Have online MBA’s come of age?

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While not every university in Australia offers entirely online learning options for gaining a Master of Business Administration (MBA), simply Googling ‘MBA’ returns hundreds of options for studying the degree online. Faced with candidate CV’s, are online MBAs worth the same as one studied in a classroom?

According to a QS TopMBA.com applicant survey, in 2008 just 4.4% of prospective MBA students were primarily interested in distance learning and online MBA programs. The figure has now increased to 15.6 % in 2012. For one recruitment expert, online MBAs are not inferior, and it’s up to the candidate to articulate their learning’s and applications, and its relevance to the role for which they’re applying. Employers and HR must also probe the candidate on their perceived return on investment. “Businesses and employers will be looking at particular courses and practical case studies that they’ve completed. Provided they’re able to articulate what they’ve achieved and demonstrate their work, I can’t see that it [an online MBA] would be an issue,” Adam Kolokotsas from Randstad said.

Kolokotsas added that in the online world in which we all now live, education and learning has caught up and many people find that an online MBA is the only option for further study in their time-poor lives. What’s more, many online programs create social groups for students to get together to complete projects. “It’s important to note that online learning is very good at creating social groups and many do proactively organise for their students to get together to work collaboratively as would be the case in a traditional classroom setting, so they are bridging the gap,” Kolokotsas said.

Yet bricks and mortar universities aren’t sold on the idea. Amanda Pyman, director of the MBA program Monash University in Melbourne said they do not currently offer online MBAs. Technology is used as part of a blended learning approach, and the program is classroom based. “We have what we call a cohort experience, which means that students complete all of their MBA units with a group of like-minded students,” Pyman said. She explained that their reasons are principally around the notion of collaboration, networking, and interaction in the classroom with people from different backgrounds – the sort of socialisation aspects which are the opportunities Pyman said can’t be achieved with an online MBA.

In reviewing a resume listing an online MBA, or in discussing it during the interview stage, the experts agree on one thing – HR and employers should unpack the value of the MBA to the candidate. “For me, the important question is not really whether it’s listed on their CV, but that any discerning employer would seek to determine the experience, the academic performance of the prospective employee and ultimately what value that MBA can add,” Pyman said.

Accreditation is a key factor in probing online MBAs, and Professor Newton Campos, director of admissions, blended programs at IE Business School said some recruiters still see distance MBAs as a bit questionable. “However we are seeing companies now, particularly hi-tech, internet and innovative companies who prefer students from our blended MBA, rather than the face-to-face programs. They [employers] say, ‘these are the kind of people I need and have the skills I need. They have proven their ability to be with family, to work and study at the same time.’ Attitudes are changing and the number of such companies is increasing.”

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