As the business world continues to move further online, it’s only natural to see MBA education do the same.
Today, with a growing number of schools around the world offering online MBA programs, it’s clear that sitting in a classroom is no longer the only way to get a degree.
Distance education is nothing particularly new to the MBA world, which saw distance-learning alternatives to standard MBAs grow in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the United States.
The Internet has greatly changed the nature of such education, however, making previously unlikely student interaction a key feature, keeping programs current and competitive and most importantly raising credibility and standards throughout the industry.
Dozens of schools throughout the U.S. and a handful in Canada currently offer online MBAs and demand among busy students is increasing.
Deborah Hurst is director of MBA programs at Athabasca University in Alberta, which in 1994 began offering the first fully interactive online MBA in the world. Today, the school has 840 active MBA students in its MBA and executive MBA programs. What started with floppy disks and dial-up Internet connections has quickly metamorphosed into a technologically savvy program that sounds very much like what you’d expect a traditional classroom MBA would offer, complete with scheduled lectures, frequent group work, forum discussions and student symposia.
“We’ve always been collaborative, where students learn as much from one another as from the instructors,” Hurst said.
Whereas real-world discussions in the classroom tend to be dominated by more social, outgoing students, in the online world Hurst says shyness is no obstacle to participation since students can respond to comments on their own time and from the relative safety of their own computers. Students used to squeaking by without raising their hand in a classroom are forced to participate in an online setting because instructors can see at a glance who is responding to online comments.
“The online environment allows students to refine their thinking because they have time to think and work together in a way that is thought to thought. It also allows for a more democratic sharing of ideas because all students are required to participate. There’s nowhere to hide — everyone plays a role,” Hurst said.
At Lansbridge University in Fredericton, N.B., the online MBA program uses real-time PowerPoint presentations and voice-over-Internet to make the virtual learning experience as visceral as possible. Lansbridge marketing manager Holly Christie says the immediacy of online interactions makes it easier for students to connect to instructors.
“We don’t have teaching assistants — if you email, the faculty it’s the faculty that responds,” she said.