How to Evaluate Online MBA Programs

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As online MBA programs are gaining popularity and, more importantly, gaining clout among recruiters and HR departments, prospective students are finding themselves with more and more choices when they set out to apply for an online program. In fact, according to Forbes, this year’s US News ranking of online MBAs included 270 programs—up from just 180 in 2017. 

So what are the advantages and risks of an online MBA program over a traditional one, and how can applicants sort through the growing list of options to find the program that’s right for them?

Pros and Cons: Flexibility at the Expense of Personal Touch

When it comes to delivering content in a way that is convenient to individual students, online MBA programs nail it.

The flexible learning paths allow students to work at their own pace, speeding through concepts they’re already familiar with and slowing down new or complex material to customize the program in a way that’s simply impossible in a traditional classroom. What’s more, that flexibility opens the door for busy professionals—or busy parents—who can’t devote regular time to classes or commutes. In many cases, students can complete their degrees in as little as a year and half or stretch them out over several years, depending on what else is front and center in their personal and professional lives.

However, the very facets of these programs that make them desirable (and affordable) to so many prospective students are also some of their biggest obstacles. The remote, automated nature of these programs means they severely lack in the personal touch of more traditional, on-campus MBA programs. Students sacrifice the camaraderie of the classroom experience, but more importantly, they often sacrifice a good percentage of the personalized guidance and support that on-campus students enjoy. In some of the lower-quality online programs, the minimal interaction between students and professors leads to vague feedback and unanswered questions.

The Deciding Factor: Personalized Feedback on Leadership Skills

When they’re selecting a program, students should take two things into consideration:

  1. Does the program offer the critical training in leadership skills students will need to achieve their professional goals?
  2. How is the program using the latest in E-learning technology to create a personalized experience for each student?

Most full-time and eMBA programs offer students one-on-one coaching for “soft” leadership skills, but the online students often get left out of this vital improvement area.

Take communication, for example. This is the top skill recruiters look for in MBA graduates, and it’s also the skill they have the hardest time finding. That’s not altogether surprising, as evaluating and improving communication is notoriously difficult—especially across large groups of people—even when everyone’s in the same room. And when students are isolated behind their computer screens, it’s nearly impossible, unless the program has invested thoughtfully in new technologies that enable detailed insights and actionable improvement plans created for each individual student.

On the spectrum of online programs (whether we’re talking about higher education or corporate talent development), there’s a vast difference between the classes that ask students to passively click through slides or videos until they’ve made it to the end of the module, and the ones that leverage AI and other technology to tailor each individual student’s experience to his or her needs.

So if you’re gearing up to earn an online MBA, be sure to select a program that can deliver quality feedback and guidance—even without the human touch—on the skills you need to succeed in your career.