Earlier this year, I was on a plane that was delayed for unknown reasons. During the several hour delay I had the pleasure of meeting Sean Baxter, an up-and-coming executive with ITriage. In our discussion we solved many world problems and I learned that Sean was a recent online MBA graduate. I invited Sean to give us the perspective of an adult learner trying to balance family, work, and education. He also has some advice for us in what worked and did not work in his personal online learning journey. Thank you Sean for sharing your story.
Early in 2009 I found myself without a job, unsure of my professional future, and facing the worst financial downturn many of us will ever experience. I did not know at that time that enrolling in an online MBA program would be the road, if sometimes bumpy, to a brighter future.
I had been working for a professional staffing firm for a few years and became disillusioned. Maybe it was the imminent layoff or wishing to escape an industry geared toward monetary gain rather than helping people, but I decided that I needed to find something more fulfilling and left my position.
Even though I was pushing 30, I realized that I did not have a complete grasp on what I wanted to be when I grew up. Understandably, a slight feeling of panic set in.
Deciding on an MBA Program
I knew that I wanted to expand my knowledge and capabilities, but was conflicted on which direction to take and what type of career to pursue. I decided that entering an MBA program would prove valuable, regardless of what specific path I followed.
That same year I entered the program at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. I chose a focus in Operations Management, which seemed to leave a variety of options available.
There are two choices for most of the curriculum in this program, courses on-campus at several Denver area locations, or an online option that was about 25% more expensive. Given the cost difference and my wide-open availability when I started the program, I chose to take some of the core MBA courses on-campus. This was a nice re-introduction to education after six or seven years, and to this day I feel fortunate to have had the time and flexibility for a few courses with live interaction and feedback.
Shortly after starting my MBA I had an opportunity to take a two-week temp position at a local healthcare company. I almost decided not to go after it due to the lack of stability and chance of it affecting my studies. Thankfully I chose to take it. The position was incredible and I immediately became passionate about the dynamics and sheer complexity of the health care system in our country. Although I was told upfront that this role had no possibility of going longer than specified, my passion must have shown. They were able to create a full-time position for me, which, at the time, was the best job I ever held.
Making the Move to Online
I faced some important decisions. Could I juggle a new job that demanded a sharp learning curve while also attending class? Was my focus on Operations still the right path? I was midway through an on-campus course when my full-time job started. I learned quickly that although the MBA program was skewed toward working professionals, attending class at night while working was not for me. Given my new passion, I also realized that I had a clear focus on what my specialization should be: Healthcare Management. Luckily it was one of the few areas that were offered exclusively online and I was able to change my focus without losing any steam.
It was a good thing that this decision was made for me, because my world began getting infinitely more complex and time consuming between home and work. My job took off, which meant a rapid promotion and increased responsibilities, but also meant that I started travelling two to three weeks of each month. This would have made an on-campus class impossible. Around this same time, I became engaged and started planning a wedding. Unfortunately my now mother-in-law was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer and moved in with us. Could I find the time to juggle these commitments?
My Online Learning Experience
The online program brought several distinctions from the campus courses. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed the live classroom interaction, so that was the first thing that I identified as lacking. The web-based program brought many benefits however. Here are some of the highlights:
- Flexibility – this is, quite simply, the reason that online learning exists. While there were weekly responsibilities and deadlines, it was relatively easy to keep up with them.
- Exposure – This was particularly beneficial in a healthcare program, where I had coursemates that ranged from physicians at the Mayo Clinic to flight surgeons stationed in Iraq.
- Access – Our access to an online library was extensive, including databases like Lexus Nexus and premier search capabilities for journals and periodicals.
- Alternate learning tools – Being online, courses would frequently point to up-to-date resources that shed light on how the skills we were learning were applicable in real time.
Other areas that I did not always care for were:
- Group work – This is a part of many graduate programs, online or not. The online component made it more difficult in some circumstances where group members spanned four time zones.
- Teacher involvement – While some courses had extensive instructor support, I found that, as a whole, the online courses seemed to have less teacher input than live courses. This became frustrating in some cases due to the higher cost of the online option.
Overall, I am thrilled with the online learning experience I encountered in my MBA program. I would highly recommend it to anyone that thinks they do not have time in their lives to fit in education. The program has catapulted my career in a short time, and now that I am done, I am wondering what lies next for me in education.
Regis University, Online MBA Class of 2012
Regional Vice President, iTriage, LLC