The educational landscape over the past few years have transformed dramatically with availability of myriad online courses on virtually every conceivable subject. While they have been hosted most notably on the MOOC platforms of Udemy and Coursera, the contents for most courses have been created by highly acclaimed professors from reputed universities around the world. These courses have been very popular with students and professionals alike owing to their excellent quality and high affordability. But possibly the most important feature of this online mode of learning has been the convenience it offers to a student to learn a subject of his choice at his suitable time and pace. The social distancing norm forced upon the world by Covid pandemic, naturally fired up demand for this method of learning. But it also did much more. As universities and schools shut their physical classrooms and conducted classes online, there came about a significant shift in perception of online education. From clearly being supplementary form of learning, possibility of it being the primary learning mode became real. Technology companies too contributed by making available better and more robust platforms closing the gap between physical and virtual learning environment. A debate that began since last 5-7 years about sustainability of high tuition fees charged by the top US universities, and a fall in the number of applications being a harbinger of change surely for the US education system, suddenly found new steam.
Naturally most of the universities and business schools have embraced this change and began introducing many more programs in the online mode including their coveted MBA program. To be sure therefore, an online MBA or Masters’ program is not necessarily a reduced version of the usual offline program offered by the same university. It will be the same quality and rigor of the content offered by the same professors teaching in those respective universities. Many universities also indicate just MBA degree in their certificate without mentioning that it was undertaken on online mode. Yet an online Masters’ degree is far cheaper than its offline version offered by the same university.
An online program offers a student huge flexibility in viewing the lectures at their suitable time, network and undertake projects with their peers online as per their convenience. Hence a working professional can undertake such a program and manage to accommodate the required time for the coursework within his daily or weekly schedule without having to compromise on the job responsibilities. No challenges of relocating to another country or city, upsetting your personal life, and inconveniencing your family.
Now-a-days, many universities also offer synchronous (fixed academic schedule) and asynchronous (flexible timeline for semesters, tests, assignments, submissions etc) schedules. To add to that, given the advantage of online mode, the university can select a class from diverse nationalities and culture thereby allowing the students to experience multicultural immersive experience from the comfort of their home.
Since, the education is delivered directly to the student’s computer, the online programs are equipped with cutting edge business technology. Hence these programs offer a hidden benefit to a student by way of getting one familiarized and even expert in use of technology in business environment. This can prove to be boon to those shy of adopting technology!
With so many advantages ascribable to it, are there also some limitations to an online MBA program. A big part of the masters’ program such as an MBA is the peer-to-peer learning that takes place through discussions and debates both inside and outside the classroom and many collaborative project activities that pools the diverse ideas and views of a different groups of students. These activities enable distillation and dissection of a given theory or principle from multiple angles. So, a class comprising of highly passionate and intelligent students coming with their unique experience and expertise elevates and enriches the learning process far beyond the lecture delivered by a professor. This becomes a limitation with an online program.
To compensate, many universities offer short (4-8 weeks) campus-based residency capsule embedded in the program which gives the class at least to some extent peer-to-peer learning opportunities and networking.
A critical question that arises is how one’s current or future prospective employees would view an online MBA degree. The views of students and employers alike, are mixed on this.
Therefore, barring the limitation of peer-to-peer interactions in a campus setting, the quality of an online MBA program would pretty much be like that of its offline version. It would then be left to an individual student to extract the best out of a program. One can be a part of online peer groups, share ideas and views and create opportunities for undertaking relevant project work to consolidate those learning. Outcome of these additional efforts can potentially make substantial difference in the level of learning. How therefore an employer (current or prospective) value this degree would depend on to what extent one has been able to imbibe this education through one’s own initiative and efforts beyond just the university completion criteria.
Santanu Choudhury, Founder Director of Lesli India Education (P) Ltd., and an alum of IIT Kharagpur and IIM Ahmedabad.