Online MBA hit the jackpot while traditional MBA collapsed

Last year brought unprecedented and unforeseen changes across the world. One industry that found itself amidst this was education. Being a part of the industry, it was easy for me to observe circumstantial transformation, but I have to be honest, 2020 was a lot different.

Covid-19 has been a defining moment for all industries, more so for higher education. Upskilling was always on the cards for many students and professionals but never had it been inescapable.

MBA notably received a jolt from the blue. Overnight, students who landed on campus had to refrain from attending classes physically or, sadly, head back home. Dreams were shattered, or at least, it felt like it. 

Then something miraculous happened, something that the education industry has long been predicting and investing in but didn’t think would be applicable at a moment’s notice. Never has the term ‘being agile’ gained so much practical importance as it did in 2020. Thankfully enough, India was already preparing for the growth of e-learning. Lectures moved from wooden desks to the virtual world on Zoom. Professors traveled from their bedrooms to living rooms to teach students seated miles away and, at times, in different countries. 

Related Read: Covid and its Impact on Education

As the demand for e-learning continues to grow, the incapacity of a traditional MBA is glaringly visible. The on-campus MBA module relied heavily on set methods of teaching and a physical syllabus that didn’t adapt quickly. As opposed to that, an online MBA is more flexible and sensitive to the changing landscape. Come 2021, and on-campus MBA institutes are taking note. Universities that are tens of decades old are seeing online MBA courses as a practical and attainable option.

Online MBA is no different from an on-campus MBA

Certain myths that are constantly associated with online MBA include high price points, lack of collaboration with peers, lack of exposure to real-world situations, lack of credibility of online degrees, and very simply, the lack of quality education. Today, I see all of the above being busted.

An online MBA has proven to be more affordable than an on-campus one. Think of all the costs you would be saving up on – accommodation/rental (since students are willing to relocate to a new city for an MBA), travel, food, among many. What’s more? You don’t have to give up your chances to earn while you learn. The opportunity cost of not having an income while pursuing an MBA on campus is perhaps one of the most important, and with an online MBA, students don’t have to worry about it anymore.

Online MBA is different from offline MBA that has shifted to online during the pandemic. The online curriculum includes a lot more than just lectures and one-way communication. Activities are designed keeping in mind the limitations of not being physically present, and students are encouraged to collaborate with their peers all the time.

Just like in an offline MBA, projects are assigned that enable collective growth. The case studies that are discussed in on-campus classrooms are taken up effectively in virtual classrooms, too. The myth that students lack growth due to no physical interaction has been proven wrong time and again.

The third, and perhaps the most baseless in my opinion, is that degrees obtained through online courses are not credible. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Universities across the globe understand the need for and advantage of online learning. Credible universities offer online MBA courses.

Reputed institutions like SP Jain and NMIMS in India and Deakin Business School, EU Business School, and Liverpool Business School offer accredited online MBA courses. And these are just a few. In my own experience at upGrad, I’ve been lucky to see first-hand some of the best business schools offering quality online MBA education at par with the on-campus course.

Recruiters are embracing Online Education

The pandemic forced upon us drastic measures, the ripples of which were felt through the education industry and affected all stakeholders in the higher education industry. These stakeholders don’t just include university, students, and parents. They involve the workplace and community at large, too.

Stakeholder Map of Higher Education

Recruiters, one of the stakeholders, are adapting too. There were no campus recruitment drives in 2020. But companies still hired fresh graduates through virtual interviews, and they continue to work from home by staying connected digitally. 

Organizations no longer found it lucrative to make the extra effort and spend more by conducting physical recruitment drives. More companies were a part of the placement process because they had access to a broader graduate market online. Similarly, graduates had access to more recruiters. 2021 seems to be heading in the same direction with new lockdown restrictions in place.

With offline MBA candidates also being hired online, there’s no distinction between opportunities available for traditional and online MBA graduates. Both have equal access to jobs and have a wider market now to choose from. Digital advancement coupled with forceful adaptation of new techniques has leveled the playing field for hiring online MBA graduates.

Covid-19 has radically transformed Online MBA

Coping with the crisis was an industry-level effort. No single stakeholder worked alone but in tandem with measures implemented by another. The first to take action was the government when it declared the lockdown. The ensuing ripples led universities, students, parents, and recruiters, among others, to react.

Several institutes turned to virtual learning to continue education uninterrupted. It was vital for them to adapt to these trying times, and I’m glad the internet came to our rescue. With nations locked down for months, universities worldwide turned to remote learning, setting up digital infrastructure overnight to accommodate student needs. In all my time as part of the industry, I’ve never seen such extreme measures implemented so quickly.

As the months progressed, I came across new trends in the e-learning sector. For one, demand for online courses, especially MBA, shot up. I believe this resulted from the desperate need to upskill and remain competitively employable in the challenging labor environment. Companies were forced to lay off employees while others seemed to head down a similar route eventually. Those who could prove valuable to the organization through a varied and progressive skill set were bound to survive.

Over time, stakeholders acclimatized to learning digitally. It proved beneficial for students as they could learn at their own pace at home while pursuing other interests. Staying locked in all day gave us ample time to rethink and reflect on our career choices.

A lot of working professionals are pursuing online MBAs now that they have the time and flexibility. Online MBA courses can be completed in a shorter period, too. Why do you need an offline MBA then? Students are getting an MBA degree faster and earning while learning!

India has improved leaps and bounds with investments in internet infrastructure in the last few years, giving students easy access to online learning. I can proudly say that upGrad rode the digital transformation wave when it started in 2015 and has provided qualitative e-learning courses ever since, including online MBA classes from 2020.

The current scenario is reasonably uncertain. I’m reading reports of students having to defer a year to attend an on-campus MBA once the pandemic subsides. That is a big sacrifice to make! Losing one full year of learning and growth while also deferring opportunities is critical to any student or working professional’s career path. They won’t just be losing 365 days. They’ll be losing so much more. But with an online MBA, they don’t have to take this risk. Why would anyone want to take a risk when the option available is just as gainful?

Universities are taking note of these changes and planning to continue investing in online MBA. They’re reviewing the syllabus to lay out more choices for students. Subjects that aren’t a part of on-campus MBA are finding their way into the online MBA curriculum. UI, UX, Artificial Intelligence, and even Covid-19 are some of the new subjects being introduced. With various options to choose from, online MBAs are more attractive.

Trends in e-learning

For decades, MBA has been the frontrunner in building more employable graduates, making it a popular course to pursue. Often, I’ve encountered discussions on how an on-campus MBA is better than the online options. Well, I gladly declare that Covid-19 has blurred the lines between an online and on-campus MBA.

Research by the Graduate Management Admission Council or GMAC showed that online MBAs were already rising in popularity before the pandemic. Demand for these courses had grown ever since 2017. And with the changes that Covid-19 has brought, online MBA is now more popular than ever.

Some key trends that I’ve observed over the last year will likely continue in the next few years.

  • Higher investment in online learning technology such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, artificial reality, and virtual reality. These will be useful in lecture delivery as well as feedback and examinations.
  • Upskilling is likely to be in demand. Organizations will be on the lookout for those who can provide more value.
  • Online MBA will continue cannibalizing traditional MBA as it’s more flexible and adaptable.
  • The average age of MBA students will change. No longer will access be restricted to the younger age group of 24-25 years. Those in their 30s will also have the option to participate in online MBAs.
  • The graduate market will get much more competitive as companies will have complete access.

In conclusion

Online MBA is well set to take on traditional MBA courses. While they may not wholly replace on-campus education, they will be more prevalent in the years to come as more stakeholders participate in the growth and diversification of the education sector.

Covid-19 disrupted the world in ways we never knew about before and presented challenges that neither students nor educational institutions were completely equipped to deal with. If stakeholders need to stay ahead of the curve, an online MBA is the way to go.

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