Make the most of your online MBA

By Dr Demetra Katsifli, Senior Director of Industry Management at Blackboard

 Many students feel put off enrolling in a master’s programme because of the cost of tuition fees, especially for high-end master’s degrees. However, students that are fresh out of university who opt to stay on another year in a master’s programme will be entering the workforce at an advantage. More and more mid-career professionals are also inspired to upskill: there’s a trend towards the portfolio career, as part of the ‘gig economy’, which benefits self-starters and those with the endorsement of a qualification.

With increasing pressure on individuals to arrange their own professional development rather than rely on corporate training programmes, who need to develop their skills alongside work and home commitments, many are turning to distance learning as the optimal solution to earn an MBA and improve their career prospects.

Online distance learning requires students to manage their own education to get the most out of their studies. And the success rate compares well with traditional MBA courses.

Whether you are a fresh graduate or mid-career professional if you decide to study remotely here are some tips to help you get the most out of the experience:

• Set up peer groups alongside your solo study. In addition to any groups you may be assigned to for assessed work try to set up your own learning group with your peers. Groups will help keep you engaged and provide additional support you would expect if you were physically attending a university course. The benefits of online group collaboration are illustrated by Deakin University, Australia. The institution offered online peer assisted study sessions, with results showing that one hour of peer-to-peer collaboration can be the equivalent of 3 hours of independent study.

• Collaborate with your peers and tutors online and in real-time. Using an online collaboration environment that has high quality video and audio, makes communication with your peers and tutors more effective. Live sessions give you the chance to ask questions at the right moment which benefit you and your fellow students. When using an online collaboration environment take turns leading the group so that no one person dominates the conversation ensuring everyone participates. Also, put together your own questions ahead of time to ask the group about the lesson. Attending remotely in real time can also help you build personal relationships with people on your course.

 • Record and re-play your online sessions. The ability to record and re-play online sessions with peers and tutors is a definite advantage with distance learning. You will have the opportunity to review sessions that you may have had trouble keeping up with or get to grips with complex content. This also works as a good refresher in advance of an assessment.

• Have your progress reviewed regularly.
With online distance learning this is key to getting the most out of your learning – you need to know how you are doing. Make sure you ask for regular reviews on how you’re getting on and find out how your progress compares to the rest of your peers. You may be able to use a dashboard to see how you’re keeping up with assignments but you also need your tutor’s view on your progress/performance. Try to ask for feedback on your work via video/audio, not just in text-based comments.

• Focus. Try to be as disciplined as you can with your time and learning environment. As you are studying from home try to create a space that you associate with studying, free from distractions. It can be difficult to focus when you have children or partners around whilst studying. Having family/flat mates that support and cooperate with you will enable you to have a study attitude that encourages academic success.

With online distance learning, you are at the centre of your learning process so it will require you to play a more proactive role – this is crucial to how you will progress. Online distance learning requires you to be self-sufficient and self-motivated. Although it may sound difficult, this self-reliant approach appeals to more and more professionals who are signing up to take short courses or full MBAs online, fitting study with their career and personal life.