Online MBA vs. Traditional MBA

A student using his computer to pursue an online MBA

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There’s no doubt that the online MBA is gaining in popularity. Even top-quality schools such as the Fox School of Business at Temple University and the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University offer online MBA programs. The question then arises, is an online MBA program worth it and how does it differ from a traditional classroom MBA?

A study by IRRODL titled, Measuring MBA Student Learning: Does Distance Make a Difference compared three groups of students at Colorado State University: online MBA students, classroom MBA students, and executive MBA students. The comparison occurred along 12 academic skill sets. Since students took the same curriculum with the same instructors, the researchers sought to discover if they received the same education. At the end of the study, online students self-reported higher scores than the campus groups on technology, quantitative skills, and theory skills. In fact, ““…the results not only support the notion that distance learning is effective, but they also challenge the ‘no significant difference’ research findings by indicating that distance students may, in fact, learn more than the traditional classroom-based students,” concluded the study.

A similar study titled Athabasca University: Conversion from Traditional Distance Education to Online Courses, Programs and Services looked at Athabasca University, which compared non-residential MBA students to traditional learners at the highly-regarded Western University Canada’s Ivey Business School. The study looked at several levels of learning including social procedural, explanatory, and cognitive. In the end, it found that “online learning allows for greater explanatory and cognitive learning, whereas residential study accentuates and improves social and procedural learning.”

While the research is impressive, it’s important to recognize that just as not all traditional MBA programs are created equal, not all online MBA programs are created equal. If you want to ensure that you receive the best online MBA education, you need to take a look at multiple factors. A great place to start is with the U.S. News Best Online MBA Programs rankings. The rankings consider factors including admissions selectivity, reputation for excellence among peer institutions, and academic and career support services offered to students. The Fox School ranked #1 in the country while the Graziadio School ranked #15 overall.

Beyond rankings, before you choose to attend an online MBA, you also need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • What are you career goals? If you have a particular company, job, or promotion in mind, consider reaching out and discovering if your ideal employer will look at your online MBA degree in the same light as a traditional MBA.
  • How is the program structured and does it meet your needs? Before you choose an online MBA, you want to make sure that the same courses, professors, and opportunities are available to you as their traditional MBAs. If you’re getting a sub-par education or fewer benefits, you might want to reconsider or find another online program.
  • Is there a residency or on-campus requirement? This question is of particular importance if you’re looking at an online MBA program that is out of state or out of the country. You need to factor in travel and possible vacation time to attend the on-campus requirement.

When it comes down to it, an online MBA program can be just as good, if not better, than a traditional MBA program, and there are significant benefits to an online MBA program.

  • No Relocation: Particularly for some of the top schools in the country, you can now get the same education with the same faculty as the on-campus MBA students without having to quit your job and uproot your life.
  • Freedom: An online MBA gives you the freedom to stay at your current job, change careers in the middle of your MBA, or relocate for work or personal reasons. You’re not tied down to a single location with an online MBA.
  • Application: An online MBA offers the opportunity to make a business impact today with applied learning. You can take what you learned in the classroom the night before and apply it at your company the next day.
  • Resources: Unlike years ago, the virtual campus of today is very real. For the top online MBA programs, you’ll have access to the same resources including career counseling, mentorship, and networking opportunities. You’ll also experience the same workgroup experiences that global businesses undertake, and you’ll learn how to move quickly in the fast-paced digital world.
  • Affordability: Online MBAs are typically more affordable than their on-campus counterparts, and there’s greater flexibility in duration.

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About the Author

Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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