Harvard Business School Goes Online

Bharat N. Anand, faculty chair of HBX

Bharat N. Anand, faculty chair of HBX

ARE YOU FEELING ‘CONFUSED’ OR ‘INSPIRED’?

When students log into the HBX platform, they will immediately see a map with pulsating dots, each dot representing another student currently on the platform. Click on any of the dots and a photo of a student pops up on the screen, along with his or her name and bio. Click on the photo and up comes a list of professional and personal passions and interests, from an individual’s dream job to their favorite rock band and inspirational role model. Students are asked how they are feeling at the moment, from “confused” or “happy” to “inspired,” their moods visible to fellow classmates.

The social aspects of the platform were informed by such social networks as Facebook as well as online gaming where users connect with each other all over the world. “In our on-campus classrooms, every faculty member has class cards on every student, a profile of every person in a course. We never walk into an anonymous classroom. When the information is a combination of professional and personal, that’s when people engage,” says Moon.

Students can track their progress in each course against their peers. Each cohort will move through the program together, passing through a series of gates, during which assignments, cold calls and projects must be completed. “You need to keep up with projects and deadlines or you get dropped out of the course,” says Anand.

THE PROGRAM BORROWS FROM VIDEO GAMING TO ORGANIZE TEAMS OF STUDENTS

While in the online classroom, a student can chat with logged-on classmates, jot down notes and directly engage in the discussion. Similar to video gaming software, a student puts his or her name in a queue and then is pinged when a critical mass of classmates appear. “When you get a team of six, a conversation occurs,” adds Anand.

The cases that are at the center of the program use easy-to-grasp, real world problems to make such basic business concepts as “elasticity of demand” and “product pricing” accessible. The cases range from the impact of a paywall at The New York Times to estimating the likely demand for tickets to a sports event. Google vs. Bing is the subject of one new case study. “We wanted to deal with concepts that start with real world examples,” says Moon. “Every concept is grounded in something real. Nothing is abstract.”

And then, there is that dreaded cold call. “It’s one of the most powerful levers in the classroom,” says Anand. “It gets some people terrified to speak in front of their peers. But it’s also a way to share learning and gain confidence.”

A screenshot of the CORe program

A screenshot of the CORe program

COLD CALLS DEMAND ANSWERS THAT EVERY ONE IN THE COHORT CAN SEE AND RESPOND TO

A window will unexpectedly pop up on the screen with a question, along with a box requiring a student’s answer in a set period of time. The answer then becomes part of the ongoing discussion in the online class, visible to all the other students. The professor can then turn to another logged-on student and ask what she thinks of her classmate’s response.

“These are not static courses,” says Moon. “The cases are deeply embedded into the curriculum and will be updated and changed out on a regular basis.”

The CORe program lasts just two months, requiring between seven and ten hours a week from students. Courses can be taken at any time during the two-month period because none of the online sessions will be in real time. Grades for each course will be based on participation and tests, including a final examination. HBS will maintain a transcript of each student’s grades and award a certificate of completion to every student who graduates from the program.