Online MBA programs can provide more flexibility than classroom based programs. But how does the actual experience compare? We asked Rachel Killian, the Marketing and Recruiting Manager at Warwick Business School.
What are the benefits of a distance learning program over a class-based one?
There are two main reasons why people would choose a distance learning program over a class-based program. The first of which is the cost, because typically a distance learning program is likely to be more affordable – particularly if people are looking for a part-time program but are not getting any corporate sponsorship or funding from their employer. And we have seen a fall in the last 12 or 18 months of the number of corporations that are able to sponsor students’ MBAs. For those people who are not getting funding, then a distance learning MBA is an affordable option. The second reason is that it gives students more flexibility in fitting their studies around their professional lives, but also if they have family as well, their family life. Because for us, the average age of our distance learning MBA students is about 34 or 35; and that’s a time of life where people are quite busy, so I do think that it gives people more flexibility.
They can study when they want, when it suits them, and when they can fit it in.
Do graduates from Warwick’s distance learning program generally go on to get better jobs?
It’s difficult because it’s not something we necessarily track, because all of our distance learning MBA students are already in the workplace. So this is something that they’re doing as they would any other part-time or executive MBA program. They have access to the career services that we offer here, but generally speaking, peoples’ motivations are a bit different from those people who might do a full-time MBA.
Whereas full-time students – you might classify them as career-switchers – they’re looking to change industry or function or even location; the distance learning MBA students tend to be people who are more what I would call career boosters – so they often come from a specialist background, for example, and they need a generalist management program to increase their chances of promotion or just boost their career a little bit. The agenda isn’t quite the same.
Do people get better jobs after doing their MBA? Well, yes, many of them, but not all of them – that’s not the reason why everybody does it.
Warwick’s distance learning MBA program is one of the oldest. It’s changed much in the past 20 years, hasn’t it?
It has changed, mainly in how it gets delivered. It started out as a paper-based course, but as technology has changed, especially in the past few years, it’s changed the way people study so much. The old view of people who study by distance learning is that they’re in a room alone with just their books, and they never talk to anybody. That’s just so out of date now. It started changing a few years ago with everybody having access to all of the journals online, so it meant there was little need to go to your local library. But now, in our program, we have virtual classrooms, where we can teach directly to students and they can interrupt on webcams and make their points verbally using audio and video as teaching mediums. In the future we’re looking at textbooks being available online, groups meeting virtually so they can network with people over the world. It’s just changed so much, and it continues to change. And that’s a really exciting part of it.
A main criticism of distance learning programs is that students lose out on the interaction that happens in a classroom. Is this valid?
There are actually a lot more opportunities to be interactive. Not everybody will want to, but on the whole, the majority of people welcome more interaction. We encourage our students to join both local study groups, so if somebody’s based in London or Dubai or New York, there’s going to be a good volume of other students around with whom they can get together with face-to-face. And we also encourage them to join virtual study groups so they’re not just restricted to interacting with people living or working in their own city, and get different perspectives on their studies.
It will never 100% replicate what it’s like being in a classroom and spending a year or two years with those same people almost 20 hours a day, but it can offer a lot of that interaction and in a different way. There are more opportunities for students to do that, and our students are certainly loving it, they’re welcoming every new initiative, every new way of teaching it.
They’re welcoming it with open arms.