An MBA at your doorstep

Distance learning can certainly be a suitable route to an MBA – perhaps even a better one

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Towards the end of the 1980s, distance learning (DL) began to be introduced as a viable way to gain the premier business qualification: an MBA. An easy path to a degree? No. A valid one? Most definitely. In the same way that a degree course in geology or art history must include an element of field work for validity whether it be taught face-to-face or by distance learning, so too must a management qualification be based in practical experience — and to a greater extent than for the more abstruse, academic disciplines. The field for an MBA student is the business organisation, and so is it not appropriate that students should spend the majority of their time out practising what is being learnt rather than just theorising about it in a classroom?

Working towards an MBA through distance learning necessarily also involves the student being a worker in an organisation, and so he or she is able to see the use and validity, or otherwise, of their course’s ideas in the only setting that really matters: the workplace.

Distance learning can provide an excellent mode for learning, but only if the school has designed its programme with care and sensitivity to the requirements of the delivery method. It is never sufficient to treat a DL MBA programme as simply a proxy for a traditional face-to-face system. One aspect of this is the set of course materials. While a distance learning programme can be based on standard text-books, this will inevitably need to be interwoven with materials created specifically for the DL method of tuition. One aspect of a DL programme that is often a concern for prospective students is support: will they be isolated and left to fend for themselves? For a well crafted and resourced DL programme it is no fantasy to say that it should feel local to each and every student, not distant from the university campus.

So distance learning can certainly be a suitable route to an MBA – perhaps even a better one. But how does one ensure the chosen school will provide the right quality of education? While applicants for traditional, full-time programmes may use the various league tables as an indicator, accreditation is a much better indicator for distance learning programmes as the criteria used for ‘rankings’ may not be particularly relevant outside their designed usage. The three key international accreditors for MBAs are: AMBA (Association of MBAs), EFMD (European Forum for Management Development), AACSB (Associa-tion to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business).

A school accredited by one or more of these bodies will have had its distance learning programme assessed against general MBA standards but also scutinised for effectiveness with respect to its mode of delivery. For most prospective DL students this provides a more appropriate gauge of quality than a ranking. Ultimately, the test of a good MBA degree is what the individual can do with his or her learning in the workplace. Studying for that MBA through distance learning is never going to be an easy option, but the ability to integrate theory and practice whilst one gains the degree is likely to lead to a better, more complete senior manager.

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