Even distance-learning courses often have strict schedules, which are not always convenient for busy professionals who can’t afford prolonged absences from their families and jobs.
Edinburgh Business School has a totally different approach. The Online MBA at Edinburgh Business School—the Graduate School of Business of Heriot-Watt University—is based on a unique way of learning, whereby students can choose which subjects they study and when. They can begin, defer and end their degrees when it suits them.
For Tony Hontzeas, an independent consultant at blockchain company Ethereum, this flexibility was crucial to completing an MBA program at all. When he started the MBA in 1997, his management role took him all around the world, from the US and Canada to Mexico and Greece.
“It would have been impossible [to do a full-time MBA],” Tony says. “I was in a sector that was growing; I had very little time on my hands. It was a time that I really grew in my career, so I would not have done an MBA [otherwise].”
Tony graduated from the MBA in 2007, a decade after he initially enrolled because of his choice to pause his studies. And this extended study time is not unusual—Allan Jensen, another Edinburgh Business School graduate, is the regional manager for Asia Pacific at Danfoss Global Services.
He joined the distance-learning MBA in 1998 in the hopes of bringing some theoretical balance to his career, but shortly after enrolling had to put his learning on hold for more than 10 years due to family commitments.
Luckily, the approach adopted by Edinburgh Business School and their Online MBA meant that this wasn’t a problem.
Allan resumed his studies in 2013, and counts himself lucky to have combined his real-life business experience with the theoretical teaching offered by the Online MBA: seven core courses including modules in accounting, economics, and strategic planning, plus a long list of electives.
“I’m 49 years old now, [and] I have 25 years’ experience around the world in two large companies,” Allan says. “I’d say the business examples that are in [the course] are highly relevant.
“The organizational behavior [teaching in particular] was just fabulous—I still remember many things from it to this day!”
To those who say that online courses can’t measure up to the package offered by full-time courses, Allan begs to differ.
“I think it’s an outdated snobbery that you have to go to a brick-and-mortar school,” he states. “My life is running at 200 miles-an-hour; there’s no time to settle down, and I shouldn’t have to!
“[With Edinburgh Business School,] I could take time to learn new skills, to think about them and apply them to the business that I’m in. I think that’s probably an advantage over a full-time classroom.”
A recent graduate of the Online MBA, Merle Pillay, who finished her course in 2016, agrees. Merle was working as a channel alliances manager at IBM in South Africa when she first enrolled in 2010.
“I’m not sure I would have assimilated as much as I did on the distance-learning course [in a full-time MBA],” she says. The school offers students the ability to defer examinations up to one month in advance, helping Merle prepare to her fullest potential.
Merle also found that being part of Edinburgh Business School gave her access to a business-focused community that she wouldn’t have met otherwise.
“One of the great things about this MBA was the camaraderie,” she says, “due to the alumni association that we had, and the fact that when the visiting lecturers came down, you got to meet other people in your area.
“You’re working on your own, but you develop a network. […] You learn a lot more about yourself, about how to interact with other people, and you start being more perceptive about what’s happening around you in the industry.”
All three graduates say that the Online MBA from Edinburgh Business School provided them with invaluable practical and theoretical teaching. For Tony, it was the ability to use macroeconomic principles to direct organizational strategy; for Allan, it was how to lead a growing team; for Merle, it was the financial understanding she felt she’d lacked.
But the key factor underpinning all of this was Edinburgh Business School’s provision of students’ freedom to direct their own learning—a first-class education, on their terms.
“If I hadn’t had that, I would not have an MBA today,” Allan concludes. “It just would not have been possible.”