Ideas for Leaders #389

The Pros Vs Cons of Online Management Education

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Key Concept

Are you thinking of enrolling your employees on an executive education program, or investing in one yourself? Would you consider opting for an online program? These are certainly gaining prominence with several traditional business schools now conducting certain programs entirely online. This Idea looks at the pros and cons of online learning, and what you need to consider before endorsing one.

Idea Summary

The explosion of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) has led to management education being viewed in a new light. More and more organizations have decided to utilize online qualifications programs, and many leading business schools have started incorporating online modules into their existing programs. Ashridge Business School, for example, is delivering its Executive Masters in Management (eMiM) program 100% online.

Sona Sherratt and Ayiesha Russell from the school set out to examine how this and similar online programs can make meaningful contributions to the practice and further education of executives.

They found that the self-managed nature of online learning, without prompts and the physical presence of others, made learner motivation integral to participant success. Learning online provided an opportunity for them to develop themselves while concurrently increasing the value to the organisation. Participants were able to achieve a more flexible work-life balance than they thought possible with part-time or full-time face-to-face programmes.

Through their studies, they describe the following four types of learner interactions:

  • Learner-content: when exploring how students interact with program content, Sherratt and Russell found that being able to access material in their preferred learning style helped participants to effectively and efficiently engage with the material. Program design and sequence of content delivery were also identified as important to them.
  • Learner-learner: this was identified as highly important to participants, and integral to their perception of program effectiveness. They expressed that they found great value in interacting with, and fostering a sense of community with other learners. However, they also expressed that they would have liked to interact with their peers more, and that having greater peer interaction would have increased the effectiveness of their learning on discussion groups and webinars, as well as creating a support system.
  • Learner-tutor: initially, tutor support and project supervision were perceived as less effective elements of the program. However, when this was explored within the interviews, it became apparent that access to tutor support and project supervision was highly dependent on what stage of the program participants were at (i.e. Certificate, Diploma or Masters).
  • Learner-interface: access to learning within the virtual environment is mediated by interacting with technology, which was perceived as desirable in many aspects, and challenging in others.

Methodology: Sherratt and Russell surveyed 40 participants taking place in the Ashridge eMiM, with questions designed to gauge the extent to which they perceived online elements as being effective; for example, video resources, online discussions, question and answer based webinars, tutor support, etc. They also conducted 13 in-depth interviews with participants.

Business Application

As the researchers highlight, despite the many advantages of online learning claimed by programme developers, common challenges exist; for example, the lack of face-to-face networking, having to accurately anticipate and manage time resources yourself etc. Addressing four types of learner interactions can enhance the perceived effectiveness of an online learning programme, and help to address some of these challenges.  In addition, the participants Sherratt and Russell interviewed pointed out international time zones as a potential barrier to online learning, as it made it harder to access group learning.

These and other pros and cons of online learning highlighted in this article can serve as a good starting point for executives considering introducing such programs in the workplace. 

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Idea conceived

  • August 2013

Idea posted

  • June 2014

DOI number



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