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An MBA, a click away
You can earn an MBA degree with the click of a mouse — almost.
According to a recent survey, an increasing number of students are bypassing traditional methods of education and earning a Master of Business Administration online or through distance learning.
In July, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a global career and education network, reported a significant increase in the number of people earning MBAs online or by distance learning. More than 15 per cent of applicants — compared to less than 5 per cent in 2009 — indicated they prefer online or distance-learning MBAs over traditional full-time, part-time and executive study programs. And, for the first time, QS released a Distance Online MBA Rankings this year.
Online learning offers unparalleled flexibility, says Deborah Hurst, associate dean and program director for the MBA at Athabasca University in Athabasca, Alta. “People are realizing they don’t have to put their lives on hold to go back to school. They can continue working, can continue on with their lives and their commitments and realize the quality of their experience. It could actually be better than it would be in a classroom.”
Leslie Oman, from Toronto, says her online MBA qualification was crucial to getting her a promotion. Oman, 45, had worked in internal IT managerial capacities with global professional firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) for eight years and was ready for a new challenge. But to advance in her job she needed an MBA, and it wasn’t feasible for her to quit her job to study full-time. “I made a decision that, given I was in a job that was very stable, I would take on doing an MBA while working full-time,” she says.
Just weeks after completing her MBA in Executive Management from Royal Roads University in Victoria, Oman was offered her dream job as an IT consultant in PWC’s Management Consulting Practice focusing on mergers and acquisitions.
Nunzio Quacquarelli, managing director of QS, says that while online and distance programs provide a very different experience than the traditional full-time MBA, they give business education access to a wider and increasingly motivated workforce, which is made up of people seeking something he calls a lifestyle education: “A way to learn essential managerial skills which fits with the reality of their lives.”
Employers are also recognizing the benefits of employees pursuing online and distance MBAs.
Sears Canada has always put great value on hiring associates with higher education credentials, says Vincent Power, divisional vice-president of Corporate Affairs and Communications. “Sears has hired associates that have completed online MBAs and has associates on board today currently enrolled in an online MBA program,” he says.
However, not everyone is enamored with online and distance-learning MBAs.
“For students to get the most of out the experience, you have to be in the classroom,” says Jenni Denniston, acting director of MBA Recruiting and Admissions at the Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Ont. “If you look at the way business environment operates and the type of careers that MBAs are getting after, you’re not sitting on a computer by yourself a lot of the time. MBAs that better reflect what’s actually happening in your job or in your career can be much more beneficial.”
Hurst says there are misconceptions that online learning isn’t equivalent to traditional methods of education. This is not the case, she says. There is no option to “wing it” online. While the barriers to entering may not be as rigid as traditional methods, Hurst notes, a student still needs to work very hard in order to pass. “The requirement of interaction is really quite demanding. Students have to have a high level of discipline in order to succeed.”
Oman warns students that getting an MBA online isn’t easy. “It was intense and challenging,” she says. “You have to know your life is going to change for a year and a half. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but it wouldn’t be worth it if it was. I really feel like I accomplished something.”
A number of Canadian universities offer online and distance-learning MBA programs. And each of the programs has seen increases in popularity in the past few years.
In Victoria, Royal Roads University’s MBA in Executive Management and MBA in Human Resource Management programs are delivered through two three-week residencies, online and face-to-face classes and virtual labs.
The University of Guelph has been offering an online MBA in Food and Agribusiness Management since 1997 and an online MBA specializing in Hospitality and Tourism Management since 2000. Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., offers three programs: an Executive MBA, Cornell-Queen’s Executive MBA and Queen’s MBA for Business Graduates. The programs are made up of a combination of interactive video conference classes and on-campus residential sessions.
The University of Fredericton offers a completely online MBA in Innovation Leadership or Global Leadership with no residency requirements.
Athabasca University offers an online Executive MBA program across Canada and internationally.