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Study at your Leisure with an Online MBA

B-schools harness the power of the Internet with online MBAs, but not everyone is convinced of the benefits

By  Sarah Halls

Wed Jun 2 2010

Online MBAs have never been so popular. Even Jack Welch, the former GE CEO-turned-management guru has jumped on the bandwagon and launched his own version.

Opting for an alternative delivery method to the traditional MBA does have its advantages. Disciples of the online MBA often preach that it allows them to continue their employment without interrupting their career.

Others claim that due to geographical and professional circumstances an online MBA is the only option. Pablo Martinez who now works in Vietnam managing a coffee company is one such person.

“In my case, not many schools offered MBA programs in Vietnam, and I couldn’t afford to leave my job,” says the Spaniard who is currently studying for his Global MBA at IE.

His German classmate, Veronique, also agrees that the online format has its benefits over the bricks-and mortar version because students are not living in a “bubble-like environment” and going around “reading the FT every day.”

Program Structure

An online MBA usually allows the user to study parts on campus, virtually or a combination of the two. This merge of learning options is the route that Babson College, in the States, advocates with its 24 months Fast Track MBA.

Also in the US, online education powerhouse Phoenix University offers a program in which all content is relayed electronically.

Over in Europe, IE b-school in Spain has a 15-month Global online MBA. Students meet in video conference classes on Saturday mornings or afternoons, and then attend classes outside of specified Saturday lessons and also meet each other in person during residential visits in Madrid.

One of the most established distance learning providers is the UK’s Open University. Which was set up to provide distance learning in 1969. Contrary to popular belief, the institution’s MBA is not exclusively taught online. Instead the school prefers a blended approach combining DVDs, iTunesU, residential classes, written material and face-to-face tutorials.

“The activities and assessments are crucial... Wherever possible they will involve applying the course concepts in the student’s own context. Students then call on the tutor or go online to the dedicated discussion forums to talk through the issues they have experienced with tutor and professional peers,” says David Mayle, Head of the Centre for Innovation, Knowledge & Enterprise at Open University Business School.


Despite schools endeavouring to give e-MBAs a similar experience to the usual MBA, critics are not convinced of its merits. BusinessWeek reported that corporate recruiters take a condescending approach to the online format.

"The only way we'd hire [an MBA with an online degree] is if their résumé is strong and they can explain why they had to get their MBA online," says Gloria Odogbili, assistant MBA recruiter for UBS Investment Bank in New York.

A quick trawl through web forums throws up students with ambivalent opinions towards the program, with some saying they’re useful and others wondering whether an online MBA cheapens the school’s brand.

However students on the online path are quick to hit back:

“It turns one’s life upside down and requires all it can get from the student (and its environment)," counters Ertan Unzendimer of the International Executive MBA at IE.

"Days turn into nights and nights again into days and I find myself surrounded by books, notes, case studies and 25 open browser screens yet not having finished my weekly contributions. The only thing that keeps me going is counting down the days that remain until graduation...”

Martinez chimes in: “Others, bless them, think on-line courses are easier, less demanding, while still carrying the value of such renown institution as IE. There are some that find on-line MBAs an appealing combination of top education with high-tech innovative learning approach.”

Rover and Kitty get an MBA

Another concern for applicants seeking to study online is the threat from so-called diploma mills, bogus universities appearing to offer MBAs. Sting operations by GetEducated.com, an education information site, has revealed that a dog and a cat graduated from fake universities offering online MBAs. The global accrediting body AACSB, has accredited 44 online MBA programs. But, for every credible school there’s an imposter. GetEducated has uncovered almost 40 bogus accreditation bodies and over 300 fake universities, which allow applicants to buy their degree rather than earn it by studying for an actual qualification.

System failure

Of course undertaking an MBA in e-format means you are dependent on the Internet. Interactive programs depend heavily on whether you have a reliable fast speed broadband connection.

Though, this does not mean there are not any hiccups along the way as Ram Parasuraman, an IE Global MBA, recently found out: “I’ve gotta be the first to admit it, doing a primarily online degree means automatically that you are a slave to technology... Right now, for instance, Campus Online and the rest of IE has gone down perhaps for routine maintenance.”

Log on or log off?

Logging on to a virtual system rather than walking around a bricks-and-mortar building is a matter of choice, motivation and convenience. Tuition fees for online programs can range from $5,000 to $25,000.

Another major consideration for applicants is whether the online program is internationally or regionally accredited. Despite what the critics have to say, the biggest bonus of an online MBA is that you won’t have to worry about pesky visa applications!

Read more about diploma mills on the website of the U.S. Department of Education