Date published: 17 November 2011
Most of the nation's leading MBA programs offer a fairly high degree of study flexibility for time-poor executives but they can still be a struggle for some professionals. And while many MBA programs have beefed up their online offerings considerably, there is often still a strong component of fixed-term on-campus or residential learning.
In recent years specialist online higher education provider Open Universities Australia has offered a popular MBA executive program through Melbourne's RMIT.
A case in point is Swedish expatriate Pierre Hulstrand, who was working for a large Swedish firm in Melbourne.
While keen on study, he had originally discounted the idea of completing his MBA as he worked long hours and had discovered the MBA programs he was interested in lacked the necessary flexibility.
For Hulstrand, OUA provided an opportunity to study online. He says the biggest difference between a more traditional program and OUA's offering with RMIT is that learning materials and tutorials are mostly offered online, and most interaction with tutors and fellow students is through online discussion forums or chat sessions.
Hulstrand says he was positively surprised by the layout and structure of the program.
"I received an interactive CD, which included reading guidelines, Power Point presentations, introductory video clips and a summary of the qualification for each subject," he says.
"This gives you an overall picture of what the study purpose is and the expected outcome."
According to an OUA spokesperson, going to school online does not have to mean long hours alone in front of the computer.
During a program, students can interact with other students from across the country, exchanging stories and learning more about the world around them as they pursue their degree.
For Hulstrand, the interaction proved to be an added bonus.
"Some people mistakenly believe that the lack of human interaction is an issue but OUA provides an online discussion forum, which is used by both students and tutors to enhance student engagement and experience.
"It may not replace the on- campus benefits but in my opinion this is a worthwhile compromise to support increased flexibility and still maintain academic quality," he says.
Another boon for those studying online is students are not restricted to a timetable: the MBA executive is offered over three sessions each year, providing students with the option to fast-track their studies.
Moreover, like their on- campus counterparts, online MBA students focus on the core issues and challenges facing today's global marketplace.
It's led by some of the nation's top business thinkers and practitioners, which not only allows participants to build their knowledge and skills base but also ensures there is the requisite high standard of intellectual rigour involved in the teaching.
'The MBA qualification played a big role. To those considering an online education, I would tell them to go for it" said Hulstrand.
The key difference from those learning on-campus: increased flexibility. Hulstrand graduated from the two-year MBA program, after a period when he was simultaneously in school full- time and employed full-time. He was also the first online graduate awarded by RMIT for scoring a distinction in his MBA.
As for the value of the MBA, Hulstrand, who is now back in Sweden, says he has moved up the career ladder twice within his company, and he has also seen an increased interest from employment agencies and head-hunters.
"The MBA qualification definitely played a big role. To all those who are considering an online education, I would tell them to go for it," he says.
Key learning highlights included putting into context what he had learned during a 20-year career in various management roles.
Significantly, Hulstrand is adamant online learning does not compromise academic quality. Instead, it removes the time and flexibility barrier associated with traditional forms of learning, he says.
"With distance and online learning, there is no reason not to realise your vision," he concludes.
Date: Saturday 20 August 2011
Publication: The Weekend Australian
Title: Greater flexibility in pursuing MBA online