What Is Studying For A 100% Online MBA Really Like?

The first class graduated from the University of Birmingham’s 100% Online MBA this year. Gayan Sirimanne reveals whether it was worth it

The dust has settled on the first graduating class from the Online MBA at the University of Birmingham after two-and-a-half years of grit, stress, and by the sounds of it, very early mornings.

Gayan Sirimanne (pictured below) graduated earlier this year from the program, and he says that time is of the essence when you’re balancing work, study, and family life.

He chose the program—recognized as being the world’s first AMBA-accredited 100% Online MBA—because of distance learning’s ability to offer students the best opportunity of work-life balance.

He was in full-time employment at the end of 2015—when he began the degree—and that was something he couldn’t give up.

Studying for the degree has already paid dividends. Gayan was a production manager for UTC Aerospace Systems when he started and has worked his way up the company ladder while studying. He was promoted first to the position of group leader for Aero transmissions before becoming a project manager in May 2018—his current role.

It wasn’t without hard work though.

“For a year or so I woke up at 03:30, or 04:00 in the morning,” he says. “My wife was unhappy about that, but I had to do it, it was the commitment I had to make.

“I had to have strict rules with my time management,” he continues. “I had two hours in the morning three days per week, and I aimed to finish everything within that time frame.”

The University of Birmingham’s Online MBA students work together throughout the two-and-a-half years in groups of peers from around the world. There are fortnightly live sessions that connect them with tutors, lecturers, and other groups of students in an interactive, online learning environment.

The sessions are two-and-a-quarter hours long, and discussion takes place between student groups over that time which is purposely designed to be as diverse as possible.

On top of that, students are expected to get through a wealth of reading material between classes. That, says Gayan, was one of the biggest challenges.


“For a year or so I woke up at 03:30, or 04:00 in the morning”


“I think I underestimated a little bit the research aspect of the MBA,” he asserts. “I had to read and understand a lot of literature, and that was one of the challenges, to absorb everything in that little timeframe.”

“I had two weeks in the beginning where I slipped with my studies,” he adds, “but I realized that if I do that over and over, I’m not going to [make] it, so then I made myself targets to hit week after week.”

Gayan explains that the most useful thing he learned, and a major aspect when looking at the return on investment of the Online MBA, is the development of his critical analysis.

He admits a lot of the modules he had covered superficially during his past studies, but the MBA specifically forced him to think in a much deeper, analytical way.

“Everything might have looked simple, but you can dig deeper through critical thinking,” he says.

What that means is that Gayan was able to directly impact his career with deeper analysis and creative thought when overcoming challenges at work.

Particularly when he was completing his dissertation.

He wrote his thesis, he explains, on the company where he was working. It was a real “eye opener”, he adds, and by applying the theoretical frameworks he learned on the Online MBA into practice, he pleasantly discovered a number of things that he previously hadn’t considered.

“I knew a few of the outcomes before the dissertation, but there were some outliers I found that were interesting,” he says. “It was really intense, and interesting.”

Being able to translate knowledge into immediate, tangible success at work is one of the major benefits of online learning. For Gayan, the Online MBA at the University of Birmingham gave him a chance to deep-dive into his company in real-time, seamlessly combining the world of academia and industry. 

As we move towards a world in which employees can seldom afford time away from work, online MBAs will come into their element. 

So, was the Online MBA worth it? 

For Gayan, it seems the answer is 'absolutely'.