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

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.”