The benefits and challenges of an online MBA

 Distance learning is nothing new – historical records indicate that one of the earliest advertised examples of distance learning was in 1728, when the Boston Gazette reported that a local teacher was seeking students who wanted to learn through weekly mailed lessons.

Almost 300 years later, after moving through correspondence courses and distance learning, education is continuing to change and online learning continues to rise in popularity. While an online MBA isn’t a suitable option for everyone, there are some great benefits that can be gained.

Let’s take a look at them from the perspective of some current online MBA students.

The time management balancing act
For Patrick Gettleman, a student enrolled in the world’s only AMBA-accredited 100% online MBA at the University of Birmingham, long-distance learning allows him to continue working while studying. He explains: ‘With my job and career path I travel for work almost on a weekly basis and could not be successful with a part time [MBA] programme in person. I would simply miss way too many classes. Online was the only option that would work for me.’

Time management can present a real challenge for many students and it is vital throughout an online MBA that students remain aware of the need to manage the balance of their work, study and life.

Employer support is often key to success in this regard. Working full-time and studying means that spare time is sparse and so the management of time and attention becomes of critical importance. The individual choice and circumstances of each student will determine the ability to study and work at the same time. Some might feel that taking a break from work to give their full attention to their MBA by studying on-campus is a better option than the juggling act that comes with an online MBA.

But for online MBA student, Ceridwen Scerri, the hard work of managing both employment and learning has been worth it. She says: ‘I can study in my own time and at my own pace. The fact that the resources are all online means that I can also study when I am on the move. Like everything else it is challenging at times. I was blown away with the amount of readings we have to do each week. However, it is do-able.’

Maximising your output
At the University of Birmingham 98% of online MBA students choose to study and work at the same time. A benefit of this approach for students is being able to apply learnings to their jobs immediately, which is something online MBA student, Andrew Lavin, is already taking advantage of.

As Andrew says: ’The online MBA has introduced me to new concepts and terminology I had not previously been aware of. Now I can use these concepts and apply them to my role as I have the confidence to engage and challenge thinking in many areas of business. This is also backed by sound academic theory, which I would not have otherwise had.’

Working whilst you learn can also make financial sense, preventing a loss of earnings during your time studying. For Ceridwen Scerri, money was a big factor in deciding to do an online MBA. She says: ‘Although I always wanted to study on campus I’m not in a position to afford it. The online option provided me with the opportunity to maintain my job while further educating myself. It’s a win-win situation.’

Making it work for your employer
The University of Birmingham’s Online MBA course is accredited by the Association of MBAs, making it an optimum choice for those employees who want to boost their business acumen.

Ian Myatt, Director of Educational Enterprise at the University of Birmingham, thinks online popularity and recognition will only continue to grow. He explains: ‘The needs of both students and employers are changing; they’re demanding more flexible methods of delivery that can fit around busy schedules. Increasingly, we’ll see a shift to more flexible ways of learning, opening up learning to a whole new market, and potentially shifting the existing market in that direction too.’

Completing an online MBA requires dedication, hard work and commitment. Not everyone can find the time to study outside of work but for those who can learn remotely and have the available funds, an online MBA may be a solution to consider.


 Michael Shulver is the Director: Online Content for two new programmes at Birmingham Business School (BBS): the Distance Learning MBA and the Distance Learning MSc International Business. He designed and project managed both programmes so that they launched successfully at the end of August 2015. Until June 2016 he was in charge of online content, and was also programme director for both programmes.Michael is also a senior lecturer in the Procurement and Operations Management Department. Prior to his current post he was Assistant Dean for Generalist Masters Programmes at Warwick Business School (WBS). In this role he was responsible for the Full Time MBA Programme as well as a large portfolio of Pre-experience Masters Programmes. At WBS he was also a Principal Teaching Fellow in the Operations Management Group.

Find out more about University of Birmingham’s online MBA here