Distance learning in today’s “global village” is easier than ever, but this unique format retains its advantages and disadvantages. The best way to decide whether pursuing your post-graduate degree mostly online is the right choice for you is by educating yourself about the pros and cons of the programme and by evaluating your own personal situation, professional profile and career goals objectively to see how they fit within the DL frame.
In spite of the economic downturn, an MBA from a good university is as bankable as ever. The degree is a worthwhile investment of time, money and effort. However, sometimes you simply cannot afford to quit the day job, abandon the family and sign up for a full-time MBA, be it in the same city or on another continent. Another factor you have to take into consideration is the cost of the MBA, especially if your employer doesn’t provide backup financially or otherwise.
When the full-time programme is not an option, prospective applicants often hesitate between choosing distance learning and a part-time format for their MBA studies. The two formats are quite similar and there are a number of features that distinguish them from the more traditional MBA formats.
A distance learning course is the best option, given the circumstances, to minimise your lifestyle at the same time as getting the most out of your post-graduate studies. Up until recently, DL courses were considered the poor cousin of “live” university courses, but the advancement of communications technology has considerably expanded the opportunities and improved the quality.
Recent studies show that distance learning is on the rise across the world. On the one hand, it is increasingly embraced by companies who want to provide further training for their employees without having to lose them as full-time workers. On the other hand, people want to study further without losing the steady income of their day jobs or having to leave the comforts of family life. Additionally, this innovative format is a great option for those who simply cannot afford the rising tuition fees for full-time courses.
Since distance learning degrees were valued less in the past than today, people still tend to wonder whether such a degree would be widely recognised by prospective employers. According to an article by Career Builder, in a survey by Zogby International and the online institution Excelsior College, 61% of the interviewed CEOs and small business owners said they were familiar with online or distance learning programmes. Not only are they familiar with them, but 83% of executives in the survey said that an online degree is as credible as one earned through a traditional campus-based programme. Employers said such factors as the accreditation of the college or university, the quality of its graduates and the name of the institution awarding the degree were among the factors they considered to make an online degree more credible.
The universities are responding to the increased interest in distance learning courses by expanding their offer and becoming even more flexible. But apart from being more affordable than the traditional MBA formats, more adaptable and physically convenient, are there any other advantages to distance learning courses?
Study at your own pace
Some people are fast learners, while others need more time to grasp and digest new information and concepts. With distance learning courses, you can proceed at your own pace and take as long as you need. This is particularly valuable if you have to handle a full-time job and a family along with your studies.
Distance learning courses and degrees are not cheap per se, but are usually more affordable than the equivalent part-time MBA programmes. They also let you keep your career going, which brings in income. Being available for full-time employment could mean that your employer might be willing to sponsor you, at least partially. Besides, you will save on accommodation and travelling expenses.
In the traditional MBA formats, students are encouraged and expected to draw from their real-life professional experience, thus bringing valuable input into the classroom discussions and group projects and assignments. The knowledge you acquire from the various distance learning courses you sign up for can be intensified by the fact that you are still working full-time. By studying while facing real business issues and situations daily, you inevitably start making connections and get the chance to apply your studies as you go. The syllabus will often overlap, at least to some extent, with the various situations that you have to handle as a daily part of your job, thus ensuring a two-way process.
You don't have to go anywhere; it's all at your fingertips! As long as you have a computer and access to the internet, you can complete the majority, if not all, of your assignments at your own convenience. This is probably most important and applicable tomature students, or those with children, who are considering applying to university.
Besides, you won't have a tightly scheduled study programme and can study whenever you have the time. Thanks to the internet and computer technology, your course materials are available any time of the day or night. So no matter what your schedule, it’s always possible to fit in your studies.
Limited face-to-face interaction
Group discussions, benefitting from classmates’ experience, success and failure stories, are all an integral part of the MBA experience. Despite the advancement of modern-day technology and communications, you will lack most of the face-to-face human interaction with your teachers and classmates. Thus, you will not be able to engage in in-class discussions, which will ultimately make your learning environment somewhat limited.
Without the demands of a fixed timetable and going to school every day, it’s all too easy to let things slide and procrastinate. A distance learning degree will only work if you’re a self-starting, motivated individual and set yourself strict periods of study time every week. However, even the distance learning format makes various tools available to the students to help them overcome the common tendency to procrastinate.
Creating a dedicated working environment where you can focus and stay on point, as well as cultivating the habit of total immersion in your study process, will help you keep up with your studies and assignments. However, everyday life – the day job, the family and the overall routine at home – can be a major distraction you can easily succumb to if you don’t keep hold of your home study habits.
“The main advice I can give prospective candidates is to make sure that they can dedicate the required amount of time to their studies. People pursuing the same degree can benefit differently from the programme because of the efforts dedicated. In order to succeed you need to allocate the right amount of time and to cultivate proper study time management skills. As I tell all my students, the MBA gives you as much as you put in it,” says Refaat Kazoun, CEO Stafford Associates and University of Northampton Middle East Partner.
Whatever you decide, remember that if you pursue an online degree, it is entirely up to you to make the most out of it. Some of the disadvantages, such as procrastination and distractions for example, can be overcome with self-discipline. Despite the pitfalls, the option of distance learning can be a blessing for many people. Whether it’s because your circumstances don’t permit you to attend university full or part-time, or whether you’re just looking to save money, a distance learning degree is certainly worth considering.