Online vs. Onsite

An online or distance-learning MBA program caters perfectly to today's hectic lifestyle and those choosing to go this route can usually study at their own pace, balancing their studies with work, home life, or whatever other commitments on their time they may have.

These options are not usually available for those doing a traditional campus, or onsite MBA, degree.

"The primary advantage of doing an online MBA is convenience," says Dr. Daniel R. LeClair, Vice President and Chief Knowledge Officer at AACSB International. But, he explains, online MBA programs should never be viewed as easy.

"While many students find the flexible nature of online programs appealing, it is important to remember that they do not have to sacrifice quality for convenience," Dr. LeClair says.

"With a variety of online delivery models available, students who 'do their homework' can ensure that the structure and delivery model of their chosen program suits both their learning style and schedule," he adds.

Online courses are popular for their flexible scheduling with students able to fulfill their course requirements listening to a lecture, working on an assignment, emailing questions to professors or fellow students, or reading the current lesson whenever and wherever they want, 24/7.

And depending on the course format, online programs provide on-demand learning capabilities in which, for example, streaming multimedia lectures that can simulate the classroom environment to a high degree are available for playback when the student desires.

Some online students mention disadvantages such as the quality of faculty-student interaction, difficulties in learning complex material, and the number of required non-classroom assignments.

"Prior to enrolling in an online program, prospective students should do an internal evaluation of their own learning style," says one business educator. "If hands-on instruction is what works best, then the online learning environment might not be the ideal option."

Online options work best for students who are disciplined and self-directed, have strong written communication skills, and can manage the variety of course requirements on their own.

MBA candidates might not be sitting in a classroom on a traditional campus, he warns, but for quality programs they should be required to complete the same level of work as an onsite program, if not more.

An option for those students who do not wish to take an entirely online course is the hybrid program. These combine the best of both onsite and online courses, often including a blend of streaming audio or video lectures, instructor-monitored course blogs and group projects, and the requirement that students attend classroom lectures or discussions on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.

"This is a good alternative for students who prefer the scheduling freedom of the online option, but want the face-to-face interaction of the classroom environment," one MBA educator says.

Some schools offer students a hybrid course with a pronounced international element in which most of the learning is done online from home or office but the required classroom time can be done in a partner institution in London, Mexico City, or Shanghai.

Whichever delivery model a potential student chooses, an important point to take into consideration is student-faculty interaction. Those thinking about the option of an online program should make sure that professors maintain posted office hours either in person, online, or via telephone and are easily accessible during non-classroom times.

Another consideration should be the degree of technical support a school offers, experts say. If one's Internet connection crashes during an exam or some other technical problem occurs, students should have instant, around-the-clock access to the program's tech team to sort it out swiftly and easily.

Access to a school's online library and resource center is also vital, as well as easy communication with a student's faculty advisor.

Other points to ponder when choosing a school include its job search support and an organized framework for after-graduation networking with fellow alumni, professors, and course guest speakers from the corporate world.

While onsite degrees are still preferred by companies hiring MBA graduates, a recent poll entitled Survey on the Credibility of Online Degrees showed that online education is increasingly popular with employers.

In the study, more than 90% of those responding said that online degrees are viewed more favorably now than they were five years ago and 59% said that the current economic recession has triggered a rise in the number of job applicants with online university degrees.