano, chairman of the board of AACSB International and dean of the University of California at Irvine's Paul Merage School of Business enthuses, before giving his advice to prospective students.
Some schools really do appear to be more concerned with making money than educating their students, Policano worryingly points out, reiterating the importance that prospective students check that a business school is properly accredited before handing over their tuition fees.
Accreditation really is that important. Just because an organisation calls itself a business school, it does not necessarily mean they are genuinely interested in educating their students. It appears that, unfortunately something that many would assume to be an essential part of selecting, and paying thousands of dollars in tuition fees is all too often overlooked by eager students.