Your preferred learning style can help you choose between a traditional and competency-based degree program.

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) has become the most popular master’s degree in the U.S.—accounting for more than 25% of all master’s degrees earned in a recent school year.* Not surprisingly, there are a large number of MBA degree programs to choose from.

For those who don’t want to put their life on hold to attend a campus-based MBA program, online MBA programs are an excellent choice. An online university can give you the flexibility to continue working and/or caring for your family while you earn your degree. But even online graduate degree programs offer a variety of ways to learn. When choosing to earn your MBA online, you can select the more traditional course-based degree program or a competency-based degree program. The key is to decide which is best for you.

What Is the Difference Between a Traditional Online MBA Program and a Competency-Based Degree Program?

A traditional course-based online MBA degree program requires you to participate in and pass a set number of courses, in a set sequence. You progress through the program with other students, at the same pace and with set assignments. Each course lasts a predetermined number of weeks and, to earn course credit, you must complete the course with a passing grade. Once you pass all the courses in a course-based MBA program, you earn your MBA degree.

A competency-based MBA degree program doesn’t require you to enroll in courses. Instead, you learn and demonstrate your competency in specific advanced business administration skills complete specific advanced business administration skills (or competencies) at whatever pace works best for you. You can use the learning resources provided to you by faculty and/or apply knowledge acquired through work, life experiences, or prior education. To earn credit, you demonstrate your mastery of each competency through competency assessments, which can take many forms, such as work-based projects, short papers, or planning documents. These assessments usually mirror the type of work that you would create and apply on the job. Once you have proven your mastery of all the competencies in the MBA degree program, you earn your MBA.

What Are the Advantages of Each?

A traditional course-based online MBA degree program is a structured program comprised of a specific number of advanced business administration courses. That means, before you begin your degree program, you will have a good sense of how long it will take to earn your degree. Additionally, you will know how long each course will take and when projects and assignments are due. A traditional program is designed to keep you moving forward, and you do so with the other students enrolled in the degree program. As such, it can be a good choice for your MBA degree if you need a strong structure to help you stay on task and perform your best.

In a competency-based MBA degree program, you generally have more control over your pace and when and how you work. The goal is to master specific skills and knowledge, not complete courses. Because of this, you can complete your MBA competencies as quickly as your skills and knowledge allow. The faster you pass the MBA competency-based assessments, the faster you earn your MBA degree. This means competency-based learning can save you time. Because you pay per term and not per competency, a competency-based degree program can also save you money. You won’t, however, be on your own. There will be experienced faculty on hand who are experts in their field. They will provide expectations for each competency and any additional information and learning resources necessary to ensure you gain the knowledge you need to further your career. In addition, every student has a dedicated Academic Coach. The Academic Coach will work hand in hand with you to create a customized learning plan to help you achieve your goals. A competency-based MBA degree program is a great choice if you are a self-starter and are committed to earning your degree quickly, because you have control over when, where, and how you learn best.

How Do I Choose?

With the right online university, either a traditional MBA degree program or a competency-based MBA degree program can help you advance your business career. The question isn’t which degree program is better; the question is which degree program is better for you. You should spend time reviewing online universities and their traditional course-based degree programs vs. their competency-based degree programs. You can then choose the program that fits best with your learning style and your timetable for completing your MBA degree.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering both a traditional online MBA degree program and a competency-based MBA degree program, known as Tempo Learning™ by Walden. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*J. Byrne, Why the MBA Has Become the Most Popular Master’s Degree in the U.S., Fortune, on the Internet at www.fortune.com/2014/05/31/MBA-popular-masters-degree.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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