Online vs. blended MBA: Which one suits my needs better?

March 02, 2020

Pros and cons of 2 learning formats

Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé sitzt

More and more managers who are eager to advance their careers decide on a study part-time MBA program because this will allow them to conveniently balance their professional, academic and family commitments. Prospective MBA students can choose between online-only programs and blended MBAs, in other words, courses which combine online elements with in-class sessions. Both approaches make sense, but what are the pros and cons of these 2 MBA formats?

In the following article, Dr. Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé, Managing Director of the WU Executive Academy, takes a closer look at the 5 most important differences between these 2 modes of delivery.

1.   Flexibility: the work-life-study balance is what matters

Part-time MBA programs target, first and foremost, experienced managers with busy schedules. As the proverb, “time is money” tells us, this is particularly true as far as these executives are concerned. Given that they have to fit in studying for an MBA degree around their professional and family commitments, a high degree of program-flexibility is an invaluable plus when it comes to striking a good work-life-study balance.

Women chats with a woman on a computer.
Online elements supplement the in-class sessions of so-called “blended MBAs”.

Both modes of delivery meet this requirement. Online-only programs offer maximum flexibility because participants can study where and when they want. However, this flexibility comes at a price: Students need to do all the planning themselves, which requires not only considerable self-discipline, but also excellent self-study skills.

The curricula of blended MBAs also include a great deal of flexible, distance learning. However, such programs are more structured thanks to the in-class sessions, which typically take place on weekends or in the course of study trips, making it easier for students to plan their schedules accordingly. What makes this approach particularly useful is that after an in-class session, participants can immediately start applying the business skills they have just learned. Pavel Vranek, an alumnus, could not agree more.

Pavel Vranek

Pavel Vranek, MBA

  • Alumnus | General Manager of BMW RENOCAR

Every time I returned to work on Monday after an MBA module, my team had mixed feelings about it. I always came back to Brno with new ideas that I was burning to implement. More often than not, this meant a lot of work for everybody, but it was definitely worth it.

2.    There is no substitute for networking and face-to-face interaction

From a networking point of view, blended MBAs clearly outperform their online-only counterparts. In class, students have plenty of opportunity to share their ideas and experience with one another, and this is especially true with regard to programs that bring together participants from different countries, cultures and areas of employment. What is more: A strong network is absolutely indispensable for achieving career success - no matter what industry or position one is in. In-class sessions offer an ideal mix in this regard: Students give each another encouragement and advice, become business partners and start companies together. It is not uncommon for participants to build relationships that not only continue to be valuable assets long after graduation, but also help them get support quickly and easily when it is most needed. A Global Executive MBA alumnus can testify to this from his own experience:

“The next logical step in the development of our company was to expand our business operations to Russia, which is a huge and important market, but one governed by its own rules. Preparatory to the expansion, I tapped into the potential of my MBA network. As a result, we were up and running in Russia in as little as 6 weeks. Without the valuable input and advice provided by my Russian contacts, gaining a foothold in Russia would have taken us much longer and would likely have cost us much more…”

One advantage of blended MBAs as compared to online MBAs is the larger amount of opportunities to exchange ideas with classmates.

3.    Online learning involves far more than just providing content

Modern online learning involves far more than just providing content. It is interactive, varied and dynamic, taking advantage of a wide variety of tools used in the context of online-only programs and blended MBAs alike:

In both cases, technology substitutes for physical presence. By streaming videos, accessing interactive chat rooms, webinar-based breakout sessions and discussion forums online, participants can study and interact with one another synchronously, in other words live, as well as asynchronously. This applies to online-only programs as much as it applies to blended MBAs.

4.    The MBA degree’s value: reputation trumps mode of delivery

Graduates of online-only programs frequently run into the problem that their degrees are less valued and hence fail to give their careers the desired boost. This is because many HR professionals labor under the misconception that online MBAs are easier to complete than blended MBAs. Yet the value of a degree depends less on the program's mode of delivery than on the reputation of the business school and the quality it provides. One advantage of online MBAs is that, given the irrelevance of physical location, prospective students can set their sights on business schools that are further away but cater even better to their individual needs.

Group work
In order to get the maximum out of a specific MBA format, you need to set clear goals.

5. Time and money: a comparison of the investments involved

A persistent rumor has it that online MBAs are usually cheaper than blended MBAs. This may be true with regard to providers that offer programs of lower quality and use the financial aspect as their trump card in marketing campaigns. Top business schools, however, make students pay for the greater flexibility of online MBAs, not least because of the extra costs they incur behind the scenes as a result of the fact that they have to specifically adapt the content of their programs and need sophisticated technologies in order to cater to the requirements of distance learners in the best possible way.

There are also differences in terms of how long the programs take to complete. While blended MBAs have fixed start and end dates, many online MBAs offer the opportunity to start studying at any time. How long participants take to earn their degrees is up to them. However, this flexibility is not always a good thing: Many students fail to get into a rhythm that works for them, and networking becomes much harder when people are on different schedules because it is more difficult to keep in touch.

To sum up:

When faced with the decision of whether to do an online-only or a blended MBA, you should ask yourself the following questions: How important is it for me to have maximum flexibility? Do I have a foreign university in mind I would like to study at? Is expanding my professional network one of the central objectives I hope to achieve by completing my degree? How structured a program and how much time pressure do I need in order to be an effective learner? The answers to these questions will help you choose the mode of delivery that is right for you. Follow this advice to make the most of your MBA experience - and you will (almost) certainly be able to give your career the boost you are looking for.

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