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Distance Learning MBA


The Distance Learning MBA
by Michael Pitfield

Gone are the days when distance learning meant isolated individuals struggling to complete their studies while dependent upon the vagaries of postal systems for contact with their tutors.

Developments in information technology (IT), and especially the internet, the growth of multi-media, and the recognition of the importance of personal tutoring and support means that the concept of distance learning has been transformed in recent years. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of distance learning MBAs (Master of Business Administration degrees).

Once thought of as the poor relation of MBA provision, distance learning MBAs are now fully recognised as being mainstream. This is evidenced by the fact that the UK Association of MBAs has, for some years, accredited the leading distance learning programmes. However only eight distance learning MBAs of the 26 offered by UK business schools meet the demanding criteria.

An MBA by distance learning normally takes about three years and it is particularly suitable for those who are unable to commit to fixed periods of study or who are too remote to attend a school. One of the main advantages of distance learning is the immediate integration of one’s learning into the workplace and this applicability to work can make distance learning an attractive proposition to sponsoring organisations.

The speed of developments in IT has contributed greatly not only to the rate of growth in distance learning MBAs but also to their effectiveness. Computer conferencing - for example via the internet - allows students to exchange views, access databases, take part in discussions, communicate with administrators and faculty regardless of time zone and geographical location, and submit set work for more rapid feedback. The greater availability and reducing cost of video conferencing facilities has meant that this medium too can be used effectively for educational purposes.

One of the key factors differentiating this newest generation of distance learning programmes from their more primitive predecessors is the fact that most of the leading business schools offering the programmes include a significant amount of face-to-face contact and personal support for students during the programme.

Those aspects of the curriculum that can best be studied by individuals learning at their own pace are especially suited to distance learning processes. Other aspects, such as skills development, discussion of concepts and so on, benefit from face-to-face communication. Most of the really good distance learning MBA programmes therefore include significant opportunities for students to participate in workshops, seminars, tutorials, residential weekends and so on, to complement their individually paced studies and to enhance their skills base.

To no group is this flexibility more attractive than to the high-flying, busy, mobile, international executive. Such managers, typically in their late twenties to middle thirties and sponsored by their organisations, are highly computer literate. Their travel commitments and demanding jobs mean that they have to fit their qualification studies around their work and cannot afford the luxury of regular commitment or extended time away from the office.

A distance learning MBA for them offers the perfect solution. They can register for and undertake workshop or seminar sessions in one country, undertake their studies as they travel around, maintaining electronic contact with fellow students and faculty, receive support and guidance and participate in other sessions - wherever they are at the time.

Clearly distance learning is by no means an easy option. While it can be undertaken by students at their own pace, this method of study requires enormous application as well as support from the various stakeholders surrounding the individual, the most important of whom are the manager's employer and his or her family.

In favour of this mode of study are:

* Flexibility - individuals can structure their learning experiences to meet their personal needs and circumstances.

* Transportability is vitally important for executives on the move. Those whose jobs move from country to country, over relatively short periods of time, can take their MBA programme with them.

* Distance learning MBA programmes increasingly provide opportunities for networking between students at workshops, seminars and through the media of the internet, computer and video conferencing.

* Because executives are studying while they are working, they can immediately integrate their studies with their work activities. Indeed many of the assignments and projects undertaken as part of distance learning MBA programmes require application to work.

* Unlike attendance at traditional full-time MBA programmes, participation in a distance learning programme means that employment is not interrupted by extended study leave.

* Given the challenges of completing such a self-paced learning experience, successful attainment of a distance learning MBA is evidence of the individual's high degree of motivation and commitment.

Against this, of course, there are a number of disadvantages:

* A distance learning MBA programme can take longer than other methods of study, e.g. between three and four years. Full-time and part-time programmes can often be completed in one or two.

* Given the greater requirement for personal motivation and time management, and possible changes in the individual's circumstances over several years, there is often a higher drop-out rate on distance learning programmes than on other courses.

* Despite the increasing provision of workshops, tutorials and seminars, there is less face-to-face contact in a distance learning MBA programme.

* Geographical location may affect the level of support available. For example, computer facilities may not be available and telecommunications links can be unreliable.

* Given the success of some of the top distance learning MBA programmes, many others have now sprung up. There can therefore be differences in the quality of materials, support, and indeed the programmes themselves.

Like any other type of MBA programme, one important thing is to select a programme that is right for you - i.e. one that fits your circumstances and suits your learning style. Then - if it’s to be a distance programme - make sure it is a recognised one. Whilst these types of programme are now mainstream there may still be some who see them as the poor relations, so it might be a good idea to choose one from a business school that also runs the more traditional type of programme.

Michael Pitfield is Director of Corporate Affairs at Henley Management College, which launched the UK’s first distance learning MBA.

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One Response

  1. Reason for choosing Distance
    Reason for choosing Distance learning MBA:
    1.Students need not to move around the world to full-fill their academic goals,As long as internet access is available, so are an endless variety of educational opportunities.
    2.By choosing distance programs, students save costs on travel, housing, and even books thanks to the abundance of digital resources.
    3.Distance learning students can devote adequate time and attention to more challenging skills without worrying about keeping up or falling behind.


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