Online MBA: Industry Experts Speak Out On The Rise Of Distance Learning

Programs like Birmingham Business School’s 100%-Online MBA—the first of its kind to be accredited by AMBA—are leading the innovation

Ubiquitous access to education. A utopian ideal, but that’s exactly what the online MBA offers. Students of online MBA programs can study any time, any place, and all while continuing to work—they just need an internet connection.

Indeed, the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) cites flexibility and ‘access to quality programs without having to travel’ as two of the main reasons a student might opt for an online MBA over a campus-based program.

Students who don’t want to take the one-or-two years out of industry to complete their MBA degree don’t have to fret.

A wealth of online MBA programs are popping up. Although a majority do have residential components requiring students to travel to campus some, like the Online MBA at Birmingham Business School—ranked the 29th best online MBA in the world and third in the UK in CEO Magazine’s Global Online MBA Rankings—are delivered 100% online.

“Online degrees have the potential to be offered affordably without sacrificing academic rigor or instructional quality,” says Deanna Raineri, chief academic strategist at MOOC platform Coursera—which offers online courses and degrees from some of the world’s top universities.

“Graduates often tell us that the online experience is actually better in some cases than what they remember from the large lecture halls of their undergrad days.”

That is because the learning experience is swiftly developing online. On Birmingham Business School’s Online MBA, students learn through fortnightly live sessions that connect tutors, lecturers, and groups of students in an interactive, online learning environment.

Seamless interconnectivity means students like Kathirvel Balakrishnan are able to connect with peers all around the globe. Gone are the days where diverse, multicultural learning was restricted to campus-based MBA programs.

Is that why online learning is becoming more popular?

It’s not the only reason, explains Deanna. “Technological advancements like artificial intelligence (AI) and data science are quickly changing the way we work; being a lifelong learner is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity.

“Online education enables people to gain the skills they need to stay competitive throughout their careers.”

Accreditation can offer a real stamp of approval for a business school’s online program. The Birmingham Business School Online MBA was the world’s first program of its kind to gain accreditation from the Association of MBAs (AMBA). 

Regular virtual classes with support from professors and a diverse, global set of peers, also delivers knowledge which can be applied directly back into the workplace.

This becomes a quotidian habit. That equates to what Birmingham Business School Online MBA student Pete Donovan says is vital for companies—developing the skills of their people to offer a world class service.

More and more business is being conducted online. Admissions expert Barbara Coward recalls a comment from a CEO about the dynamic of a modern workplace. “[He] said that the office is becoming a place where people go to socialize as they get most of their work done at home,” she says.

The rise of remote working means we have to augment our ability to communicate with colleagues virtually. “An online MBA helps with that,” explains Barbara. “You learn how to influence others, resolve conflict, lead projects, navigate sensitive issues—all important leadership skills—in a drastically different environment.”

Nick van Dam, global chief learning officer at McKinsey, adds that “what companies expect from business schools more than before are these human competencies.”

Speaking to BusinessBecause in January, he says companies must look at “how [they] can help develop these competencies by working in teams, by working on specific assignments […] and creating a real-life work experience.”

Online MBAs offer just that. “Learning agility,” according to director of people and organization for PwC Belgium, Koenraad Goris, is still high on the list of priorities for business schools—hence the growth of programs like Birmingham Business School’s Online MBA.

At PwC, he adds, anyone who comes into the company has high expectations in terms of learning. Making people aware that learning has to be an ongoing thing is a commitment business schools have to make.

“The future of work includes rethinking education and training,” Koenraad concludes. “We need to question ourselves, and MBA schools have to do the same—a lot of things will change.”