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Distance and Online Learning MBA Programs

by Ryan Guina

This is Part 3 in a series, Researching MBA Options. Part 2 covered the topic, Program Types, In-Residence. In my opinion, there are two main types of MBA programs, in-residence and distance education. This article covers distance learning. Like in-residence programs, many distance learning MBA programs have similar options to consider: full-time, part-time, or executive. Because I covered these options in Part 2, I will not cover them again in this post.

There are, however, other factors to keep in mind when considering the distance learning option. The first is how do you learn best? Do you learn better in a classroom environment, or are you driven enough to learn primarily on your own? The second consideration is the learning medium. Will you be using only the Internet, will you receive lectures on DVD, how will tests be given, etc.? The third major consideration is how distance learning programs compare to in-residence programs in terms of reputation, cost, convenience, and other factors. Last, how do you determine which distance MBA programs are legitimate?

Distance Learning an Online MBA Programs:

Distance learning and Online MBA programs offer a lot of flexibility for MBA students. Consider these topics before deciding whether or not to pursue a distance MBA program.

1. How do you learn best? Are you a self-driven individual who can take a book or assignment, do your research, write a paper, prepare a presentation, and take a test with only a set of dates and an outline to guide you? Or are you the type of person needs a lot of direction and personal interaction? If you are the latter, I will tell you right now, earning your MBA via the online format will be quite a challenge! Distance learning programs require discipline, self-motivation, and dedication to complete.

2. Learning Mediums: Distance learning based MBA programs often involve different mediums for instruction including Internet, DVD/video, audio, text, proctored exams, etc. Many distance and online programs combine these learning mediums, but some programs are exclusive to only one of these elements. If you are not able to learn well only using these mediums, you might want to consider an in-residence program. If the program you are considering requires proctored exams, you need to find someone who will be qualified to give the exams to you.

3. Distance learning programs compared to in-residence programs: The reputation of distance learning and on-line MBA programs is constantly changing and often it depends on how you wish to use your degree. If you want to get into venture capitalism or hedge funds, you will be better off going to a top tier full-time, in-residence MBA program. However, if you are content in your current field and are only looking to advance within your company or industry, a distance or online MBA may satisfy your needs.

Another important consideration is how a distance or online MBA will look in the eyes of a possible employer or recruiter. Many HR representatives openly admit to preferring in-residence MBAs. If you feel this may be important to you, you should research further into the criteria HR reps and recruiters use to evaluate MBAs.

The cost of online MBA programs is often comparable to many full-time, in-residence programs of a similar stature, and can be even less expensive. Another consideration is the convenience offered by these programs. With an online program, you can learn late at night, early in the morning, on lunch breaks, weekends, etc. You do not have to be in class at a certain time which can be a definite benefit.

4. How to determine if a program is legitimate: The most important thing to consider when looking at MBA programs is accreditation. Accreditation ensures institutions of higher education meet acceptable levels of quality. The most widely recognized accreditation for MBAs is the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). If a school is recognized by the AACSB, then you know the school is legitimate. Other quality accreditations include national and regional accreditation.

There are many good online programs, and I have considered attaining an MBA through one of them. To meet my personal qualifications, the program has to be well respected (but not necessarily top tier), flexible, and affordable (by MBA standards). Here are a few online programs I have looked into for my MBA:

My personal list: Arizona State University, Auburn University, and Colorado State University. The total tuition costs are approximately $40k, $22k, $19k, respectively. The Colorado State University program also offers a 10% discount to military members and veterans.

Advantages and Disadvantages of distance and online MBA programs

The advantages of taking a distance program include maintaining salary, working at your convenience (including late at night in your pajamas if you wish), and learning quality management material. Many employers also offer tuition assistance.

While there are many great distance MBA programs, I feel there are distinct disadvantages to an on-line program. Many people believe the MBA experience evolves around working as a team and networking. On-line participants do this, but in my opinion, it is not the same as working together in person. Some people also have a hard time learning in a virtual environment. I have taken on-line courses before, and while I can learn on-line, I get much more value from face to face interaction and discussion. Other disadvantages include perception of the program from potential employers/recruiters, and balancing MBA workload with work and life.

Advantages of online MBA programs:

  • Flexibility – attend where/when you want.
  • Continue earning while working.
  • Possible employer tuition assistance.
  • Best for those continuing current career path.
  • Best for those who are disciplined, self-motivated, and dedicated.

Disadvantages of online MBA programs:

  • Reputation may not be as high in some people’s eyes – namely hiring managers and recruiters.
  • Limited forms of learning media in some programs.
  • Work/life balance may get difficult at times.
  • Not as beneficial for those planning career changes.

Should you choose an in residence or distance learning MBA?

Just like any other major life decision, it depends on the individual. Every person has a different situation including goals, experience, finances, etc. You should judge your decision based on your personal situation and desires.

My Preference: As stated before, I prefer in-residence classes because they fit my learning style better. I have successfully completed on-line college courses before, and I did well in them. I felt that I fully learned the required material, but I also felt like I missed out on discussions and other viewpoints and that I would have learned more from in a face to face, classroom environment.

That said, there are several pros and cons for both sides, and I cannot fault anyone for choosing to go through with an on-line MBA program. I believe you will get from it what you put in.

Stay tuned for the next installment, Part 4: Importance of Business School Rankings.

Here is the rest of my MBA Options series:

Note: Right now I am still in the process of deciding my goals. I know getting an MBA is the direction I plan on going, so wish me luck, and as mentioned before, feel free to leave comments, ask questions, or share your experiences! ;)


Published or updated November 15, 2011.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dong

I think distance programs in time will get more respect. I definitley don’t think we’re there yet, especially when it comes to MBA programs. While I don’t have a MBA myself, I have a number of friends who do, and my impression is that MBA programs are all about 1) reputation/corporate recruiting opportunties 2)the networking, and very little about what you actually learn.

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2 Ryan

I think you’re right, Dong. Distance programs require students to have a certain amount of drive and understanding of technology and I think recruiters and hiring managers understand that. But, for the reasons you mentioned above, I think in-residence programs will remain the highest regarded method for completing an MBA program.

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3 shadox

This is an excellent article. I would like to point out that as a hiring manager and as someone who holds an MBA, I would not even consider hiring someone that has a so called “distance learning” MBA. Maybe that is too harsh a statement – what I mean is that I would not consider their “MBA” to be part of their qualifications.

I dare say that I am in the majority of hiring managers on this one.

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4 Ryan

Hi Shadox, I’m glad you liked this article. Coming from an MBA with experience as a hiring manager, your statements carry weight with me. Your opinion is one that I have heard time and again in regard to hiring MBAs – especially new MBAs.

I know several people who have received distance MBAs, but the majority of those I know who have gone the distance learning route have done so primarily for their own knowledge, and not necessarily to change careers or try to make huge financial gains from it. I believe each program has its benefits, but there are also certain limits as well – especially when it comes to the type of post MBA work one is considering.

Thanks for sharing.

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