HARVARD EXPECTS AS MANY AS 3,000 STUDENTS IN THE ONLINE PROGRAM THIS SUMMER AT $1,800 A POP
HBS expects a significantly higher summer enrollment in June, when the price of the program rises by $300 to $1,800. Anand says he expects to have as many as 3,000 learners in it, more than three times the size of the intake for Harvard’s full-time MBA program. CORe students will be divided into several cohorts of 300 to 500 each. The school will also increase the amount of financial aid available for students.
“We are trying to scale up in a measured fashion,” explains Anand. “We don’t want to go to massive numbers very quickly. The summer cohort is when we expect larger numbers of students from colleges to take advantage of it. You want enough thickness on peer group conversations so that when someone poses a question it gets answered quickly and that requires a large cohort. But at the same time you don’t want a cohort that is so large it becomes impersonal. We believe that 500 is the right number, 300 to 500.”
Unlike many other online business courses, CORe participants are graded in each course based on quizzes, a final exam, and their level of participation. The program is largely taught through case studies of issues and challenges at such organizations as Amazon, PepsiCo, the New York Times, and the American Red Cross. But there also are lessons from managers at small, local companies, including the Bikram Yoga studio near campus. All of the courses are taught by tenured HBS faculty. Harvard awards a certificate of completion to each graduate and says it will maintain transcripts of the grades. Top performers receive an Honors or High Honors designation, similar to what Harvard MBAs get when they graduate from the school.
IN THE NEXT COHORTS THE SCHOOL IS EXTENDING THE LENGTH OF THE PROGRAM TO 11 WEEKS FROM 10 TO GIVE STUDENTS A ONE-WEEK BREAK OR TIME TO CATCH UP
So what has Harvard learned through two cohorts of the program? The second B-to-B cohort had an 80% completion rate and engagement rates off the chart, much like the pioneer cohort. The completion rate fell by five percentage points, largely because the second cohort was comprised entirely of full-time managers and employees who often found it difficult to complete all the work. Learners find that it takes about ten hours a week over the two-month program to get all the work done. Participants also are prevented from moving forward unless they complete a module within a two-week timeframe, a deadline that makes it hard to catch up when students fall behind.
Anand explains that the first set of tweaks has to do with a balance between taking advantage of the asynchronous nature of online learning but still preserving some synchronous activity so that other students can help their classmates at certain points. “In the first cohort, we had five gates—or deadlines for the completion of work–across all three courses,” he says. “In the fall, we moved to a slightly different structure. If you have all three deadlines on one day, it becomes very hard to catch up. So we put in many more deadlines, 17 in all, in the fall. The moment you go to 17, students have to keep up continuously but you also want to preserve some flexibity for them. So we are now moving back to something in the middle, about 10 deadlines with some overlap for when material is released to allow some students to move faster.
“They are full-time employees so they were doing this on top of existing work hours. Also imposing 17 deadlines on full-time employees was especially hard. we will tweak that a little bit to make sure we make things a little more comfortable. If you are late for module two, you have to complete module one before you can move on. So there is this domino effect. With 17 deadlines, if you miss one or two it becomes really, really hard. So with the next cohort we are creating a slack week in between the program so you can catch up. We’re extending the program from 10 to 11 weeks. Things happen in peole’s lives. The completion rates are high but we would love to see them higher.”
‘WHEN THE TIME COME FOR EXAMS, STUDENTS ARE ESSENTIALLY PREPARED BECAUSE THEY ARE ACTIVE LEARNERS’
Despite the decline in the completion rate for full-time employees, engagement remained extremely high. Harvard attempted to determine how many students came on the platform because they wanted to be there. “The pioneers said that for every two hours they spent learning on the platform, they were spending an extra hour engaging with their peers,” says Anand. “This is striking because that is entirely voluntary work. Many students said you could get through the material in ten hours a week, but a good number choose to spend 15 hours a week because they were enjoying it so much. We asked them how engaged were they in the program and 90% of the students rate it a four or five (the highest score). Only 1% or less rating it a one or two. Those are just stunning numbers.”
Do online students learn more or less than students in a traditional classroom? Anand says the school is in the process of studying this question and plans to release a report shortly. He shares one anecdote from a student who took his exam a month after finishing CORE last summer. “He sat down to prepare three days before and he told me that for the first time in his educational career he didn’t need to revisit the material,” recalls Anand. “He retained everything. He said it was part of the educational experience. It was engaging throughout. He wasn’t a passive learner. So when the time comes for exams, students are essentially prepared. It is a powerful anecdote.”