Why online courses are popular

Last Updated 24 March 2010, 10:47 IST

A college degree can be a valuable asset to anyone in need of a job or for advancement in their current area of employment. Increasingly, individuals need to update their skills and knowledge several times during their working life. However, many people looking to get a degree may find that traditional college classes aren’t going to fit into their lives due to factors like a hectic work schedule, distance, or simply few class offerings at a university.  This may be a problem for most, but there is a solution in the form of online college courses and distance education.

Whether the revolution in communication technology, with its culture of instant access, has made our lives easier is open to debate. But what is certainly true is that it has changed the face of business education. The distance-learning MBA has become a valuable alternative for students unwilling or unable to invest up to two years of their working lives in the classroom experience.

What the numbers say

It is India, though, that is witnessing some of the fastest rates of adoption for distance learning.  Many observers expect the Indian distance-learning market to double every year for the next five years and believe that the Indian market for online education is just five years behind America’s — and is catching up fast.

Inadequate physical infrastructure for India’s 230 million potential students, coupled with better technology, has driven a huge and diverse distance-learning market. Many of India’s leading firms from retail to telecom are also using e-learning to meet their business training needs.

India has the highest number of postgraduates studying in the UK and shows the most rapid rise. Figures from the student records of the Higher Education Statistics Agency say that in 2002-03 there were 6,520 first-year enrolments; in 2008-09, the number had risen to 19,615.

Last year, 111 out of 166 institutions in the UK were offering some form of offshore education to more than 190,000 students, of whom around 61,000 were postgraduates.

Be clear about your goals and your limitations

Distance learning isn’t for everyone. One needs to be sure about why one wants to enroll for the programme. On the other hand, distance learning has its own rewards. First, it gives an opportunity for bright students in far-flung parts of the world to access a top-quality business education which would otherwise be unavailable to them. What’s more, as distance-learning students tend to work while they study, they have the opportunity to apply what they have learnt immediately within their own companies, making their studies far more practical.

In an increasingly tight job market, candidates benefit from any means of differentiation, and evidence of up-to-date skills and knowledge is what counts. Employers are also likely to look positively on those who have demonstrated a commitment to learning and self development by investing in MBA study — especially during tough times.

Some employers too, faced with the prospect of making redundancies, are choosing to sponsor MBA study for certain employees, rather than lose them. Employers have learnt from previous recessions that you need to do all you can to hang on to talent during a downturn, so that the company is ready to respond to the upturn when it comes.

MBA study is costly and involves a lot of hard work; it is by no means a passport to the job of your dreams. So, it is important to be clear about your reasons for applying and what your next steps might be. Using the MBA to ‘hide’ from the tough economic climate is probably not a good idea — you need genuine commitment and a sense of purpose to get through it and to benefit from the experience.

Furthering your education is always beneficial no matter what you do in life, so take the time to do some research and find an online college degree, university, or distance education programme that will be perfect for you.  There are few people in the world who can say they regret getting a college degree!

Don’t go by rankings alone

It is important to always research the business schools and MBA programmes on offer before applying to them. If you have a clear idea of your objectives, areas of interest and budget, your search will be more focused. By considering only accredited schools you can be assured of the programme’s quality and value while still having a wide range of business schools and courses to choose from.

Don’t rely on rankings alone as your guide to business schools. They are a useful indicator of quality but, unlike accreditation, they do not represent a truly comprehensive and qualitative validation of the many highly respected MBAs on offer. Most notable is the number of European business schools that have now established a strong international reputation and are strong competitors to the top US institutions. However, emerging markets in Asia, India and South America are increasingly important. In this context, ambitious individuals and some at an early stage in their career — and others already in senior positions — are seeing the MBA as a critical part of their professional development.
For admission to an accredited MBA you will need to have a first degree and at least three years’ relevant work experience. Most business schools will also require an admissions test — either their own entrance examination or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which assesses quantitative and written skills.

On a lighter note, I once asked one of my students her reasons for getting into a MBA programme, that too a distance learning one, and she said, “Walking across the graduation stage 30 years after I’d received my undergraduate degree, I closely watched my 10-year-old daughter’s face beam with pride. That, in a nutshell, was my big why.”
Is that a reason good enough for you?

(Published 24 March 2010, 10:45 IST)

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