Introverts May Find Refuge in Online MBA Programs

But some say that aspiring executives who are shy should push themselves to go to b-school in person.

Introverted executives may want to consider an online MBA.
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Online MBA programs are the "perfect vehicle for the introverts among us," according to a June 2012 Financial Post article by a self-declared introvert. And earlier this year, an article in Fortune suggested that technology may pave the way for introverts' success in business.

This may be music to the ears of shy would-be executives, who have long ago grown tired of hearing that they need to "get outside their comfort zone." But experts are divided on whether introverted students should follow their guts and gravitate toward online MBA programs, or push themselves to enroll in courses that could force them to be more outgoing.

Students who can afford to pursue brick-and-mortar MBAs should do so, rather than studying online, says Neeraj Shah, a University of Chicago Booth School of Business MBA who says he is "extremely introverted."

"Learning how to interact and network with people is critical, and a regular MBA school provides the best training grounds for it," says Shah, the chief executive officer of CureSquare, a website for scheduling doctor's appointments.

[Read about how UNC courts its MBA alumni to go back to b-school online.]

Introverts shouldn't expect to become more outgoing or extroverted by going to business school, Shah says, but they can learn, as he did, how to improve their networking skills.

"People don't need to have 1,000 connections on LinkedIn to be successful, but they do need to figure out and build those ... 10 to 50 key relationships at each stage of their career that will help them get ahead," Shah says.

Introverts are much better off going to on-campus MBA programs than online ones, "which tend to be solitary in nature," agrees Bill Townsend, a serial entrepreneur and author of Yes You Can: How to Be a Success No Matter Who You Are or Where You're From, who has always tested as an introvert.

"On-campus programs will place them into working groups and thus help to bring out communications skills. This will put them in settings that are more real-world in focus and which will more accurately mimic what they'll face running companies," says Townsend, who holds an MBA from Baylor University Hankamer School of Business .

[Learn why proliferating online MBAs remain controversial.]

But Jennifer Kahnweiler, a Florida State University Ph.D. and the author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength, says that online MBA programs can work well for introverts.

"These courses play to the introvert's strengths of thoughtful reflection, writing, and preparation. In well-designed online classes, introverts can engage in focused dialogues with the professor and other students," she says.

As a second-year MBA student at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University—Bloomington, Candice Hughes, has taken both online and brick-and-mortar MBA courses. Hughes, who holds a Ph.D. from the Boston University School of Medicine, considers herself an introvert, but says that wasn't her motivation to apply to a program with online courses.

"If you are introverted, you may feel more comfortable interacting with people online as opposed to in person. But, attending online will not make you less introverted. It will just allow you to continue to relate in your preferred mode," she says. "The choice of online versus in person is better made based on whether or not you have a quality MBA program you can access easily. If not, you may want to look online."

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