Should you get an Online or On-Campus MBA?

There are pros and cons to each type of program, which suit different kinds of applicants. How do you choose which format is right for you?

An Online MBA program is now a more viable alternative to an on-campus course. Improvements in learning technology, greater access to career services and alumni networks have made the digital degree more appealing. In some ways, the online format could be better than the campus course, as students enjoy more flexibility in when, where and how they learn. 

But there are pros and cons to each type of program, which suit different kinds of applicants. How do you choose which format is right for you? 

Online MBA vs. On-Campus MBA: Flexibility

One big advantage for Online MBAs is that students can earn a highly revered degree from virtually anywhere in the world. “The program is identical to our campus program, so students can experience the same rigor and faculty as a campus student without having to live in Pittsburgh,” for example, says Cindy McCauley, executive director of the Online Hybrid MBA at the Tepper School of Business in the US. 

Classes include a weekly cohort meeting via video conferencing software that can be accessed globally. Participants also come together online twice per week in the evening for 75 minutes. And offline components (video lectures and assignments) can be completed whenever they fit into a student’s busy schedule.

“We have had students relocate abroad during the program and they could continue taking classes just as they had before — making it a great option for students who need a great deal of flexibility,” McCauley says. 

Many Online MBA programs also now offer the same level of career support as their campus counterparts. At Tepper, this includes on-campus recruiting and job postings from top employers, support from the same experienced team of career coaches, as well as access to workshops and other preparation needed for a successful career search.

Technology closing the gap between Online MBAs and their in-class counterparts

What’s more, the technology that enables participants to learn from peers and professors has become much more interactive — one of the biggest initial concerns about Online MBA programs. IE Business School in Madrid, for example, uses artificial intelligence, simulations in real time, big data analysis, interactive robots, emotion recognition systems, and the presence of experts using holograms to teach MBA students from a distance. 

Yet Phillip Kim, faculty director of the Blended Learning MBA at the US’s Babson College, says that given current technologies, it is difficult to expect that an online class experience will match a face-to-face one. “The online delivery method is a unique form of student experience,” he says. “It is more suitable for students who desire flexibility, whereas the in-person experience is best suited for students who prefer this kind of learning style. 

“The quality of the interaction depends on the quality and versatility of the instructional technology.” 

Online MBA vs. On-Campus MBA: Social aspects, networking opportunities

Could Online MBAs lack some of the social aspects of campus courses, and the networking opportunities that are vital to the MBA experience?

The Blended Learning MBA includes online and face-to-face elements, Kim says, so “students develop meaningful relationships with their cohort in ways that are different than the full-time student experience”. 

He adds: “Despite spending most of their time online and at a distance, our students form tight-knit relationships because they move together in a lock-step cohort through the program. 

“They complete their work in learning groups and learn to build relationships, even if they originally come from different backgrounds. They look forward to seeing each when they come to campus and continue these relationships after they graduate.”

Many business schools are moving in this direction, offering opportunities for online students to come to campus to bond with their classmates. 

At the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, also in the US, Online MBA students typically enrol in two three-credit courses per term. Each week usually includes 10-12 hours of investment in each course, with students participating in a 60-90 minute synchronous live class session led by a faculty member. But they are also required to complete two weeklong in-residence sessions in Bloomington, Indiana, giving students networking and social opportunities, as well as comfort with peers and faculty members. 

Plus, students can participate in optional consulting immersion courses that take place throughout the US, or week-long experiential learning courses around the world — including in India, Thailand, Greece and Cuba.

“Online courses offer students substantial interaction opportunities, from participating in case discussions during live sessions, to completing integrative group assignments for classes, and connecting with highly-available faculty members through Zoom or Skype,” says Adam Herman, a director of admissions and student services at Kelley. 

Ultimately, the online format is better for those who need more flexibility in their studies — providing the added benefit of not sacrificing a salary to get a campus MBA. But increasingly, the distinction between online and offline learning is being blurred.

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