There are many reasons to take an online MBA program, and not all of them have to do with the COVID pandemic.

First, there’s the inherent flexibility of online learning, in that the MBA student can take their classes whenever and wherever they’d like. Then there’s the fact that jobs don’t need to be abandoned and income doesn’t need to be lost, as would likely occur with a traditional MBA.

The benefits don’t end there. Distance learning means there’s a far greater choice of potential courses. Conducting the graduate degree while in a job means the MBA student can conduct real-world, commercially valuable projects connected to their own work. And in some companies the course might even be partly or fully funded by the business.

There are numerous benefits of an online MBA program and yet for some potential students, at least, doubts remain. Those doubts revolve around the question of whether employers and recruiters take online MBAs seriously.

Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic permanently shifted behaviours around on-campus and online learning. Plus, academic records don’t specifically reflect whether the envied accreditation was earned online or on-campus.

But actually, respect for online MBAs was growing since long before the pandemic. For many reasons, some outlined below, online MBAs have equalled full-time and face-to-face MBA programs in terms of industry respect for quite a while.

Let’s explore each.

It’s all about the business school

Whether or not an MBA graduate has conducted their business degree online or face-to-face matters little to employers. What matters more is the reputation of the university, of the institution or school of business that is providing the MBA program.

A study by the Financial Times in 2014 revealed the fact that employers’ main problem with online MBAs was that they were not ranked. Of course, since then all major university ranking bodies are including online MBAs in their ranking programs, see our article about Online MBA rankings in Australia, meaning employers and recruiters are now able to develop a powerfully simple image of how the business schools rank against each other.

Online MBA school rankings are available in all major territories, including Australia.

With that major hurdle gone, employers and recruiters have been able to develop a clear idea of which schools they would like their MBA graduates to come from, which specialisations each school offers and what strengths each graduate is likely to have. This is no different to traditional, face-to-face and on-campus MBA models, meaning the two types of programs have reached an equivalence.

Quality of students in online MBAs is higher

One result of the greater flexibility offered by online MBAs, they attract a greater number of people who are already working in specific industries. Online MBAs typically do not require people to leave their jobs or take dramatically reduced hours, so online courses tend to boast a greater number of more experienced and well employed students.

This means those students have a wealth of real-world experience that can be shared amongst working groups during their online education, benefiting other students at the same time.

It also means they can experience a deeper type of in-job learning, taking what they have been taught during units of their MBA and applying it immediately to real-world challenges within the business in which they work. This experience can be enhanced by the taking of certain electives that can be as specific as healthcare, or tourism and hospitality.

The result is that the online MBA student, once they have graduated, is even more valuable to an organisation than they otherwise might have been. They have real-world work experience.

They have learned in a work environment whilst networking and sharing learnings with other professionals from various industries. And they likely have runs on the board in terms of project management, from marketing programs to supply chain management, to human resources strategy and beyond.

Online MBA numbers are booming

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant full-time, on-campus MBA programs have had to be abandoned or reconfigured to meet various and ever-changing guidelines around social distancing. This means many previously on-campus students have shifted over to online and begun to experience its many benefits.

A recent story in Forbes magazine said rarely a month goes by without the news of another major business school launching its version of the online MBA.
“A lot of the appeal of an online degree program can be brought down to flexibility and price,” the story said. “Students don’t have to leave their jobs and lose income while they study, and most online options are cheaper … even online MBA options that are premium priced are experiencing an uptick in demand.”

This phenomenon was in play well before the pandemic, as students began to recognise the increasing value of online MBAs. As technology improved and online education providers learned from their own experience, the online education offering quickly became one that was powerful beyond its on-campus cousin.

Another story in the Financial Times said, “There was a 54 per cent growth in the number of business schools offering an online MBA between 2012-13 and 2016-17, from 91 to 140, according to accreditation body AACSB International, which collected data from 459 schools.”

As online MBA programs have become legitimately potent offerings, and as numbers of students have increased, employers and recruiters have paid attention. To ignore such a major pool of talent would be foolish and impractical. Instead, they have now embraced online graduates, recognising them for the unique education they receive both within the course and at work.

Online MBAs demonstrate self-discipline

As many participants in online MBAs tell us, it would be a terrible mistake to think that online is somehow easier than the on-campus version. The coursework, in fact, is typically exactly the same as the full-time or in-person course. Forums for networking and in-depth discussion of topic areas are just as all-encompassing and time-consuming. And group work and projects are complex and demanding.

Add to this the fact that those conducting an online MBA often have a full-time job, family responsibilities and more, and it’s clear that they require enormous self-discipline, drive, time management skills and multi-tasking abilities, as well as an admirable level of technological savvy.

Even more than face-to-face students attending a part-time course, which itself offers a level of structure and discipline that online courses do not, the achievement of an online Master of Business Administration demonstrates many strengths. The traits that are proven are ones that will be vital in the fast-changing future of work.

Adaptability and motivation are a powerful offering within any type of organisation. Flexibility and the ability to manage numerous projects and responsibilities at once – prioritising various jobs and ensuring the completion of several tasks at a high level of quality – are traits highly valued by employers and recruiters, often at least as highly as technical skills and knowledge.

Along the way, employers realise, MBA grads have learned to communicate clearly and effectively using online technologies and have discovered the most efficient ways to source resource guides, independent information, LinkedIn content and much more.

MBA alumni rate online study highly

The MBA website for US news, called Poets & Quants, in 2018 surveyed graduates from online MBA programs about their experience. Although this focussed on United States online graduate schools, the results were revealing about online MBAs in general.

Certain schools, not unexpectedly, ranked higher than others in terms of student satisfaction. All of the top 10 schools ranked over 7 out of 10 for satisfaction, with the perceived best online MBA for that particular ranking, Carnegie Mellon, receiving a perfect 10 out of 10.

The top 10 schools ranked from 8 to 10 for accessibility and responsiveness of professors, and ability to apply coursework learning to their job also rated highly, with rankings from 7.5 to 9.7.

Answers generally reflected a very high level of satisfaction, despite the fact the respondents had graduated two years earlier, so had completed their courses from 2014 to 2016. We’ve now advanced another five years technologically. Business schools have had that much extra time to polish their offerings and perfect their processes.

It’s a powerful argument for the distance online MBA programs have come over the last decade, and the respect in which they are held.

Employers want a good fit

With any form of higher education, the participant gets out of it what they put in. Once an individual earns a master’s degree, it is clear to employers that they have deep knowledge and great passion in the subject area. If that master’s degree is an MBA, it says so much more.

An online MBA demonstrates drive and self-discipline, knowledge and adaptability, expertise and a wealth of communication skills. It shows a high level of technological capability and also reveals a level of entrepreneurship, in that the individual can manage numerous priorities in a creative fashion.

In the end, employers and recruiters are not looking for a graduate of a specific type of MBA degree, they’re looking for an excellent cultural fit with their organisation. They want people with passion who can communicate, who will add value thanks not only to their broad and impressive knowledge or their ability to keep multiple balls in the air, but also to their insight, adaptability, energy and entrepreneurship.

That all comes from an online MBA, and employers know it. An online MBA represents determination and grit as well as business acumen and expertise. What is an MBA worth to a graduate? It’s far more valuable than the sum of its parts.

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