Online MBA courses are a dime a dozen — figuratively speaking, since they actually cost quite a bit more. But online collaborations between B-schools and top consulting firms? Rare to nonexistent.
If such collaborations never existed before, they do now. The University of Virginia Darden School of Business is partnering with management consulting giant Boston Consulting Group to offer a series of online pricing strategy courses this spring that offer “material that the Darden School couldn’t do on our own, and that BCG could not do on their own,” says Ron Wilcox, Darden marketing professor and senior associate dean for degree programs. “Together, we can bring (students) up to speed in the best of pricing practice.”
The four-part series, which will be available on the Coursera platform beginning March 20, includes “completely co-branded” instructional material from both Darden faculty and BCG partners, Wilcox tells Poets&Quants. The first three courses — “Cost and Economics in Pricing Strategy,” “Customer Value in Pricing Strategy,” and “Market and Competition in Pricing Strategy” — are designed to give participants the tools to make optimal pricing decisions, while the fourth, “Pricing Strategy Optimization,” is project-based, “really just a big case we’ve constructed” to allow students to demonstrate their newfound pricing expertise, Wilcox says. Completion of all four courses will yield a pricing specialization certification.
“We have a lot of expertise in the academics of pricing, pricing optimization models, and some more technical aspects,” says Wilcox, who also teaches a Darden elective on pricing, “and BCG has a ton of experience working with clients at the highest level. Their head of pricing practice, Jean-Manuel Izaret, is part of the program and another partner that specializes in pricing is part of the program, too, so they bring a tremendous wealth of knowledge.”
GOOD MARRIAGE ON THE CONTENT SIDE
Darden is no stranger to massive open online courses (MOOCs). Through its partnership with Coursera, the B-school has developed global MOOCs reaching more than 1.1 million people from 120 countries in such areas as entrepreneurship, design thinking, business strategy, and project management. This latest foray, which began filming in August and only recently concluded, launched after Coursera approached the school with a partnership proposal.
“Coursera was approached by BCG, because BCG was looking for an academic partner with pricing content that could complement their own,” Wilcox says. “Coursera steered them our way and we had a meeting here at Darden that was really constructive, talking about different types of content that each of us could provide. When we sat down and looked at each other’s materials, there was definitely overlap but there were also pieces that we had that they didn’t have and pieces that they had that we didn’t have — so it was a good marriage on the content side of it.”
It’s such good content, Wilcox adds, that both partners plan to make use of it in other avenues. Darden students taking his pricing elective “would love to have the head of the pricing practice for Boston Consulting Group as a resource in the course,” Wilcox says, and the material will find its way into some of the school’s executive education offerings, as well. Meanwhile, BCG is already using the material for some of its custom client engagements.
LIGHT BULBS GOING OFF
Each course includes about four hours of video content, plus reading materials and assessments, with Darden responsible for 50% of the content and BCG 50%. The first course is focused on microeconomics, understanding how cost and basic economics impact pricing; the second involves how to uncover consumer value. “We get into how to measure it,” Wilcox says. “So if you have either a business-to-business customer or business-to-consumer customer, how would you go out and figure out for the individual customers or segments of customers how much they value the product you’re bringing into the market?”
The third course is competitive dynamics, involving issues of dynamic markets, “so if you know how much people value it, but there’s also other competitors out there with offerings that might fit into the value proposition that those individuals are looking for, how do you position your product vis-a-vis them?” Wilcox says.
The program ends with the fourth course, “a big case that we’ve constructed that was originally a Darden case, but we’ve deconstructed that case and put a lot more in it, and BCG helped a lot with that,” Wilcox says. “We’re asking the learners to do a full-blown case analysis. Our videos in the fourth course kind of help them along the way. We of ask them a series of questions and they do an analysis, and once they’ve done it and answered some assessment questions — basically like a quiz — and we certify that they’ve done the analysis, then they can see a video of us explaining, ‘OK, here’s what you might have thought, here’s where you might have gone wrong, here’s what you need to think about next.’ So we’re really walking them through a pretty complicated pricing case analysis.” The product? A new LED light bulb, Wilcox says.
“So at the end, what we want the learner to have is a case analysis that is vetted by us right along through the process, and then they can show that to a potential employer as a type of credential along with the specialization certification,” he says.
‘WIDE APPLICABILITY THROUGHOUT THE BUSINESS WORLD’
The new Darden-BCG MOOC doesn’t break new ground in terms of online specializations, Wilcox says. But in partnering with a big, respected firm to produce educational material? “That’s different,” he says. “It’s possible somebody else is doing it, but I’m not aware of it.”
The series will be available globally on the Coursera platform as both individual courses and as a pricing strategy specialization certificate program. It will be “asynchronous,” Wilcox says, “so while normally we think about this as being a month-long course, there is flexibility on that.”
Adds Thomas Kohler, a principal in BCG’s Boston office who has been deeply involved in BCG’s pricing practice and development of the specialization: “This effort enables our firm to better serve our clients on building pricing capabilities, while increasing access to pricing content we believe has wide applicability throughout the business world.”