For the working professional, pursuing an MBA can be complicated. Not everybody can afford to take one or two years off of work. There are a lot of purely online MBA programs out there, but many feel that it’s harder to develop critical skills like leadership from behind a computer.
But there’s an alternative: Blended—or “hybrid—MBA programs typically combine a mix of online teaching using an online forum and video conferencing, independent study and in-house classes where students and lecturers can get to know each other face-to-face.
And these aren’t just watered-down versions of classroom-based MBAs.
“IE’s blended methodology does not seek to simplify the MBA courses in an online environment, but rather leverage the Internet to promote and enable in-depth discussions,” says Soledad Santos, associate director of admissions at Spain’s IE Business School, which offers a blended program called the “Global MBA.”
The program includes three obligatory in-house weeks in Madrid, held at the start, middle and end of the 15-month program, plus an optional overseas immersion.
“During the online periods, students attend two 90 minute videoconferences every Saturday held by their professors and debate the topics from Monday to Thursday in an interactive online forum.”
As is the case in many other blended MBA programs, professors, lecturers and students have frequent contact via an online forum, which provides flexibility to fit around students’ work or family commitments.
John Colley, associate dean for masters programs at Warwick Business School, says that every study module in Warwick’s Distance Learning MBA program has a face-to-face component, covered during the four weeks of on-campus classes spread over the three-year program.
“As part of the face-to-face you will get actual lectures, actual group work, which will be supervised by the tutors and the module leader, as part of that period when you come in to Warwick.”
For Linda Wegelin, a Scottish student based in Zurich, her decision to undertake Warwick’s Distance Learning MBA was about adding a broader scope to her role as a marketing and field manager in the environmental sector.
As she works in a small team where her tasks often go above and beyond her job title, Wegelin says “I thought it would be great to do an MBA to also have education in the financial part, and HR and so on, to make sure that what I’m applying at work is actually what I should be doing.”
Wegelin is about to complete her second semester of the program, which she chose to take at an accelerated rate, expecting to complete it in two-and-a-half years.
“I wouldn’t be able to do an MBA where I’d have to go into school every day, so it gives me the flexibility and also the internationality,” says Wegelin.
While Wegelin is expecting to put her new skills to use in her current position, many students look to distance or online MBA programs to boost their opportunities for new jobs, and of course to get that salary raise.
According to the Financial Times’ latest online MBA rankings, the average salaries of graduates from Warwick’s Distance Learning MBA increased by 32 percent, while those of graduates from IE Business School increased by 39 percent, on average.
Students from the new hybrid MBA program at the Carnegie Melon Tepper School of Business have seen career results even faster than they might have expected.
The first class of Tepper’s Online Hybrid MBA program graduated this year after completing the three-year part-time program.
So far only three out of the 24 graduating students have found new positions since completing the program. But program director Bob Monroe says that’s because so many of the students had already earned promotions or found new roles during their studies.
“About half of those who began the program were expecting to change jobs. Throughout the program they ended up getting substantial promotions, while others found new jobs in more traditional MBA roles.”
The Tepper program, which caters primarily to US-based students, has a curriculum that allows students to move between the part-time online program and the on-campus MBA in order to suit their work and family commitments.
Networking in a distance-learning MBA: you’re not alone
A major criticism of distance learning programs is that they might prevent students from forging strong enough connections to serve them well in their future careers.
Monroe says, “we were very concerned that students would feel isolated. That turned out to be completely incorrect”.
After three years running the program, Tepper has found that the distance learning students formed even closer bonds with each other than the in-house students, aided by the program’s access weekends that take place six times each year. The access weekends include a mix of professional development, alumni panels and site visits. “We’ve found that students tend to think of it as the best part of the program.”
IE’s Soledad Santos says that online relationships are reinforced by on-campus sessions. “In fact, each class of the Global MBA has a very close relationship, because the students are constantly interacting with one another in the online forum.”
As work shifts increasingly online, so do professional relationships.
“The online format ensures that the students provide thoughtful [forum] posts each day, posts to which each of their classmates read and respond. So, there is a good deal of mindful interaction amongst the students every day,” says Santos.
Image: "Tidying Up" by Sheng Han / CC BY 2.0 (cropped)