How Harvard Business School Is Reimagining Online Education

A screenshot of the CORe program

Audience Question 2: Hi, I’m from Cornell University. In 2014, eCornell launched a MOOC in global hospitality management. It was incredibly successful. We saw around 25,000 registrants in two years, but what we saw was a decline in registration for our traditional certification. How should we approach setting up a secondary I secondary MOOC if we want.

Anand: Let me offer some principles: With CORe, the first question was, “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve and for which learner?” The answer for us was, “We want to create something which really captures what we’re offering here.” Before they come here, there’s a challenge of getting up to speed. You almost have to flip the process around and think from the learner’s aspect. Are there places where you could intervene? You know, a service before they come, or after they’ve come that might be complementary.

When we think about lifelong learning for instance, there might be places after they’ve got the certificate, where we could offer one case a month and call this the “Best of 2019 Series.” The learners can take 10 exciting new cases that the faculty are writing in 2019. It’s like MBA-plus. The key point is not thinking about offering more content, but about changing the learner experience, and where you can intervene. 

Byrne: I always thought that one of the smartest decisions was to avoid creating a program that competed with another, to actually enter a new space, where you hadn’t been before. That way you couldn’t be threatened, and it couldn’t even remotely cannibalize anything you were already doing.

Anand: We want to avoid even remote cannibalization partly to avoid the headaches that come with those conversations. If there are opportunities to actually do things in adjacent spaces, why not? 

Audience Question 3:  You emphasized that engagement is crucial and should come before content. What were some best practices, or how did you make sure that you got up to the right level of engagement?

Anand:  Twelve months before we launched, we had three MBA students working with us, as an independent study. After three months, I realized we weren’t listening to their perspective, which was: “We don’t just learn from faculty in the classroom. We learn from each other. We learn in the study groups outside the classroom.”

They were talking about social learning. We had written that down as a principle, and we had ignored it. This is what I call the “content trap.” 

How do these things manifest on the platform? The first stage is a global map where all you see is pulsating bubbles of who’s on HBX at that point in time. When you click on any bubble, It tells identifies the nine people in that region who are logged in. It shows their profile picture, and you can message them.

The first day we launched CORe, we had 300 people logged in and 30,000 profile views. They all wanted to check each other out. That’s the first step in engagement. You’ve got to know who the other learners are. If they’re all anonymous, it becomes pretty lonely. Step two is making the material come to life. We started out each lesson with a real case study as opposed to the nine-page, text-based case.

We have what we call the “three-to-five-minute rule.” You can’t go for more than three-to-five minutes on the platform without doing something. No video is longer than three minutes. Text can be read in three minutes, and is peppered with polls, reflection questions, and interactive exercises. The social learning side is through engagement with each other. You can ask questions of each other, get to know each other. 

We have very many different features on the platform that would capture this notion of engagement in some way. Say, you’re trying to learn the concept of willingness to pay in the econ course. Most faculty would go out and tape a video explaining what willingness to pay is.

We do exactly the opposite. We’d start with a ticket reseller in Boston saying, “I’m selling tickets for the Patriots. I know what inventory is. I don’t know pricing. How do I figure that out?” It’s a three-minute video. We say: “Here’s a snapshot of his website and here is the process. What do you think? Is the price too high? Too low?”

Students quickly realize that they can’t figure out the right price unless they know the willingness to pay. So you back into the concept. We then give them five other examples to play with. After they’ve gone through this, they’re now looking for the answer. They’re like, “Okay, so what should we take away?” It is only at that point do we interject with faculty video. 

 When we first launched CORe, we noticed that learners were forming meet-ups in cities around the world. We didn’t anticipate this. We reached out and asked if we could facilitate these meet-ups? But they weren’t interested. They could facilitate these meet-ups on their own.  The member of this 30,000-strong community are getting to know each other. 

Anand: Once a year, though, we do organize an event, called ConneXt, where we invite all the HBX learners who’ve done one of the courses to come to campus and get to know each other. Roughly 600 people come every year from Australia, Kenya, India, Qatar, Denmark. 

Byrne: Bharat, thank you so much.


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