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Online MBA vs Traditional MBA


I’m considering earning an online MBA instead of earning a traditional classroom MBA. I live in rural Wyoming—not a lot of universities close to my home. None, in fact. To continue my education, I have to move or go online. My last business degree was earned the traditional way. I’m skeptical that an online MBA could ever be as good as my old-fashioned classroom experience. Can you cite objective research that “proves” that an online MBA might be anywhere near as good as a traditional classroom degree?

—Tammy, Wyoming

Lots of educators have asked—and answered—this same question. The answer: YES. The Online MBA has scientifically been shown to be as effective—if not more so—than the old-time, traditional classroom MBA.

Research has consistently found that an MBA offered by a regionally accredited university is as good—if not better—than a traditional classroom degrees. Two studies in particular have examined the ongoing debate of online MBA vs. traditional MBA.


Colorado State University (CSU) began offering a distance format for its classroom MBA in 1975. In 2001, researchers at this business school (accredited by the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business, or AACSB) orchestrated a three-way comparison.

The association compared the learning experience of CSU’s online MBA students to the school’s classroom MBA students and its executive MBA students. The comparison occurred along 12 academic skill sets.

Since all three groups took the same curriculum, with the same instructors, with the same AACSB MBA degree being awarded, researchers sought to determine if delivery method alone made any significant difference in learning outcomes.

All students were being awarded the same degree, but were they all really receiving the same education?

At degree conclusion, all three groups reported higher scores on 7 of 12 competencies. Online students, however, self-reported higher scores than the campus group on three measures: technology, quantitative skills and theory skills.

Mark Kretovics and Jim McCambridge, the study’s authors, concluded: “…the results not only support the notion that distance learning is effective, but they also challenge the ‘no significant difference’ research findings by indicating that distance students may, in fact, learn more than the traditional classroom based students.”


In 2001, Canada’s largest, government-approved distance university, Athabasca University, released the results of a study that compared the school’s non-residential MBA students to traditional learners at the highly-regarded University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.

The Ivey School offered only a residential degree, while Athabasca University’s Centre for Innovative Management (CIM) offered only an online MBA degree. The CIM MBA degree was converted to interactive Internet delivery mode in 1994. 

The study assessed several levels of learning: social, procedural, explanatory and cognitive.

The results: online learning allows for greater explanatory and cognitive learning, whereas residential study accentuates and improves social and procedural learning.

Athabasca operates Canada’s largest and fastest growing executive online MBA program. The university served more than 1,100 MBA students in 2001, all at a distance.

Obviously, not all online MBA programs are equal, just as not all residential degree programs are of identical quality.

But the research shows without a doubt that residential colleges that have developed online versions of their traditional MBA programs are offering top-quality alternatives for students.

You shouldn’t hesitate to enroll in any MBA just because it’s offered online. If you continue to have concerns, stick with online degree programs that are taught by traditional residential colleges.

More than 30 percent of all “traditional” colleges in the U.S. now offer at least one of their degree programs completely online. Colorado State University is only one of many distance business degree programs that exists in both residential and online formats.


For help finding a credible online MBA, check out the Get Educated video Top Online MBA Programs
This video outlines research on 5 factors to look for in choosing a top online MBA.