Online MBA programs vary greatly in quality, types of courses offered, content delivery methods, focus, available concentrations and target audience, so it’s important to do careful research to determine which program best meets your needs and career goals. However, there are a few characteristics that most online MBA programs share that can give you a better idea of what to expect when you enrol in such a program.
The Length of Your Program
For starters, most online MBA programs require a minimum of 18 months to two years of full-time study to complete. Full-time students are typically enrolled in 3 to 4 courses per semester. To do well in their courses, many colleges suggest students spend about 20 hours per week on program coursework outside of their online lectures. Those 20 hours are typically spent studying, completing assignments, participating in team meetings, reading textbooks or preparing for presentations. While the number of hours you spend on a class outside of lectures will fluctuate from week to week depending on what work you have due, it will always represent a serious time commitment, which is why online students must possess excellent time management skills and self-discipline. Those who work a 40-hour workweek while going to school online take full advantage of the flexibility of online courses, but many still opt to earn their online MBA part-time to stay on top of everything.
Accessing Your Classes
The vast majority of the courses offered in online MBA programs are asynchronous. That means students have access to their professors’ lectures 24/7 and are not required to log in at a specific time of day. It also means students often have the opportunity to fast-forward or rewind video or audio files of lectures, which is helpful for taking notes or understanding material. Depending on your professor, you may participate in some web conferencing related to your course work that requires you to be online at a certain time, but that is the exception, not the rule. Another occasion where you might have to be online at a certain time is to web conference or chat with classmates for group projects. The benefit of asynchronous online lectures is that you can access them at a time of day that works best with your schedule. You can log in after work, early in the morning or even at midnight. This flexibility is great for working adults with families and other responsibilities who can’t commit to a campus-based program and prefer a more self-paced program.
When you log into your course management system, you will see all your courses you are currently taking listed. You click to access each course, and from there you can access everything you need for that course—the syllabus, the lectures for the week, assignments, links to study guides and study material and updates from your professor. Included in most courses are online discussion boards where students in a particular class talk about the material as the professor guides the instruction. When a student completes an assignment, he or she may email the file directly to their professor or upload the file to a drop box embedded in the course management system.
Completing Examinations and Group Assignments
Exams are also typically posted to the course site. These exams may be timed or proctored via webcam. Timed online exams may be delivered through a system that does not permit students to leave the testing screen to surf the web for answers while testing. Some professors do require an online MBA student’s presence on campus for proctored exams, but a requirement like this will be made clear in the syllabus. Often alternative arrangements can be made for those who cannot make campus visits. Just like traditional MBA programs, students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge of the material through short essays and research papers and to demonstrate practical uses of the material they learn through projects, including collaborative group projects. Group projects are challenging, as group members may never meet each other in person and must learn to communicate with each other and divvy up the work without meeting face-to-face. This helps prepare students for the real world, when effective business leaders must find ways of working as a team even when fellow team members are spread out in different cities or even in different countries.
Connecting with Instructors and Classmates
Even though an MBA student may never meet his or her professors or classmates in person, he or she doesn’t miss out on quality interaction with them. Professors and students communicate via instant message, email, phone, web conferencing and in online discussion boards. In fact, online discussion boards are the primary way an online professor assesses a student’s class participation. Instead of being put on the spot in a traditional MBA course, online MBA students have time to think through and craft their discussion postings carefully. Many professors who are in charge of online courses set up virtual office hours, where a student can call or instant message in a certain timeframe to talk with their teacher in real-time, rather than email so that a lag time can be avoided.
…And Everything Else
The textbooks and supplies for online classes are selected by the professor and might include traditional textbooks, e-textbooks, CD-ROMs, workbooks and other supplementary materials. Everything you will need for the course you will be taking will be included in your syllabus and course description.
The types of courses you will take will vary greatly from program to program, but overall you can expect to take courses focusing on finance, accounting, management, marketing, organizational leadership, global or international business, and business technology. Entrepreneurship is a critical component of many programs. Depending on your concentration, you may take a special suite of courses in a particular area. For instance, if you are concentrating on human resources management, you will take a series of 3 to 5 concentration courses specific to that topic.
You can expect to learn from quality, highly-credentialed faculty who hold terminal degrees in their field and draw from their own extensive personal business experience when teaching their graduate students.