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


Just take a look at this list of core MBA courses (along with the available MOOCs that cover this content):

  • Corporate Finance (Ross / Intro To Finance or Wharton / Intro to Corporate Finance)
  • Financial Accounting (Wharton / An Introduction To Financial Accounting)
  • Economics  (Caltech / Principles of Economics With Calculus)
  • Business Strategy (Darden / Foundations of Business Strategy)
  • Statistical Analysis (Princeton / Statistics I)
  • Marketing Principles (Wharton / An Introduction To Marketing)
  • Organizational Theory and Behavior (Stanford / Organizational Analysis)
  • Operations Management (Wharton / An Introduction To Operations Management)

In other words, you can now take the foundational MBA curriculum from the leading institutions for free. And that doesn’t count all the of dozens of elective courses available in areas like finance, marketing, and sustainability (far more electives, in fact, than would be available in a pricey Executive MBA program). So is this worth considering?

Let’s take a look at the advantages (besides not paying tuition). Face it: No one cares where you earned a degree once you get your foot in the door and prove yourself. Completing your MBA requirements via MOOCs shows employers that you’re a disciplined, forward-thinking first adopter who has the self-control to be trusted to work on your own. With MOOC drop-out rates hovering around 90%, your approach also demonstrates that you possess the grit to survive difficult circumstances.


And disregard that quaint notion that MOOCs are watered down curriculum. Leading institutions are using their teaching and research stars – not adjuncts or TAs – in their MOOCs. At Yale, Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller is conducting a MOOC on Financial Markets in February. Similarly, Columbia Professor Jeffrey Sachs, who moonlights as a Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is holding a MOOC on Sustainability beginning in January.

online-mbaWhy? First, the best teachers are usually the most innovative and passionate faculty members. And MOOCs are the new frontier in education. They bring together thousands of students from around the world – more students than professors might reach in years of teaching. And MOOCs are still in their infancy with plenty of room for growth. Who wouldn’t a forward-thinking professor not want to be part of such a ground-breaking educational trend? What’s more, institutions realize that MOOCs are a way to show their best face to the world. They are a vehicle to build brand and attract students to programs. As a result schools are taking extra pains to make sure these courses work. Bottom line: You will probably receive higher quality instruction on a MOOC than in a classroom environment. And that gives you another advantage over your brick-and-mortar peers.

And you can enjoy all of these benefits without quitting your job, losing two years of work experience, and shelling out six figures for tuition. In fact, you won’t even need to study for your GMAT, pony up for consultant, or face those daunting odds of getting into a top 10 business school. And you can start your MBA immediately from home, rather than uprooting your life and waiting for the fall. Plus, you’ll interact with students from around the world, mastering an educational medium conducive to life-long learning. Imagine adding a page to your resume, listing courses and completion dates alongside names like “Wharton” or “Stanford.” It stands out. And it suggests that you can succeed at the highest levels.

One more benefit: If you can’t find a MOOC for a particular area, you can always take a paid brick-and-mortar or online course at some institution (or enroll with Udemy, whose course prices range from $19-$500).


Obviously, there are drawbacks? You won’t be able to flaunt your GPA. If you struggle with English, you won’t find many courses with foreign language subtitles on Coursera or edX. Despite message boards and interactive discussions, MOOCs still lack that face-to-face give-and-take that facilitates learning, particularly when case studies are involved. In a class of hundreds (or thousands), you’ll probably receive little personalized attention or support. And just being on your own is difficult. It takes a lot of drive to complete assignments and tests. Without structure, it is easy to lose interest, particularly when free classes mean you have no skin in the game. What’s more, MOOCs put you at the mercy of technology. Despite their earnest efforts, professors are still adapting to teaching out of a studio.

Most important, MOOCs can’t deliver the real draws of business school: The network and internship. Theoretically, MOOCs can give you the tools to run circles around your more pedigreed peers. But their internship opportunity and alumni network will give them a huge head start (even if you keep working). Fair or not, degrees matter. Without certification from a renowned educational brand, few employers will trust that you’ve mastered advanced coursework.

So should you make the plunge? That’s up to you. But consider this: In 2014, Harvard will join Wharton in making foundational MBA courses available online. With that, you can expect a MOOC arms race to ensue among the top business schools. Internationally, FutureLearn, the United Kingdom’s answer to  Coursera, is working with more-and-more schools to add their business school courses online. And India’s EduKart is growing rapidly too. Now, student reviews of MOOC courses are available online via Coursetalk, enabling you to compare course fit and quality. Even if you don’t want to take a full course, there are plenty of tutorials available to help MBA candidates. The Khan Academy and Eduson are just two examples. In short, the pace has accelerated, as more courses are being launched every month. As institutions grow more comfortable with the technology and pedagogy, the quality can only improve. And even if the classes you want aren’t around, be patient and stick around. They’re certain to become available soon enough.

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