Partner Sites

Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice
mobile search icon

Which Online MBA Format Is Best For You?

The variety of options available to those aiming to study an Online MBA has never been greater. So how can you decide which Online MBA format is best for you?

Wed Mar 20 2024

After booming in popularity during the Covid pandemic, Online MBAs are now firmly cemented as an alternative to traditional learning formats.

Typically boasting identical curriculums to established in-person MBAs, and taught by the same faculty, they provide an appealing option for a diverse range of ambitious professionals.

Those who are unable to commit to an extended period of in-person study without working can make use of the flexible nature of the Online MBA, which can often be completed alongside full-time work in anywhere from two to five years.

This also makes the prospect of gaining an MBA significantly more affordable. Students can continue earning their all-important monthly salary while benefiting from a reduced cost of tuition.

Those who decide to enroll in an Online MBA have a range of study formats to choose from. There are programs taught entirely online, those which incorporate in-person learning into the study experience, and even those which offer a balanced blend of both physical and online learning.

So, how can you choose the right format for you?

Here’s a breakdown of the different Online MBA formats, and why you might consider them.

Download your free BusinessBecause Online MBA Guide 2024 


1. Online-only

These days, many top Online MBA programs will offer you the ability to customize your study experience with a range of options. One of the main routes you can go down is an online-only approach.

An Online-only degree is exactly what it sounds like: an MBA that is taught entirely via e-learning formats. You’ll find no optional in-person learning experiences and no required residential weeks here. Instead, this format is designed to prioritize flexibility and make studying as easy as possible for you to balance with work and home life.

For example, students on the MBAX program at Australian Graduate School of Management in Sydney can complete their program entirely online and the school allows them to take up to six years to complete the course. The average student takes 42 months to graduate—the most of the top 10-ranked Online MBAs. 

This study experience is often bolstered by a range of specialist education technologies. While pre-pandemic Online MBAs may have simply involved a series of recorded lectures and zoom-based classroom sessions, today business schools use edtech to enhance the study experience and bring the virtual classroom experience to life. This is particularly important when you’re completing your studies entirely online.

For example, the Digital MBA program at HKUST Business School utilizes edtech to simulate a walled classroom thar students sit in while they study, with a 360-degree view of their classmates and professors.

This type of technology-led study allows you to replicate many of the advantages that those studying an in-person degree would benefit from, such as the chance to network effectively with your classmates and professors.

“I like the virtual class because I can see our teachers and not just their faces. We have all kinds of different body languages, and body language tells us a lot of information,” says Dr Helen Yang, a current student on the program.

2. Residential Weeks

An Online MBA degree offering the chance to undertake in-person periods of study provides a valuable opportunity for students who can commit to one or two weeks of residential learning.

While maintaining the focus on flexibility that comes with an Online MBA, there’s the opportunity for students to further develop their connections and apply their knowledge within practical settings.

For example, students in the ESMT Global Online MBA can participate in two elective residential weeks while they work through the curriculum. The Berlin Experience Week allows students to learn on the school’s main campus, taking part in interactive sessions and delving into Berlin’s business culture, while The Global Experience Week takes this opportunity further afield to locations such as South Africa and Mexico.

“It is a great opportunity [for students] to build their personal networks and benefit from exciting in-person experience,” explains Rebecca Loades, the school’s director of MBA programs.

Designed to bolster the learning experience, residential weeks can make up for the lack of personal connection and the skills this helps to develop, which are often cited as a challenge with online programs.

3. Hybrid

For students less focused on flexibility, a hybrid format can be a more appropriate study choice. Hybrid programs allow students to balance online study with a significant amount of in-person learning.

A pioneer in the online learning space, Warwick Business School (WBS) has offered a version of its Global Online MBA for more than 30 years. Today, the school offers students the option to undertake a hybrid study experience composed of two weeks of residential learning and one required in-person elective module—there’s also the option to pay to undertake further in-person modules if students prefer.

This blended study approach builds on the benefits provided by residential weeks, allowing students an extended experience inside the classroom where they can learn from one another during in-class discussions and by interacting directly with their professors. These elements were key in driving Kathryn Moser, a current student on the WBS program, to enroll.

“I wanted the benefit of connecting with other candidates, tutors and alumni in person, while also retaining the flexibility allowed by the remote work aspect of the course,” she says.

She maintains that in-person modules allow the class to participate in group work more effectively and study in a more productive environment with fewer distractions. Students can cover more content in a shorter space of time and further enhance their relationships on both a personal and professional level.

“This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the flexibility and convenience of the remote model. But the hybrid structure to me offers the best of both worlds,” she adds.

4. Fast-track

An Online MBA is typically a good fit for those who want to complete their studies over a number of years. However, those who would like to continue working but accelerate the pace of their degree can also choose to complete a fast-track program of 12 to 18 months.

For example, at IE Business School—home of the world’s top-ranked program—students have the option to undertake a standard study period of 17 months, or extend their studies to 24 or 30 months. The majority of students on the program opt for the accelerated format, with the average study time sitting at 18 months.

Enrolling in a shortened degree is a valuable option for those with a more urgent need to complete their studies, such as to fill a gap in their knowledge or add to their resume to take the next step in their career.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that a fast track degree also means significantly adding to your workload and will increase the challenge of balancing work with studying.

Flexibility is the key here and that means that one of these study formats is probably a good fit for your career goals.

Whichever option you choose, the core advice for how to maximize your learning experience remains the same as it has been with in-person MBAs for decades: keep an open mind and make sure you seize as many available opportunities as possible throughout your studies.

If you want to learn more about Online MBAs, the unique benefits, ROI, and get tips and tricks from business school experts, download our BusinessBecause Online MBA Guide 2024