How to Maximize Online Education for Business Success
Tiffany Rowe

As a small-business owner, you should always be looking for an edge on your competition: the latest tech tools, the best talent, the most effective marketing strategies, etc. Yet, you might be overlooking one of the oldest and most profound methods of improving your business: Education.

Many leaders are returning to school to earn business degrees, which increase their knowledge and prepare them for more advanced challenges, like owning a business. However, because succeeding in business and attending full-time courses on a university campus often don’t mix, most leaders have turned to the web for formal instruction. This is perhaps the best strategy for gaining education and experience at the same time - but unless you have a solid strategy, you might not be getting the most from your online program.

First, Research

For so long, online programs were mocked because they failed to provide adequate education. Rather, they were essentially degree mills where so-called “students” could just pay for the credentials they wanted. Today, that’s no longer the case. Nearly all respectable universities offer online programs, and plenty of fully digital schools promise quality education. Still, a few education scams do exist, so it is vital that you only consider an online MBA accredited by established agencies. Accrediting agencies look for standards in educational programs to ensure students receive valuable information and skills. Most schools will list their accreditations clearly on their websites, but you can contact regional accreditation associations for more information.

Some online programs are hybrids, requiring some classroom time in addition to the online component. Further, while most courses are asynchronous, meaning you can listen to lectures and complete assignments around your schedule, some courses are synchronous, where students and instructors are online and available at set times, and lectures are broadcast live over the internet. So, determine the course format that best works around your work schedule and research programs that cater most to your requirements.

Another important consideration is how much different programs cost. Universities that offer both online and on-campus courses are likely to charge the same tuition to both online and traditional students, meaning costs might be high. Meanwhile, primarily online schools are likely to offer lower tuition and fees because their expenses, such as classroom and building upkeep, are dramatically less.

Finally, before you commit to one program, you should learn about available student resources. In business school, student services are nearly as impactful on your future as the courses you take and the information you gain. Vast and active alumni networks, capable and effectual career centers, and more will connect you with peers and professionals that can aid your business now and in the future. If a program’s student affairs are not highly rated, you might be wise to consider a different program.

Second, Thrive

While researching and applying to online schools is an achievement, you can’t relax just yet. Now it’s time to turn your focus toward studying. For many online students, the most difficult challenge is learning to self-motivate. On-campus courses are easier to remain focused on, since you must physically attend classes and meet your professors face-to-face. But online courses, especially asynchronous classes, require you to be more independent and stay on top of your workload with less outside management. You must regulate your own participation or else waste time and money while you fail to procure a business education.

The key to self-motivating for online education is to evaluate and set proper priorities. While your business might be most important, your education should be a close second. Your responsibilities to friends and family will need to take a temporary backseat. By setting your online program as a high priority, you will be more likely to complete education-related goals before less-important tasks, ensuring you put most of your energy toward business success.

Finally, to thrive in online education, you must have adequate technology. Before your program begins, you should have a relatively fast computer and uninterrupted access to the internet. Additionally, you should acquire any software required by specific courses, such as QuickBooks for accounting or Hootsuite for marketing. You might want to practice with such tech before courses begin so you will have some familiarity with necessary tech tools.

Third, Succeed

Once you complete your online program, your educational experience isn’t over. From the time you start learning to the rest of your days as a business leader, you should apply the knowledge and skills you gain from business school to improve your business. This is the most important step in maximizing online education: Application. It may seem obvious, but this is the step most unsuccessful leaders neglect. Lessons learned are not necessarily lessons used; to maximize your online education, you must be careful not to jump to business decisions and instead review real-world situations as you did example cases in school. Initially, you will make many business mistakes - but you should be able to learn from those, too. If you apply what you learn, you will achieve success.