Harvard’s CORe Takes Case Method To Masses



In other words, CORe does exactly what it’s supposed to do by creating an unusual social element in an online world, Mullane says. “From our perspective, engagement is a necessity in using the case method. The idea of the case method is that you learn as much from your peers as the professor standing in the pit. So the platform was built with that in mind. It facilitates students speaking with each other, asking questions, and challenging each other. So we see significant engagement there.”

Another way CORe fosters this esprit de corps is through social media. Participants are invited to closed Facebook and Instagram groups for their cohort. “It has more of a social feel than an academic feel,” Mullane notes. “We find that engagement in this offline environment is very, very high.” For Francis, these sites were a place to kick back, gather and get to know each other. “We didn’t really talk about the concepts we were learning on social media, just mostly about what was happening in our lives, like whether we got into business school.”

Regan Rau, HBX CORe graduate and MBA candidate at the Harvard Business School

Regan Rau, HBX CORe graduate and MBA candidate at the Harvard Business School

In fact, many of these sites are still active, even though students have already earned their certifications, observes Regan Rau, a CORe alum who joined Rajendran in the HBS Class of 2018. She notes that classmates are still posting relevant articles or inquiring about partners for startups. For Mullane, that touches on another central question that CORe answers: How do you give online students the same networking as on-site MBA students? “Every job that I’ve had since I got my Harvard MBA came to me because of my Harvard Business School network,” he pointed out. “So we’re thinking through ways outside the courses themselves into how we can connect the students so they have that same sense of camaraderie and network you get when you’re in an in-person program. If you’re able to do that, you’re able to create something that is going to be interesting for a participant, because they’re not just gaining knowledge. They’re thinking about the network they’re going to build. For a lot of students we’ve talked to, that’s a big part of it for them: being engaged with like-minded people.”

Well, maybe not too like-minded, says Rajendran. He expected his cohort to be composed of bankers and managers. Instead, he was delighted to interact with a doctor, a lawyer, and even a chef. That diversity made an impact on two fronts for him. First, he gained unexpected insights from hearing how his peers were applying what they learned in their respective fields. Even more, his peers forced him to open his mind and raise his performance. “Just having a community of so many engaged people and learning how differently they really opened my eyes to different possibilities and ideas,” he says. “It really encouraged me to think outside the box. I was like that already, but being around so many different backgrounds really pushed me to do more.”


While debate and discovery are the hallmarks of education, so too is testing and grading. Make no mistake: This is not a program where you can coast or cram. Students are evaluated on four measures: module completion, weekly quizzes, participation quality, and a three-hour closed-book test. This is a real final, covering all three courses and proctored at a local Pearson VUE test center. Students receive separate grades on each subject that are divided into four categories: High Honors, Honors, Pass, and Fail. A certificate is only granted if students pass all three subjects.

In CORe, quizzes, in particular, are treated as teaching tools as much as evaluations. Each week, students take quizzes after completing their modules. According to Rajendran, this has the effect of “keeping people honest” and making sure they truly understood the concepts before moving to the next step. The quizzes also tap into the cohort’s community spirit, says Francis. “If we had any issues with any of the questions, we were able to ask our peers about those questions after the quiz. So if you weren’t clear on question #7, you can pose that question and you’ll find five or so colleagues who’d respond to explain why a certain answer was an answer.”

One measure of the program’s success is the difference in grades between seasoned business practitioners and pre-MBA students or liberal arts majors with limited business backgrounds. According to Mullane, their final exam scores only differ by a few percentage points. “We think that’s a good proxy for the efficacy of the program in teaching people something they didn’t know before and giving them comfort that they understand it when they are leaving the program,” he says. “By that measure, I think it has been an enormous success.”

When it comes to getting the correct answers on tests, non-business majors in CORe score nearly as well as their more seasoned counterparts in Economics For Managers and Financial Accounting.

When it comes to getting the correct answers on tests, non-business majors in CORe score nearly as well as their more seasoned counterparts in the Economics For Managers and Financial Accounting courses.