Credited with the democratization of education, the internet provides unprecedented access to top education programs, which are available at the click of a mouse.
Online MBA programs offer a more affordable and flexible package than their full-time counterparts, allowing students to combine their studies with work, travel and child-care.
According to GMAC’s 2015 prospective student survey, 12% of global MBA applicants consider online programs; 21% in the US; 15% in Africa. The data epitomize how e-learning widens access to education for developing countries.
With growing numbers of MBA applicants looking to online MBA programs, business schools are having to adapt to the demands of an increasingly digitized world.
Yet questions remain over whether online MBA courses offer a credible alternative to the traditional business school model: Are online MBAs as attractive as traditional formats to employers? And can they compete with the level of interactivity and networking opportunities offered by traditional MBA programs?
BusinessBecause spoke to several online MBA students to find out.
“Compared to studying on campus, distance learning is quite different,” says HR manager Rupinder Singh who, preferring to stay with his family in Kuwait, decided to pursue an online MBA from the University of Wales through distance-learning course provider RDI.
“With the online learning tools for studying, the fee format and the flexibility to study at my own pace, RDI was perfect,” he says.
“At the same time, employers understand that the courses provided in online MBAs are equally as competitive and challenging as traditional MBAs.”
If Rupinder has one regret, it is the level of interactivity which he feels he missed out on, studying thousands of miles away from the busy throng of campus life.
“In distance learning, there are opportunities to interact and network with other students, but since it’s not face to face, many of us shy away from it,” he says.
“In the future, I feel a lot rests upon how the schools design their study programs and to what level they include human interactions.”
For Remon Fahim, a European commercial manager for British outsourcing company Serco, Warwick Business School’s distance learning MBA – ranked second only to IE Business School’s program in the Financial Times’ 2015 Online MBA Ranking - combats this well.
“At least twice a year I had to attend campus for core modules, and for multiple electives you have the choice to study by distance learning or face to face at a variety of international locations,” he says.
With students on Warwick’s online MBA program offered enviable opportunities to study marketing in Rome, strategy in Boston or organizational behavior in Dubai, Remon was understandably pleased with his online MBA experience.
“I was initially concerned about missing out on interactivity and networking, but it worked out just fine and I’m still in contact with colleagues who have become friends.”
“It comes down to content and Warwick delivered that very well,” he continues. “The content you are studying and the certificate you receive upon graduation is the same for a full-time student.”
Joshua L Olson, a pricing expert at leading aircraft manufacturer Boeing, was similarly impressed with the highly-ranked online MBA program offered by Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management in New York.
“I had my hesitations initially,” he says. But Syracuse University has turned any possible disadvantages upside down.
Far from limiting the potential for networking, Joshua thinks that online MBA programs offer more than their traditional classroom-based counterparts.
“At Syracuse, my network extends across the country in virtually any industry. I’ve connected and built relationships with IT professionals in Washington, financiers on Wall Street and non-profits in the Midwest.”
Due to demand from students and the huge opportunities for schools to expand their revenue streams, Joshua thinks e-learning may become the dominant form of education for MBA students in the future.
A pioneer in the field, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Business launched the world’s first open online MBA in collaboration with leading Silicon Valley-based Mooc provider Coursera earlier this year.
The program prides itself on a disruptive, innovative and affordable education model – costing about $20,000 – with specialized online courses available to everyone.
For Gautam Ramnath, who built his global consultancy network on a virtual platform, the iMBA was a natural fit.
“This is the way the world is moving!” he exclaims. Online programs provide mobile curriculums and the costs are manageable. “Business across all sectors is driving in this direction and future generations are wired to this approach.”
As one of the first cohort of students to pursue the iMBA, Gautam is impressed by what he describes as “a nimble, measurable, adjustable, mobile, metric-focused, interactive program with a disruptive price point”.
“Given what I do for a living, I wanted to be a part of this movement: a movement to make top-level education affordable and accessible globally.”