A ‘MOOC Tsunami’ Won’t Hurt Wharton

New Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett

New Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett

The incoming dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School declares that the school won’t be left behind by the disruptive impact of digital technology on higher education.

“Wharton is not going to be swept away in a MOOC tsunami,” declared Geoffrey Garrett, in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education. Garrett, 55, dean of the Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales, will succeed Tom Robertson as dean of Wharton on July 1.

Garrett told the Chronicle that part of Wharton’s appeal for him was the school’s decision in September to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) to users. When it comes to MOOCs, Wharton has been more aggressive than other business schools, putting up four courses” straight out of its core MBA curriculum in what it calls a “fundamental series.” Those courses cover the basics of accounting, finance, marketing, and operations. Garrett said he is an advocate of online education, having put classes at New South Wales online since arriving there as dean in February of 2013.

WHARTON DIGITAL STRATEGY DIFFERS FROM HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL APPROACH

Until now, however, Wharton has largely given its courses away for free, charging just $49 for users who complete a MOOC course for a certificate. Several other elite schools have also chosen this route, including Stanford, the University of Virginia and Yale, prompting some would-be students to get a graduate business education for next to nothing.  In the space of just nine months in 2013, from February to November, the number of institutions offering free online business courses has doubled to 51 from 26, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International. The number of business faculty teaching MOOC courses has more than doubled in the same timeframe to 83 from 39.

In contrast, Harvard Business School has more recently announced a plan to make users pay for online courses, including executive education programs by some of its name professors, such as strategy guru Michael Porter and innovation expert Clay Christensen. HBS now has 32 full-time staffers, not including professors, working on its online learning initiative.

Several other prominent business schools, most notably Carnegie Mellon, the University of North Carolina, and Indiana University, offer online MBA degrees. and several others, including IE Business School in Spain and Duke University, have blended programs that combine online learning with on-campus sessions toward an MBA degree.

AT WHARTON ONLINE COURSES WILL PROJECT THE BRAND WORLDWIDE

The Chronicle newspaper noted that Garrett counters a “possible objection to his appointment that his emphasis on using digital technologies to deliver course material may be fine for business schools that rely heavily on part-time students, but less so for an institution like Wharton, whose claim to prestige comes from providing on-campus interaction with leading business educators and highly capable students from around the world.”

Garrett said he has not plans to undercut Wharton’s on-campus experience. Online courses will project the Wharton brand worldwide, he added.

“Instead of coming to sit in a large lecture theater to listen to a lecturer, why not consume that on a phone at 1 a.m. while you’re lying in bed?” he told the Chronicle. “But you have to do that in advance, because the entry barrier to the high-quality, on-campus, interactive experience is that you’ve done the preparation.”

DON’T MISS: THE MOOC REVOLUTION: HOW TO EARN AN ELITE MBA FOR FREE or 20 ESSENTIAL MOOC COURSES IN BUSINESS