The MOOC Revolution: How To Earn An Elite MBA For Free

by Jeff Schmitt on

online EDUCATIONSo you want an MBA? But you can’t afford to take two years off and invest upwards of a quarter of a million on tuition, books, living expenses, and lost wages?

Boy, do I have a proposition for you!

Now, it’s a little unconventional. And it’ll require a load of self-discipline on your part. When it’s over, you’ll have an Ivy League education on your resume. And it won’t cost you a cent!

Sound too good to be true? Maybe it is. But I got your attention. And that’s one of the first things you learn in a foundational marketing class. And one of the world’s best business schools—Wharton—offers one of those for free through a MOOC.

A MOOC, you say? Isn’t that a slur? Maybe in Jersey. These days, MOOCs are considered by many academics to be the future of education. MOOCs — an acronym for massive open online courses—are courses that can be accessed globally over the internet. Thanks to their flexibility, students covet them.


It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what a MOOC is. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, you ‘know it when you see it.’  Most MOOCs rely on set start and end dates, though a few are self-paced. They can be scaled to accommodate tens-of-thousands…or just a select community. Occasionally, students can earn grades and college credits through MOOCs. Most times, they’ll just receive a certificate of completion.

Tests can be proctored, but many MOOCs rely on the honor system. Textbooks are often optional (though some courses come with eBooks and downloadable software). Although professors deliver content through videos and PowerPoints in MOOCs, many engage with students on message boards in real time (and even keep office hours for their online students). Although MOOCs are grounded in distance education, many students form regionally-based online communities to facilitate peer support.

Still, there is one characteristic that marks all MOOCs: They are available to anyone. And that’s why they’re becoming a booming business. Sure, many MOOCs are free. But they’re also drawing millions of students. That’s why platforms like Coursera, edX, and Udacity are partnering with schools to house content. For example, edX started as a consortium between Harvard and MIT – and has since added the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas to its membership (along with recently joining forces with Google). Coursera was launched by Stanford professors and offers undergraduate and graduate courses from programs ranging from Wharton to Stanford.


And that begs the question: With so much content available for free, do students even need to enroll in college anymore? MOOCs have democratized education globally (provided you have an internet connection). Could students conceivably treat education like a build-your-own IKEA furniture?

Take business school education. For decades, entrepreneurs have counseled professionals to find a mentor and earn your MBA in the ‘school of hard knocks.’ Sounds tempting, but knowledge is power. And it’s very costly to make those same fundamental mistakes in launching a business. So ask yourself these questions: 1) What if these would-be MBA candidates could review course catalogs and identify foundational courses and electives that would fill their knowledge gaps? 2) What if they could use this research to construct a learning plan that would build their knowledge, step-by-step, like a normal curriculum? 3) And what if they could locate these courses on MOOC platforms like Coursera and edX?

It’s a tempting proposition. Imagine taking two MOOCs every eight weeks. You could theoretically finish your MBA in the same time it takes to complete a traditional program. Now, ask yourself these two key questions: 1) Is the right content available? 2) Does it come from a reputable source? The answer is both questions is “Absolutely.” You can find much of the content covered in an MBA curriculum online at little to no cost.

And even David Wilson, the outgoing chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT test, says it may well be possible. “The next MBA degree may not be a degree but a portfolio of certificates,” says Wilson. “The market will determine the worth of it.”

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  • John


    You have not answered my question.

    In fact, you have highlighted your problem again: you are missing the point completely.
    You start with a conclusion and try and justify it using ignorance and obscurantism. You conclusion is that your disagree with objective facts, and then you try and justify this with your own subjective desires using obscure agley examples via illustrations where you are in agreement with me. How absurd.

    You have not highlighted any area where you can offer evidence to support your disagreement. You can not get away from the fact that what you are doing is exactly the same as reading a few books or articles on the internet and claim it to be equivalent to a high profile degree. You are wrong, it is not.
    If you are doing this to further yourself, to acquire new skills, then why boast this using an unrelated steam engine? Why state that you are doing a free MBA when in fact all you are doing is reading free content to further your own limited skills? Many successful people did not attend / finish their education, therefore having an MBA is an irrelevant correlation to success. You clearly used your title of “free MBA” or “She’s Doing An Elite MBA For Under $1,000″ for publication to attract an audience. This deceptive and even John A. Byrne (the author of the latter article) deceived us, or your content did. The title and opening of any article is very important. To realize later on that it was a deception, a trick with a different objective and purpose in mind executed by some behemoth flour-flusher is quite degrading.

    I wish you good luck. You are doing a novel thing to further yourself, but please do remember to not use ontological thinking to justify philosophical reasoning via obscurantism and waste people’s time. Logical reasoning based on deduction should be used to derive at explanations – starting with conclusions and then try to justify it with empty claims are meaningless. Try and do a few science, math and logic courses and you would get what it means.

    You could now try and answer my question:
    Am lost at what you are trying to achieve; would you read my blog about
    how I search the internet and find interesting topics to read for free?


  • John

    Yes Paul,

    All you are doing is self-study using free content from the internet. It is great that you and Laurie are doing this. But please, do not masquerade this as a “free” or “cheap” MBA when it is not. In fact, it is not even close to it for the reasons mentioned already:
    1) There is no accreditation, no official MBA degree obtained.
    2) Limited networking, more like a complete lack of
    3) Content is no better than free internet content of books
    4) These courses does not create transferability of credits to any uni or other degree / diploma.
    5) Lack of interaction with a lecturer. A virtual / recorded class is no substitute for a live one.
    6) Real MBA from several great programs starts at $15k, why not just do that and save on all the things you are missing from this free internet MOOC content?
    7) Who is evaluating the exams and home-work? maybe there is no home-work / case studies to do, and the exams are simple multiple-choice. Therefore you do not even know if you have learn something.

    I agree with what another user when he suggested that MOOC is just Continuing Education courses and you will benefit from the knowledge if you want to. You join the ranks of millions, this is not making you special and it is nothing close to what is being advertised here as a “free MBA”.

  • Mike

    I just enrolled in the “all online” MBA program at LSU-Shreveport. I was able to get a waiver on the GMAT as my undergrad GPA was over a 3.2. The classes are compressed into 7 weeks. A $275 a credit or $875 a class it’s very affordable. Ten classes to graduate and it’s a real brick and mortar school. My concentration is in “Contemporary Issues in Accounting and Finance.” After the basic core curriculum and there is a forensic accounting class (thank you Mr. Madoff) and a global securities class.

  • Dan Powers

    huge even :)

  • Rick,


    I applaud you for your efforts to improve the quality of lives world-wide by promoting the free, quality education available via MOOCs, Also, I think it is AWESOME that these top schools and their professors are taking initiative with mass education.

    I believe your critics are missing the point. The point is to do what you love; what you are called to do. What YOU are doing is combining your inherent passion with business knowledge, through MBA coursework, to be more effective and to better serve your stakeholders. You, like many others, do not need a fancy “foot-in-the-door” resume and connections through your intramural team to get the job you desire. However, the education you are obtaining WILL help you reach your goals in sustainable supply chain and fair trade.

    Some* of the pedigree-seeking MBA’s have become so obsessed with wealth, power, competition, and self-righteousness that they cannot see the value of what you are doing and how it’s serving the world (and yourself) far more than a Wall Street Job, a Porsche, and a vacation home will ever accomplish. While they are shoveling shit to climb the ladder after paying A LOT for a piece of paper, you will be advancing yourself and your projects while viewing it all as an adventure, with a genuine smile on your face. THAT is something millions of rat-racers envy, whether they admit it or not.

    *I know there are MBA students and alumni who have good-intentions, desire to learn, and have also found their calling, but some people leave me concerned with their false leadership. Speaking of which…

    John, do you really have nothing better to do than shoot at Laurie with negativity and insults? Fancy words though! You do a great job of sounding important. Is that another example of something learned exclusively in business school?

    Best of luck and send me some coffee! :)

  • Suman Faulkner

    Hi Laura, I just signed in for Finance class, and I totally agree with you to take the actual step into this, and hopefully these courses will add up to something. Its free, and if we have time, and interest even in expanding our knowledge even if it did not take us to a MBA, then take it. Its free education/knowledge for anyone to add to your portfolio if you are already in the business world.

  • tigerChaCha

    Its like sputnik

  • Miguel Suarez

    An extract from a post in The Operations Room by Jan Van Mieghem.

    When it comes to education, though, we must distinguish between learning and signalling…

    Admittedly, this distinction pertains mostly to top or “brand” schools, whose value proposition of the degree is signaling selectivity—that will not change by MOOCs or any online learning. The desire to signal uniqueness and distinction is so human it is timeless. Add to that the desire to be surrounded by similar people or those one looks up to, and the opportunity to build lifelong relationships and networks, and to belong (to the club)…

  • voltaire

    Hi Laurie…you’re such an inspiration! Because of that, I’ve enrolled to one of the MOOC free courses. Thank you!

  • April

    Genius, and something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Can you give any guidance on how to create your own MBA curriculum? (e.g. which courses to choose)

  • Ivan

    Hello everybody, the topic is very interesting. I have a question for you all: what is the difference between a “Statement of Accomplishment” and a “Verified Certificate”? Is it worth it to pay 50$ to get a Verified Certificate? Thanks and good luck to you all.

  • Tom Weatherly

    John, pretty sure you haven’t taken a MOOC based on your remarks, at least not one from a top university. They are pretty involved, would disprove your claim in 2, 3, 5, and 7, and you can go as deep as you desire with networking. The Darden courses go deep, and one even included peer review of business projects. Laurie notes many times that this is not a paper chase by choice. I can see where the application of knowledge is the basis of her decision, and her online presence may arguably end up more valuable to the work of business in a practical sense than a conferred degree. The basis of most paper credentials is that credible witnesses can testify to the authenticity of your claim. That’s true for weddings, births, and funerals, too. Lack of paper doesn’t invalidate your claim, just makes it more complicated to provide evidence. I predict Laurie will succeed in providing credible evidence of her capability that will far exceed a $15K diploma.

  • Ieshia Wright

    Laurie please send the link to your website. I am in definite need of the MOOCs! My email is Thanks in advance!

  • Benjamin Taber

    Fascinated by this, please share more sites for MBA certification Education/teach

  • Matt Bartel

    Here you go Kashif. Below is an open forum for ECON 252 (Financial Markets) I used this as a primary resource for a course I was taking at another university.

    Howard/Laurie – Any MBA program is unlikely to offer accreditation (as it is against their own interest). However, I’d place my bets on third party certification testing coming soon. If your overall goal is having an AACSB accredited MBA this may not be the ideal route but if you are completing quality courses on MBA level business topics, you can’t lose as you are receiving a free education. In light of going to one of the tier 1 MBA programs, If you have it in you to self manage your education, I’d say MOOC is the sound investment.

  • Deuce Cartier

    I’ve mentioned it on my blog, and will probably continue to do so because the more courses I’ve taken, the more I see this as a revolutionary concept.

  • Malcolm Heard

    I am confused. Let us be honest the reason why people choose UPENN over say SDSU is because of the name. Many employers want to see transcripts. I doubt giving an employer ten printed certificates will be taken seriously.

  • Paul Walter

    I never said that I was doing a free MBA at all. I do not believe that by doing MOOC courses online will equate to a fully accredited MBA. My interests are different. For example, I am relearning Electrical Analysis, Control Systems and Robotics. Subjects that I studied in undergrad engineering courses 20 years ago are now taught with a complete different perspective and they are invaluable to me. That’s all.

    Just because I took these courses doesn’t mean that I am claiming credits from any institution. I am learning to enrich myself and to use this new knowledge in my day to day job!!
    That’s all.

  • Sue

    I personally don’t think MOOC’s will replace an accredited MBA, Simply because you are PAYING to get the piece of paper. For example, someone can sit in on as many undergraduate courses as they would like, without being registered in the courses, this is equivalent to an old-world (pre internet) approach to free knowledge. However, for your knowledge to be verified, authenticated and validated you have to register and PAY to get the piece of paper (undergrad). Although knowledge is free, academics are a business, period. You need to pay to get certifications.

  • John


    Your post is either a deliberate deception or based on ignorance.
    You wrote that you agreed 100% with Laurie. That implies that you also “claim” that doing MOOC’s is equivalent to a “free elite MBA”.
    But your above post to me you are clearly contradicting that by agreeing with me that:
    1) MOOC is just Continuing Education courses and you will benefit from the
    knowledge if you want to. You join the ranks of millions, this is not
    making you special and it is nothing close to what is being advertised
    here as a “free elite MBA”.
    2) You are merely reading content online. May as well buy a few real books
    and read them – at least it would be better for your eyes!

    Have your cake and eat it? I think not.

    That’s all.

  • John

    Proof by assertion is a logical fallacy.
    Why do you disagree with:

    P1) MOOC is just Continuing Education courses and you will benefit from the knowledge if you want to. You join the ranks of millions, this is not making you special and it is nothing close to what is being advertised here as a “free elite MBA”.
    P2) You are merely reading content online. May as well buy a few real books and read them – at least it would be better for your eyes!
    C1) Therefore MOOC is not a “free elite MBA”

    Your move.

  • John

    This is very misleading.
    Doing a few courses online is not the same as a “free elite MBA”.

  • Paul Chintapalli

    Which university will finally issue MOOC MBA degree?

  • Geoff Kirwan

    Spherical, but quite pointy in parts.

  • Susan J


    I’m so glad to see another person going for their self-study MBA. I may join a top tier program (if I can get in) for the networking potential, but I’ve been studying for a year now on a self-designed part-time program and it’s been fantastic. Good luck!


  • John


    Your content went down the drain when you used the words “I believe your critics….”. Am sure you know that believing something means holding content as true in spite of knowing if there is evidence or not. However, you do seem to KNOW a lot about what Lauri and what she is doing.

    I am stating that Laurie is falsely advertising a free elite MBA. You have not given any evidence to counter this. In fact, you have failed at the logic bit. As mentioned before, it is great what Laurie is doing to further herself, but I question the medium and the false branding.

    Lastly, your last paragraph dedicated to me is a solid ad hominem. You have to be a philosopher to deny that.

    Best of luck and please review logic 101.

  • John

    How ironic.
    Here you admit to losing both the network and the stamp of approval. But when you replied to me you rejected this.

    Laurie, please stop adverting reading internet content results in a free elite MBA.

  • JohnAByrne

    No one is falsely advertising an MBA. What we have said from the start is that there are now enough MOOC courses in business available to “effectively” get an MBA education for free. No one is going to grant you an MBA diploma by taking these courses, and if they would, you shouldn’t want it. But you will have a complete MBA education if you complete a portfolio of core and elective courses via MOOCs. And that would give you the license to tell a potential employer that you have taken enough business courses from elite schools to have earned an MBA.

  • laura bahena,

    Where do I enroll for classes? Please share laura bahena,CCHW Independent Consultant

  • laura bahena,

    I see some names of platforms listed on the article of which I will enter to see how they are teaching.

  • GardenWildRose

    Where do we apply for the free program? I am into computers big time. I am basically self taught… created a server; host my personal sites on it.Create graphics; animations, and write poetry. I also blog on many social sites, have a fair amount of follwers.

  • John

    Oh Rick,

    “Piss off!” Hu?
    Socrates wrote ‘When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.’ I am honoured that you show your support for this philosophical quote! You must not be a philosopher because you never denied your personal attack on me.

    The evidence:

    1) Laurie’s website: www [dot] nopaymba [dot] com. and her repeated responses here defending it mentioning words such as “No-Pay MBA”.
    2) JohnAByrne LinkedIn article topic “She’s Doing An Elite MBA For Under $1,000″ and his opening paragraph “will earn her MBA in three years for less than $1,000″
    3) This article topic: “The MOOC Revolution: How To Earn An Elite MBA For Free” and “So you want an MBA?…..And it won’t cost you a cent!”
    4) Your denial as evident in your post content.
    5) Your refusal to provide any evidence that Laurie and JohnAByrne is not falsely advertising a free elite MBA.
    6) The unsolicited moderation of JohnAByrne (mod) of my post response to him. I highlighting where he and Laurie make these claims and JohnAByrne refuse to approve my post. User ‘MOOC of Earl’ makes sense and I agree with him, yet JohnAByrne refuses to address this or ‘MOOC of Earl’ points.

    Your response line (referecned below) is a straw man, red herring and ad himinem; all in one go. I am impressed, your are a master at informal logical fallacies!
    “As I suspected, you clearly have nothing better to do than rain on the parades of others. No, I don’t literally mean rain.”

    The rest of your post is grounded, actually anchored, in figurative speech metaphorical assertion fallacies.

    Well done.

  • John

    If no one is advertising a free elite MBA, why did you write an aticle titled “She’s Doing An Elite MBA For Under
    $1,000″ and an opening paragraph “will earn her MBA in three years for
    less than $1,000″?
    Why would Laurie’s website read: www [dot] nopaymba [dot] com. and she posts repeated
    responses here defending it mentioning words such as “No-Pay MBA”?
    Why are you refusing to show my posts that I respond to you? Are you trying to deny objective facts by silencing my content?

  • Danny Mothilall

    This is the very first time that such a ‘Never -to-be-repeated ‘ opportunity ever came my way and being a South African it is really exciting. Danny Mothilall email

  • Danny Mothilall

    Yes Indeed Me -Danny Mothilall

  • Stephanie

    Hi Laurie, I have personally
    struggled to find a Graduate program that I think will give me the edge (to
    justify the investment), and so far have not been successful; it’s much harder
    as well when it seems everyone has a graduate degree, but again – how does this
    give me the edge and set me apart from everyone else? Instead of going into
    serious debt I have deferred for now am looking for skill strengthening via sites like coursera and udacity and I’ll tell you, the self – discipline required is monumental
    so good for you! I think there are real benefits to structuring the program
    around MOOC’s as you can cherry pick courses to help strengthen skills or
    knowledge to compliment previous experience. I suspect though that since University’s are charging already for traditional classes they are able to put these out for free as there is probably little additional effort to do so; however as the demand for this increases, so will the demand for accreditation, and so will the cost – but I can’t imagine it will be anything like what it costs now.

  • http://FreedomFiles.Info/ FactsNotFallacies

    Mind fucking blown.

    The English language is too deficient to allow me to effectively express how profound of a read this was.

    Let the academic oligarchy implode once and for all!

  • http://FreedomFiles.Info/ FactsNotFallacies

    If all they care about is how effective the person will be on the job (which any smart employer would do) then yes, they can be taken seriously.

  • John

    See to me that you have followed your own advice to pissed off.
    Did you join the zoo?

  • Doug Provins

    It’s a virtual planetoid! It’s got it’s own solar system!

  • MBA

    I would add “Model Thinking” which was from University of Michigan on Coursera to the MBA list, and the Stanford version of Game Theory.

  • MatteaSimone

    How can you be notified when these classes will be available again? I’d like to pursue the in Fall 2014 or Spring 205. Thanks!

  • Rafael Sanchez

    You are all funny.
    Elite MBA? How can anyone miss the point that is being made?
    This is not an elite MBA but a way to access the same information that you get IN an elite MBA. I have one of those “Elite MBA’s” and I needed it where I started working years ago and now to teach but MOOC’S offer the same information that you get in school and if you do the work it can be tough.
    I also have a JD and my Duke university MOOC on International Human Rights is as tough as any law school class I ever took.
    Surely the smart people on this board cannot be fighting over a concept can they?

  • Jon Overstreet

    I am considering LSU-S Mike, how do you like it?

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