10 MONTHS LATER…
When Poets&Quants reconnected with Pickard nearly one year later, she was back in the U.S. to celebrate her marriage one year earlier with a wedding celebration in upstate New York. She was still working with USAID in Kigali, Rwanda, and, impressively, continuing the MOOC MBA in the midst of it all.”I’m still plugging along,” Pickard says. She’s sticking to the original three-year timeframe and plans to take even more classes than she initially projected.
But she’s made a few changes. For starters, she tweaked the curriculum to hone her hard skills with more technical courses, such as data analysis and finance. “So much of what you find online are the soft skills…but things like communication, teamwork, and leadership, you get exposed to in any office setting, and a lot of them are easy and intuitive,” she points out. However, she’s not ditching the soft skills entirely and is taking classes in social psychology and business strategy.
Pickard has also found a way to counter a major criticism of MOOCs: the lack of hands-on experience. For one, she volunteers as the U.S. Embassy’s commissary, where she keeps the books. Beyond that, she’s secured a virtual internship through Coursesolve, which connects MOOC students with real-world company projects. Pickard selected a market research assignment with CourseSolve, itself, as the final project for her Foundations of Business Strategy course. While unpaid, Pickard maintains that the internship allows her to test her new skills without having to relocate or pick up another job.
As for maintaining motivation, Pickard credits the blog and the proliferation of new MOOCs. “I have a MOOC alert set, and it seems like every day there are more and more out there,” she says. She’s optimistic that employers will eventually see the value of MOOCs, and that the producers of the online courses will offer more formalized accreditation. Until then, Pickard is hopeful that her successful completion of an entire MOOC curriculum will vouch for her work ethic and motivation. “I have this idea that one day MOOCs can really differentiate themselves by the people who are able to complete them … I hope to show that I finished all of these things, and that it’s important because not everybody is able to do that, even if they signed up for the class,” she says.
Since starting the blog, Pickard has been contacted by some 25 to 30 people, who were either inspired by her experience or who were already pursuing a similar path. But some of the inquirers simply couldn’t believe she wasn’t pursuing an accredited MBA. “I’m actually surprised by how many people are hung up on the degree itself, which I’m not,” Pickard says. “There’s just a lot of emphasis on that piece of paper, even over and above having the knowledge … but I think that will change.” Her own efforts will no doubt play a part in the transformation.