For years, colleges and universities have been imagining what the classroom of the future would look like. Many have tried to create it, with video screens and cameras, even teaching robots. But after three full years of planning and building a unique virtual space, Harvard Business School has truly invented the future classroom. It’s called HBX Live and allows HBS to recreate its dynamic case study teaching approach anywhere in the world from a leased studio at Boston’s public television broadcast center.
Of course, it would take resource-rich Harvard to undertake both the expense and the ambition to uniquely recreate a case study classroom to teach 60 people in real time, with no delays in voice or image, no matter where they are in the world—and to do it while amping up the spark and vitality of a more typical classroom discussion.
Truth be told, an HBX Live session is more a show than a class. Many of the system’s features were informed by visits to NBC Sports in New York and to Las Vegas where team members watched active sports betting on a single, massive screen. The HBX studio is soundproof, behind thick, heavy doors over which a neon sign brightly announces: “HBX! X” It takes four production staffers, two on the set and two in an elaborate upstairs control room, to assist a teaching professor. And besides the roaming cameraman, there are five other stationary cameras to capture the action, along with the 60 built-in laptop cameras for each student, allowing a director to stitch together multiple images for one feed, just as if this was a live television show.
It seemed inevitable that a business school would cobble together a bunch of MOOC courses and create a highly affordable MBA degree from them. But the most surprising aspect of the University of Illinois’s decision to debut the first massive open online course-based MBA degree in partnership with Coursera, the Silicon Valley-based online learning company, was not the $20,000 price or that a Top 50 business school would go to market with this breakthrough in business education.
Rather than simply put existing courses online, the school restructured its MBA program around core integrated themes taught by professors from different disciplines. The school is touting the new program as the first ‘stackable’ MBA, meaning that a student can enter the program at any time and eventually build it into an MBA if he/she wants, stop at just a certificate, or just leave it at one course. It’s a low barrier of entry for those who might otherwise not pursue an MBA, but could benefit from the coursework.
This is the first time a single business school will put its entire MBA curriculum online for free. Students only pay if they want a certificate for completing a course (at a cost of $79 that is evenly split between Illinois and Coursera) or a sequence of courses for college credit ($1,000 per course or $3,000 for the specialization) or the actual MBA degree (which will end up costing roughly $20,000).
No business school has taken greater advantage of the MOOC revolution than the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Indeed, few universities have done as much to use new technology to reach millions of learners all over the world. Wharton now has 18 separate MOOC courses, two specializations, a series of related courses in business foundations and business analytics.
Wharton was the first business school to offer a MOOC In 2012 and the first to offer a specialization on Coursera, the Silicon Valley online education company, earlier this year. More than 30 Wharton professors, or roughly 10% of the school’s faculty, have been involved in the initiative so far, and every professor who has taught in an online class reports that it has changed how they think about teaching their on-campus courses.
More critically, however, new Dean Geoffrey Garrett has given the green light to up the ante on the school’s MOOC efforts. Wharton now expects to launch another two dozen online courses and three more specializations over the next 12 months. The strategy has put Wharton at the forefront of online learning among the world’s top business schools.
The numbers do a pretty good job of telling this highly innovative story. Since 2012, some 2.7 million people have enrolled in Wharton’s courses. The school has issued 54,000 verified certificates to learners as well as 32,000 verified certificates earned in specializations, a series of related MOOCs put together with a capstone course, since April of 2015.
The school’s MOOC strategy has not only elevated the Wharton brand around the world, allowing it to reach people who would never have had the chance to study on its Philadelphia campus. It also has generated significant revenue for the school. Wharton estimates that this year’s revenues from MOOCs will hit $5 million and expects revenue to double in the coming year.