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Get smart by using hi-tech to turn your home into virtual classroom

Online MBAs – and quality digital tools – secrets of success for people seeking qualifications to get on in careers, but lack time and chance to study full-time

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 11:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 11:11am

Qualifications such as a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) can be a gold pass to career progression.

However, not everyone has the time to pursue a course around their existing commitments, or the chance to pause their professional/working life to study full-time.

Studying online is really convenient. It gives you the flexibility to combine study with work and other things
Andrew Lancaster director, UniCurve

What, then, if that coveted testamur – a certificate that proves an examination has been passed – in one’s professional armoury could be worked towards in your own time, from the comfort of your own home?

Distance learning allows that and digital tools enable it.

Many of the top international universities and business schools offer executive education online, which can be as well- credentialed as any on-campus course – and just as engaging.

Flexible approach to studying

“Studying online is really convenient,” says Andrew Lancaster, director of UniCurve, an Australian company that publishes, a website representing more than a dozen universities across Australia, which helps students find distance education courses,

“It gives you the flexibility to combine study with work and other things.”

An MBA is the most popular course “because of the value it carries in the job market,” Lancaster says, noting that UniCurve’s current online MBA enrolment includes about 2,500 international students.

“Online MBAs carry just as much weight as the ones you get from turning up to classes at a campus,” he says.

“On your testamur, it doesn’t say ‘online’ anywhere. It’s a normal degree.

Online MBAs carry just as much weight as the ones you get turning up to classes at a campus. Your testamur doesn’t say ‘online’ anywhere. It’s a normal degree.
Andrew Lancaster

Since online business schools have a leaner operation, the degree is generally better value, too.”

However, the providers warn potential students that they should not expect the online course to be easier than an on-campus programme.

“Online courses require just as much serious study time as traditional classroom courses,” Lancaster says.

“They also require strategies to keep your concentration levels up. Sitting in front of a computer isn’t enough.

“To really learn, you have to be engaged with the content – whether it’s text or video based.”

Not your usual sit-back-and-listen lectures

Harvard Business School, in the United States, introduced its online learning platform, HBX, in 2014.

It was launched with the aim of helping to prepare students for an MBA through a three-part Credentials of Readiness (CORe) programme, consisting of three courses: business analytics, economics for managers and financial accounting.

“We quickly realised that many people, not just MBA students, benefited from these classes so we broadened our offering to help a wide variety of people hone their business skills,” Patrick Mullane, executive director of HBX, says. HBX now offers 10 courses.

Patrick Mullane, executive director, HBX

“In addition to CORe, we offer [courses such as] Becoming a Better Manager, Entrepreneurship Essentials, Negotiation Mastery,” Mullane says.

“Select courses are also offered via our HBX Live virtual classroom, which allows participants to have real-time, discussion-based sessions live with faculty members.”

He says HBX’s courses bring the famed Harvard Business School case-method of teaching to the whole world through a highly engaging, interactive experience.

“Our proprietary platform is what makes HBX unique,” Mullane says. “HBX courses are not your typical sit-back-and-listen lecture.

“Students take part in a new activity every three to five minutes – video clips, interactive animations, surveys, reflections, Q&A ‘cold calls’ – all of which are designed to keep students interested, involved and on their toes.

“Peer-to-peer learning is also a big part of our success. While our courses are led by Harvard Business School faculty, our platform inspires students to exchange ideas, offer input and be part of a global community of learners who benefit from each other’s experiences and perspectives.”

Business school’s online MBA ranked top

The online MBA offered by Warwick Business School in Britain is first in the world on the Financial Times’ online MBA ranking 2018.

The school been fine-tuning its offering “for many years” to bring a truly immersive experience to students, John Colley, associate dean for the MBA, says.

Our online MBA does not differ from the full-time and Executive MBA in curriculum so part-time students cover the same volume of study and are marked at the same level as full-time students
John Colley, Warwick Business School

“[Warwick’s MBA] is one of the few online courses around led entirely by faculty from the school, which again helps students greatly and leads to the high satisfaction scores,” Colley says.

“Unlike many other schools, our online MBA does not differ from the full-time and Executive MBA in terms of its curriculum, so part-time students have to cover the same volume of study, and are marked at the same level as full-time students.

“Thus, they all have a Warwick MBA on their graduation certificate, with no reference to the way they studied.”

The school’s learning platform my.wbs is a bespoke design providing a virtual classroom which enables student interaction in lectures, discussions and syndicate groups, Colley says.

The online MBA course does require two “Warwick weeks” of group work at the University of Warwick campus in Coventry, or at its London base at The Shard.

Colley says the school has recently launched another wholly online course, the master’s degree in science in strategic leadership and innovation in health care.

Apart from course selection and a willingness to commit, adult students need to ensure their digital tools are up to the task.

Quality computer and fast internet essential

A fast computer with robust and reliable internet connection is a must for speedy data transfer.

For MBA studies, UCLA Anderson School of Management, the graduate business school at the University of California, Los Angeles, recommends a computer with an Intel 7th- or 8th-generation processor, 250+GB hard drive and 8+GB of RAM.

To create a virtual classroom at home, team your desktop or laptop with a super-sized, high definition television, such as Samsung’s 2018 QLED (Quantum Dot light-emitting diode) range.

It comes with a viewing screen up to 88 inches,

Alternatively, you could opt for one of LG’s new organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and Super ultra-high-definition models, featuring the company’s ThinQ artificial intelligence technology and advanced α (Alpha) processor.

A tablet is a handy adjunct, but bear in mind that portable document format files (PDFs) may be difficult to read on a small screen, so size may matter, while weight and battery life are further considerations.

Microsoft packs a portable punch into its latest Surface Go (launched in August) a tablet.

It is powered by the 7th-generation Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y, in a fanless design, offering up to nine hours of battery and weighing only 1.15 pounds (0.5kg).

For Apple enthusiasts, the updated MacBook Pro comes with 8th-generation Intel Core processors, with 6-core on the 15-inch model for up to 70 per cent faster performance, and quad-core on the 13-inch model for up to two times faster performance.

This notebook is designed for manipulating large data sets, performing complex simulations, creating multitrack audio projects or doing advanced image processing or film editing.

Complete the immersive learning experience with comfortable, high-quality wireless headphones with Bluetooth pairing, such as the Beoplay H9i from Bang & Olufsen.

The headband has a solid and lightweight aluminium frame covered with stitched cowhide leather with soft, lambskin ear cushions.

Conveniently for multitaskers, these headphones can also be paired to two devices at the same time.

Top tips to online studying offers a wealth of advice to help students make the most of their digital learning. Its key points are:

1. Establish a study schedule 

In the absence of regular class times, an online weekly planner can provide a structure and timetable that fits into your lifestyle.

2. Find your inspiration 

Online programmes are designed to be equally rigorous and demanding as traditional courses. To stay motivated – even on the bad days – keep reminding yourself of why you are doing it.

3. Use the materials provided

Do not be tempted to skip through videos, animations and ungraded self-assessment activities – these are tools to help you achieve course learning objectives.

4. Learn actively To learn effectively, the mind must be engaged. This is achieved by rewriting material, applying concepts (such as by answering questions and taking old examinations), and recalling information without using notes.

5. Be a good online communicator

Engage with other students by email and posting on student forums to enjoy the camaraderie of your virtual classroom.