Obtain an MBA online Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2007

Is it time to pursue an MBA? Or have you identified candidates in your company whom you want to sponsor in obtaining their MBAs? Perhaps these ideas have been on your mind for a while, but because of career demands you’ve just never seemed to find the time to act.

Technology has advanced online learning options so that students who cannot commit to regularly scheduled classes on campus can still pursue their degrees. While a quality program is just as rigorous and complex as a campus-based program, online degrees afford a level of flexibility that prior to the Internet was just not possible.

Smart Business asked George Barnes, director of the Global MBA Online program, School of Management, the University of Texas at Dallas, about the benefits of obtaining an MBA online.

How do online options make it more convenient for an executive to obtain his or her MBA?

An online program dispels time and place as obstacles to earning a degree. Executives often have many meetings and travel requirements that prevent them from attending classes on fixed days at specific times. Those who do start a campus-based program may find themselves transferred to another city or country, so if they transition to the online program, they won’t have to forfeit any credits they’ve already earned. While there is flexibility with the online program, there are still some structured requirements. Our Global MBA Online program, for example, follows the same semester pattern as the campus-based program, with all courses beginning and ending at the same time. Online students in a course that requires a two-hour exam are given a two-day window during which they can choose the start time.

What qualities are required to be a successful distance learner?

You have to be disciplined, self-motivated and able to take responsibility for your education rather than have it ‘come at you’ while sitting in a classroom. You have to be comfortable with technology and have the necessary computer skills. Online learners should also have no particular need for the face-to-face socialization that takes place in the classroom. In the distance learning environment, socialization takes place in chat rooms, on discussion boards and, in some cases, in virtual classrooms, but the students — unless enrolled in a hybrid program of some sort, which requires in-person attendance on some type of regular basis — will never actually be together in person.

How is the distance learning environment structured?

Online degree programs require the student to participate in virtual teams, engage in self-directed learning and utilize time-management skills, all of which are required to function in today’s business environment. Students and faculty interact via streaming audio lectures, downloadable course files, online text-based conferences/threaded discussions, real-time text-based chatting, Web conferences and electronic submission of written assignments.

Is the quality of education any different than that which would be obtained on campus?

In a well-structured, accredited program the requirements for obtaining a degree online are just as rigorous as a campus-based program. At UT Dallas, our program is an extension of the campus program using the same faculty and curriculum. The word ‘online’ does not appear in the transcript or on the diploma.

What should prospective students look for in a program?

The program should be accredited and should have serious admission requirements. What is the quality of the structure, delivery and faculty? Is it the same curriculum offered on campus? Do you have access to the same faculty as the students on campus? Is the program user-friendly? The student needs to determine what degree of flexibility he or she is looking for, and then ensure that the program accommodates it. Is the program a hybrid? If so, would it be impossible for you to attend the regularly scheduled times in the classroom? Is there a lot of real-time interaction required? Can you commit to that?

What solutions does an online program offer to companies that want to further the education of senior-level managers?

For a company, access to one high-quality online MBA program can be the solution to upgrading the business skills of senior-level managers, no matter where they are located. It’s a particularly attractive option for multinational companies. For example, a company might send 10 people it has identified as future leaders through the program, knowing that all 10 will receive the same instruction. Those 10 can live anywhere in the world.

GEORGE BARNES is director of the Global MBA Online program, School of Management, the University of Texas at Dallas. Reach him at (972) 883-2783 or gbarnes@utdallas.edu. For more information, go to www.som.utdallas.edu/globalmba.