Online MBA programs are the next step in classroom evolution. With an emphasis on a flexible learning mechanism, they are tailored to match the needs of students and professionals who cannot abandon their busy schedules to meet the rigid requirements of traditional graduate education.

However, just because an online MBA is flexible doesn’t mean you can start without preparation. Online programs are quite different from their conventional counterparts, and students should get educated in the various aspects of pursuing an online degree before their programs start in order to avoid having to spend time on learning how the system works while the program is underway.

Below are the most important pieces of information every online MBA student should know before starting the program:

Time Commitment for an Online MBA

An online MBA program is typically completed in the same time as a regular program: around two years. For those who want a more flexible schedule or for whom rapid degree completion isn’t a priority, part time programs that take up to four years to complete are also available.

It is very difficult to express the time commitment of an online MBA in a fixed number of weekly hours because the numbers vary a great deal from program to program. Yet, a good approximate figure would be from 20 to 30 hours. For examples, the Thunderbird School of Global Management’s 28 month long online MBA program will take up 15 to 20 hours of the student’s time weekly, whereas the 19 month program will require between 25 and 30 hours weekly. These hours are not only dedicated to course work; an online MBA student will be using these hours in studying, taking part in group meetings, perusing textbooks, completing assignments or preparing presentations.

Time Management for Online MBA Programs

Online MBA students should keep in mind that a time management plan set in stone won’t be the best way to take advantage of the uniquely flexible learning opportunities offered by their programs. Matt Cooling, a student at Warwick Business School’s online MBA program states that he had to completely let go of the thorough study plan he had initially formulated, once the program kicked off. This enabled him to better fit the program’s requirements into his day to day routine and to truly leverage the program’s potential. The best way for a fresh online MBA student to succeed in their degree is to have a dynamic time management plan that varies with their daily routine and adapts to their life’s variables.

Coursework and Assignments for Online MBA Programs

Online MBA programs fully utilize the web as the mode of delivery for what was known previously as ‘lecture material’.

An online course management system is a typical feature of online MBA programs. These systems are well-organized, coherent and interactive website/application that contains links to all classes, study guides, course material, faculty updates, and discussion forums; in short, everything that is part of the online MBA program. All online MBA programs also incorporate additional material in their weekly coursework such as industry content, articles/cases from various business authorities and brief faculty made videos. Online course management systems can be accessed by students through a username and password provided by the university. A student can think of this system as a hub from where they can access various parts of their program.

Because the majority of courses in an online MBA program are asynchronous, students can access course material posted on the university’s server using their own computers, from the comfort of their homes, and at the time that suits them. These asynchronous courses prepare the students for the synchronous weekly discussions with their lecturers/classmates. Exams and assignments are also distributed using this mechanism.

Email is another method through which crucial parts of coursework may be distributed. Faculty members may use email to distribute material and assignments, and students use the same method to submit completed assignments to the respective professors. In addition to email messages, students may also be able to hand in their work by uploading it to the university’s server.

Online MBA Classroom Interaction

An online MBA programs may be vastly different from conventional MBA programs when it comes to classroom environment, but this does not mean that they lag behind in classroom interaction. Online MBA students interact with their professors through online forums, where they also take part in group discussions with their colleagues. Synchronous lectures may be delivered using video conferencing, which allows for rich classroom discussions between students from different parts of the world. In some cases, the faculty also hosts ‘office hours’ using instant messaging clients. In these office hours, students can resolve their specific queries about a course.

It is obvious that there are almost no face-to-face interactions with between online MBA students and their classmates. However, online MBA programs provide plenty of collaborative assignments and researches where students can get hands on experience of what it is like to be working as part of a team.

Even though the online MBA provides a greater degree of flexibility in terms of its class environment, it is sufficiently rigorous to prepare students for real world business and management situations. A key advantage of this indirect classroom interaction is that it trains students in managing a team of professionals spread over a vast area, perhaps even across international borders, to achieve a time dependent goal.

Textbooks and Course Materials for Online MBAs

There will, of course, be some things that never change – elements that will be intrinsic to both online MBA programs and regular MBA programs. These include conventional and e-textbooks, various software to aid the student in their studies and research, workbooks for practicing what they learn and additional material to supplement coursework. These elements will vary from program to program, but this shouldn’t be a matter of concern for students; these elements are all detailed in the syllabus/course description provided at the start of the program.

Online MBA Specializations

Students should expect courses on finance, management, accounting, marketing, international business, technology, and organizational leadership. Besides offering general MBA degrees, most online MBAs also allow students to specialize in a particular field of interest such as high technology management, finance, supply chain management etc. This will require the student to take at least three of the five elective courses from their field of interest.

Conclusion

Receiving an acceptance letter for an online MBA program opens up a door to new possibilities. Whichever online MBA program you are soon starting, be prepared for pursuing a degree that is just as demanding as a regular MBA degree, and put in effort in arming yourself with the knowledge needed to make a success out of your journey.

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