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The Biggest Business MOOC Ever?

Yale's Robert Shiller will be the first Nobel Prize winner to teach a MOOC--for free

Yale’s Robert Shiller will be the first Nobel Prize winner to teach a MOOC–for free

It looks like this MOOC is going to be massive.

After all, how often does anyone get to take a class taught by a Nobel Prize winner—for free.

As of last week, 110,000 people have signed up on Coursera for a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) on Financial Markets with 2013 Nobel prize winner and Yale School of Management economics professor Robert J. Shiller. The eight-week course, which starts Monday, (Feb. 17) is free.

“It’s our most popular course at this point,” says Lucas Swineford, Yale’s executive director of digital dissemination and online education. Already, 110,000 registered signups for an online business course is likely a record, and that number is likely to climb substantially before the course actually begins. Only last week, the University of Virginia’s Darden School announced that more than 52,000 students have registered for Professor Michael Lenox’s first MOOC, “Foundations of Business Strategy.”


The appeal of Financial Markets is, of course, Robert Shiller. With the University of Chicago’s Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen, he won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for research into market prices and asset bubbles. Shiller predicted both the stock market bubble of 2000 and the subprime mortgage meltdown. (“Thanks to Robert Shiller, it is considerably harder than it once was to find economists who believe that financial markets are always efficient,” John Cassidy wrote in the New Yorker last year.) Shiller is still predicting bubbles, most recently calling the jump in the value of virtual currency Bitcoin “a bubble” while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In a video on the Coursera website to introduce Financial Markets to students, Robert Shiller says he plans to cover sections on the stock market, the bond market, the banking system, the options markets, futures markets, and swaps markets. “Some of these things are kind of unfamiliar to most people, so it’s a beginning course that tries to explain these instruments and, above all, to explain their functioning in a good society,” he says.

Much of the Nobel Laureate’s Financial Markets course content is drawn from an 11-week 2011 Open Yale Course. Week one will include material edited down from several of Shiller’s 2011 lectures, with a new 10-minute introduction. Content will be separated in four sections, by subject. Shiller filmed intros for the course at various Yale campus locations in recent weeks.


“He introduces the material and there’s a highlight of the material you are about to watch,” says Sara Epperson, senior manager of online education at Yale. “He highlights things that students should be picking up on.”

The author of the best-selling Irrational Exuberance, which documents the insanity of markets, Robert Shiller’s most recent book, Finance and the Good Society, Princeton, 2012, challenges the public and its leaders to rethink finance and its role in society. As director of the Investor Behavior Project at Yale University, he’s tracked the behavior of U.S. investors since 1984. And in his spare time, he writes the “Economic View” column for the New York Times.

Planning for Robert Shiller’s MOOC began in April 2013 – as he was the first professor approached about doing a Coursera course, Swineford says. Three other Yale MOOCs that started in January are drawing, on average, about 85,000 sign ups. The offerings include law professor Akhil Amar’s “Constitutional Law,” the law school’s first online course; psychology professor Paul Bloom’s “Moralities of Everyday Life,” and history of art and classics professor Diana Kleiner’s “Roman Architecture.”