Saturday, April 02, 2005

Why Online?

[Note: This originally started out on my other blog as just a bit more than rambling stream of conciousness, in the fine tradition of blogging. Here, I have attempted to clean it up, but probably left all the rambling. Oh well - here it goes...]

There are some nay-sayers out there to online-learning, particularly for MBA's. Given the title and nature of this blog in general, my position is probably fairly clear, but I'll present some of my reasons for considering online in the first place, what to consider or look out for when looking for an online program, and what about online will be attractive to a prospective employer.

Why Consider Online?
Taking the general reason for anyone to consider an part-time MBA of "I don't want to quit work while I earn my degree" as a given, my personal reasons for choosing an online program versus "physical" part-time program - hereafter referred to a "resident part-time program" - are thus:
  • Ranking, Reputation, and Quality - Though there is a good number of excellent schools offering resident part-time programs in my area, there aren't any - save the really pricey one out of my price-range - that have any good nationwide "name-recognition" - Top-50 ranked, etc. Rankings and national (vs. regional) reputations aren't such a big deal to other folks. This is neither good nor bad; all of the earlier-listed schools have quite excellent programs and most are AACSB-accredited. It's just a function of your goals and preferences.
  • Convenience - Not being dependent on a physical location allows me the flexibility to work on it where and how I want to - at the local library, by staying up late or getting up early at my house, by staying late at work, at work over lunch, at a coffee shop - you get the point. I don't travel much with my job, but I would imagine an online program would be that much more appealing to a road warrior.
  • Ability - I've done a distance-education program before (Thermodynamics), so I think I have some idea of what I'm getting myself into, and that I have the discipline to study, review lectures, do homework, discuss, and so on without having to be in the classroom for extrinsic motivation.
What to Consider?
You should keep a few things in mind when looking for and comparing online MBA programs, as well as look out for a few things. I'll take as a given that you should consider things like the course of study, schedule, grading methods, fees and payment schedules, inclusion or exclusion of books/course materials, length of the program, time required per week, and so on. These shouldn't be under-emphasized - they were, in fact, the deciding factors in my own decision - it's just that you shouldn't really be considering those until you're satisfied with how your prospective programs stack up in these areas:
  • AACSB Accreditation - Pick an AACSB-accredited school, in addition to being accredited by one of the "Big Six" regional accrediting bodies, and pick one with a strong "brick-and-mortar" presence/reputation. You don't want a degree-mill where you're basically buying a degree, or worse, actually putting time, money, and effort into a non-accredited institution. If you have any doubts about a school's accreditation, check it with the source - it only takes a few seconds.
  • Ranking/Reputation - As earlier, you should only consider this if it's important to you. There are plenty of reputable, AACSB-accredited MBA programs that have stronger regional than national reputations. In my decision, it was a heavy factor, so I looked into the many reputable, AACSB-accredited programs that are nationally ranked by US News & World Report and BusinessWeek, and globally by the Financial Times. Many of these well-respected schools offer online education, requiring a variety of work experiences, academic/test scores, time and money - ASU, IU, PSU, Duke, Thunderbird, UM-Dearborn, CSU, and UF are but a few of them.
  • Degree Differentiation - In my own research, most reputable online programs do not seem to distinguish between a degree earned online versus one earned through a resident program, on the diploma or transcript. Note that some may, and this shouldn't be a cause for immediate disqualification; it's just something to consider. While this non-differentiation is good for the online student for obvious reasons, it also shows that the school has as much at stake in their online program being of high-quality as the student does. They are putting their own name on the line, and you can bet that they do not want to be associated with being a degree-mill or otherwise.
  • Interaction - When and how you interact with both your students and professors should be evaluated when choosing an online program. In many cases, the interaction of a reputable online program can rival that of a resident one (and it will probably be a lot less cutthroat!). Conversely, a degree-mill likely has little to no interaction between students and professors.
    • Level of Online Interaction - Some might say you're missing out on key interaction with faculty and fellow students. At least with the programs I'm interested in (ASU and IU), communication and collaboration seem to play key factors. Required participation in online discussions, group projects - you name it. My dad is in PSU's online program, and recently gave a group presentation (online, of course) - with group members in the US, Canada, and South America(!).
    • Logistics of Online Interaction - One thing to find out is if the online program is synchronous (everybody logs in at the same time) or asynchronous (everybody logs in whenever they want). Asynchronicity obviously allows even greater flexibility, whereas synchronicity might foster a little more of a community amongst the students, in addition to providing a bit of rigor to the schedule. There is no huge benefit to either method; it's just something you should know when making your decision, and determine what's best for you.
    • Physical Interaction - Most programs require at least some amount of "in-residence" at their physical locations throughout the duration of the program - anywhere from 1 to 8 weeks or more - providing the opportunity to meet and network with the faculty and your fellow students. More or less time in-residence might be either good or bad for you; it's just yet another point to consider.
  • Specialization - As of this writing, I had a hard time finding many online programs - meeting the above criteria to my satisfaction - that offered specializations. Again, this comes down to personal preference or goals. There are a few programs out there that offer specializations or dual-degrees. In the end, though, I decided that at this point in my career, it's not necessary (or perhaps not even advisable) for me to specialize as much. I feel that I am or will be reasonably specialized in the Supply Chain and IT due to my undergrad degree and my work experience. I'm not looking to make a drastic change into Finance, Sports Business, Healthcare, Marketing or anything like that. However, I do want to understand the principles of them (thus the reason I'm writing this in the first place!). If you are considering a career or industry change, then you should probably consider specializations more heavily, and spend the time looking for and finding a program that meets your needs accordingly. I suspect that in the future, as online education grows, online MBA programs with specializations will become more and more prevalent.
What Should Employers Consider?
The advantages to the current employer of an online student are obvious - they gain continuity, as the employee doesn't leave, the employee likely has some greater amount of loyalty to the company, and so forth. However, what about a prospective employer? In my mind (biased, of course), there are actually three advantages to going online, from an employer's perspective:
  • Initiative/Discipline- Having good discipline can be said about anyone attending any reputable education program part-time (online or resident) - completing your entire education outside of a "9-to-5" takes extraordinary willpower, endurance, determination, focus, etc. Going online, though, adds the need to be a for greater initiative - being a self-starter/self-motivator, since there is no pre-set schedule of when you must go to class and the like.
  • Immediate Applicability - This also applies to a resident part-time program. Lessons learned best are those quickly applied. Even if someone already has work experience in a full-time MBA program, they still have to wait for their summer internship (presuming they do one) to apply and practice what they've learned.
  • Written Communication Skills- Written communication skills are extremely important in today's business world. To earn an MBA online requires you to comprehend and express ideas, concepts, and philosophies via written format. The communication goes beyond assigned essays or papers - you must communicate and coordinate with your classmates and professors via e-mail, discussion forums, and the like.
Each of these three main topics could have (and probably do have) scores of websites and articles written about each of them individually. Hopefully this summarization is of some use to people thinking about and MBA online, but don't know where to start.



Richie Etwaru said...

Daniel, I am linking your entry to my blog,


-Richie Etwaru

home said...

To decide which online business degree is right for you, it is best to decide what your career goals are or what your current job calls for. For instance, if you want to start your own small business, then a degree in marketing may be your best bet. But, if you are currently a manager at your place of business then leadership degree may get you the skills you need to get a promotion and a raise in your current career. Online Education College Degree .

Katie said...

Daniel I agree that are a lot of good reasons why people should be earning an MBA through distance MBA programs. As you mentioned it's best to look for a program at an accredited and highly ranked school. Thunderbird is very reputable for their MBA programs. I'm looking into their distance MBA program and it's very appealing, they nice thing is I won't have to relocate just to go to a good school.

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