Online MBA: How It Differs From The Traditional Classroom

online learning

Get good grades, they told you. That way, you can get a good job and learn everything there.

Remember cramming at 3:00 a.m.? Recall anything you learn? Probably not much. Most undergrads played that game. They shot for a grade and then went home for the holidays or summer. They wanted to etch your name on the Dean’s List to squeeze another bullet point on their resume. That’s what got rewarded, so that’s what got done.

Austin Birner remembers those days. A decade ago, he majored in Business Administration. There, he focused on landing high grades, a pressure-packed proposition that prevented him from “fully committing” to learning. That changed when Birner became an online MBA at the University of Cincinnati’s Lindner College of Business. Here, Birner didn’t have to jam a bunch of classes together and hold on for dear life.


Austin Birner, University of Cincinnati (Lindner)

“[As an undergrad], I did what was necessary to know the information for the test to get a good grade, which sometimes led me to forgetting the material after the course was over,” Birner admits. “Online gave me the flexibility I needed to focus on really learning, so that knowledge would stay with me for many years to come. With only taking a couple classes at a time, I was able to achieve a higher degree of quality learning and comprehension.”

For Anais Koivisto, the MBA programming represented a sharp departure from her undergraduate studies, where she completed a “conservatory-style acting program.” Despite learning online at Indiana University’s Kelley School, Koivisto believe the MBA experience was more similar to the classes she had in the past.

“Classes range from lectures to lively discussions,” explains Koivisto, who made the transition from the arts to private equity before business school. “The Zoom classroom feels very much like a regular classroom to me, with the fun addition of occasional appearances by classmates’ children, pets, and spouses. One important difference, and something I’ve learned along the way, is that you do have to be more proactive about participating, if that’s the way you learn best. You have to really raise your hand, because it is easier to get lost in the crowd of a Zoom room than a physical classroom.”

What are other differences between the traditional classroom experience and the online learning environment? When Poets&Quants opened the nomination process for this year’s Best & Brightest Online MBAs, we asked how the online program compared to their on-site experience as undergraduate students. Here are the five biggest differences they noticed.

1) Deeper Perspective: “My online experience was completely different than my undergraduate experience. During the online program I was balancing working in our business while being a wife and mom. During this stage of my life, I am responsible for many more people than I was during my undergraduate studies, so learning to manage my schoolwork alongside my other priorities was much more complex. However, I also have greater perspective and life experiences than I did while at West Point, as well as over ten years in our business. This helped me determine what I should focus on in my classes to most benefit our company.”
Jennie Wunderlich, University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium

2) Colleagues More Than Classmates: “As an undergraduate student in a traditional classroom setting, I primarily interacted with peers with similar backgrounds and career aspirations. However, in the online MBA program, I had the opportunity to interact with students from diverse industries and geographic locations, which provided me with a better understanding of global business practices and exposure to real-life experiences (as they happen) that I may not have had the chance to experience otherwise. The online learning environment helped me grow personally, academically, and professionally, enhancing my time management and self-discipline skills.”
Mohammad As’ad, Warwick Business School

“The greatest benefit I realized from the remote experience, when compared to the in-person, was the diversity of thought that was present in every class. Rather than having the in-person class be made up of students who are all on campus, you learn and work with people actively working in different industries and different parts of the country. Each brings a unique perspective to class discussions and projects.”
McGeady Bushnell, University of Maryland (Smith)

GiGi Ross ,Lehigh University

3) Greater Flexibility: “Compared to my in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student, my online experience was significantly more efficient and enjoyable. The ability to re-watch lectures and review material made it easier to grasp complex concepts without having to spend hours listening to lectures and then relearning on my own anyways at home. Overall, I found the online learning experience to be much more effective and efficient, and I believe that it represents the future of learning.”
Trent Alan Kostenuk , Rice University (Jones)

“Beyond the material being different and much more practical, the actual class style was very similar. I attended classes live (through Zoom), was able to participate in class, ask questions, deliver presentations, and collaborate with classmates on in-class assignments as well as group projects outside of class. The online format afforded much more flexibility than my undergrad experience – I was able to login to class from home, the office, or while on work travel in another country. Also, having the library of recorded lecturers to return to when studying for exams or when I needed to reference material presented in class was invaluable.”
GiGi Ross, Lehigh University

4) More Active Learning: “My undergraduate experience was not collaborative or interactive outside of a few labs. In addition, it was primarily lectures from professors with very little engagement with or between students. With an online MBA, our asynchronous assignments were due before lectures, so everyone was prepared to contribute to the discussion and breakout sessions. This led to a collaborative learning environment where we learned theory from our professors and lessons learned from practical application from our peers.”
Ta’Sheema Taylor, USC (Marshall)

5) Better Be Organized: “My undergraduate experience was a long time ago! One major difference is the dynamics of group projects. With everyone in the same room, it is much easier to schedule and plan group projects. Working remotely, juggling schedules can be quite a challenge. In general, I think the new perspectives one gains from working with a diverse team of students in various stages of their careers and lives are worth the added complexities, but it certainly adds a degree of difficulty.”
Eric M. Van Horn, University of Nebraska




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