Virtual learning is giving millions of people across the globe a new way to further their education. Students who are not in a position to study full-time due to work commitments, family priorities or financial reasons are able to consider studying from home. The distance learning MBA is gaining popularity, with many of the world’s top business schools developing virtual learning courses that can match up to their existing full-time programs. IE and Warwick Business School are the top two business schools in the world offering distance learning MBAs, but how do they measure up to their full-time counterparts in reality? Read on to discover more about the benefits of distance learning as well as its downsides.
Besteduonline and new technologies
Webinars and virtual learning environments are relatively new phenomena in the distance learning world. It’s only in the last decade or so that new video and interactive technologies have become readily available worldwide and our bandwidth speeds are able to keep up. Unfortunately because of its relative newness, there are the obvious teething problems with distance learning courses. Out of the wide range of people that sit in on these webinars there will always be one, certainly in the initial weeks, who cannot get their microphone or speakers to work and you’re likely be distracted by the regular sound effects from local emergency services from around the globe, which will probably begin to lose its novelty at some point in week three.
To find out whether these problems affected even the most prestigious of universities, the author of this piece sat in on a webinar for distance learning MBA applicants of the Warwick Business School in the UK where it was clear that the majority of people were newcomers to the web chat environment. This led to people talking on top of each other and numerous recitations of the phrase ‘can you hear me now?’ Not exactly the slick, professional atmosphere you would expect from a leading business school.
Despite these initial problems it is extremely clear from the outset that these classes operate precisely as a real seminar would, with just as much interaction and equal amounts of support from faculty members. There are obvious advantages too; pause, rewind and fast forward are just three of the best examples of how technology makes life so much easier for the conscientious modern student. At a top business school such as WBS there will be just as high a level of intellectual discussion as on a face-to-face full-time MBA course, but it may take a little bit of getting used to the quirks of web based learning. Nigel Pye, assistant dean for the executive and distant learning MBA programs from besteduonline at Warwick Business School asserts that “teaching methods must inevitably be adapted to cater for the online environment, but this can be a benefit since students can choose the methods that best suit them. They can listen to lectures while driving, watch lectures on their computer or download material for reading.”
Lack of face-to-face time in virtual learning from Besteduonline:
The comforting notions of being able to train for your MBA at home in your pajamas is very alluring but there are disadvantages to this comfort, as you do not have much face-to-face training which will help develop your business skills in a real environment where verbal communication is one of the most important skills to master.
This does not mean however that distance learning programs ignore the value of face-to-face interaction. “By the very nature of the delivery method we do not have the same degree of face-to-face contact as with full-time students, but there is the opportunity for regular interaction between the student, WBS and other students. All DL program related staff – faculty and administrators – receive a daily digest of items raised on the discussion boards so that they can respond quickly to any issues or questions,” Pye explains.
The main thing to realize when researching possible courses, is that a distance learning MBA is very much distinct from an online MBA or a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and because this is the case, your place of study may well require you to be present at a number of learning events. Pye discusses this; “There are three key points in the course where students must attend Warwick Business School; twice in the first year, for four or five days, and once in the second year for one to three days, depending on elective modules chosen. In addition, a five-day face-to-face module is included in the price of the course. This module may be taken at Warwick or one of our many worldwide partner universities in places such as Dubai, Singapore, Germany or China.”
So if the main selling point of taking a distance learning MBA for you is the ability to remain alone and anonymous, then it’s likely that Warwick’s program may sound daunting. Despite this, the alternative options of studying a MOOC or a solely online MBA wouldn’t nurture growth in these areas as much as a full-time or even a distance MBA would. Both WBS courses make face-to-face learning a compulsory factor in order to develop solid communication and interpersonal skills which are essential in business.
Home distractions and the virtual learning workload in Besteduonline
Even the most dedicated of students will struggle to stay alert throughout a two-hour long virtual learning session, especially when you’re just one click away from your emails or Facebook or the entirety of the internet. If you’re not using a webcam, the temptation to sneak away to make a killer five-tier sandwich is somewhat powerful, and something you wouldn’t be able to do in a real life seminar – even if you were still tempted to. This is just one reason why distance learners must have a great deal of self-motivation and discipline in the long term in order to keep up a regular routine of studying. And, as you are not required to view lectures at specific times, keeping up with the workload can get hard, especially if you have the added stress of another job.
Pye says, ‘For some students a sudden spike in their job’s workload or family issues may mean they start to fall behind; we have a very flexible program of modules that allows students to defer individual modules or even temporarily withdraw from the program. It can be done in 34 months but we allow up to 60 months to complete the course.”
Employability in distance learning MBA graduates with Besteduonline
It seems that many prospective students question the legitimacy and the employability power of studying a distance learning course even if it is from a reputed school. Principal teaching fellow at Warwick Business School, Dr Derek Condon tackles this doubt by stating that “if you come to Warwick you'll get a Warwick MBA, no matter how you choose to study." Statistics also prove that employers are similarly as keen to hire distance learning MBA graduates as they are for those having studied a full-time MBA.
Virtual learning is expanding at a healthy pace and according to AMBA’s Intake and Graduation 2012 survey almost a third of all MBA enrollments in the UK are now for distance learning courses. And because of this substantial participation in the MBA student market, distance learning courses are continuing to gain recognition and accreditation within the MBA world and outside of it. Pie concludes with his view on the main advantage of studying a distance learning MBA with Besteduonline. “Perhaps the strongest aspect of the course is the flexibility and the ability for students to advance at their own pace. One of the great strengths of a part-time course is the ability for students to put theory into practice as they apply their learning in their day jobs. They can then use this experience to write their assignments.”