I finished my real MBA!

Hello HomemadeMBA-ers!

It’s finally done!  I just finished my real-world MBA in July.   I learned a lot through my brick-and-mortar MBA experience, and look forward to sharing more of the details with you all now that I will have more free time.

Since my time has been occupied with my real MBA for the last two years, I haven’t been posting to this site as much as I would like.  Rest assured, I have been following developments with do it yourself MBAs, and there have been a lot of good MOOCs for making your own MBA since I was posting more frequently a year or two ago.  I have some catching up to do, and this continues to be an exciting time for self study MBA-ers like you!

Before I get started catching up on MOOC news, DIY MBA classes that have been posted recently, and writing up the lessons I learned from getting my real life MBA, I wanted to ask for your feedback on the layout of the site.   Do you find it easy to navigate?  Is the content relevant to your own MBA projects?  How can I make it easier to find the self study MBA information you need?  Please let me know what I can do better in the comments below.

I look forward to working with you on your Homemade MBAs once again!


Homemade MBA Update – Getting a ‘real’ MBA!

Hello fellow DIY MBA-ers out there,

It’s been a minute or two since I posted an update to the site, so I figured I would catch up with you all really quick.

The main reason for the delay is that I’ve been hard at work…on my MBA.  That’s right, I’ve gone to the dark side (are we calling conventional MBAs the dark side?) and embarked on a real-life, brick-and-mortar, accredited MBA program.

It has been a very interesting experience, and I have a lot to say about it when I get more time.  However, time is something I don’t have very much of at the moment, as I am working full time and getting my MBA part-time in the evenings and weekends.  It’s a pretty significant workload right now, but I’m more than half-way through the program so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s worth noting that much of my real MBA experience is online, or at least has an online component to it. I think this will make for a nice comparison of MOOC MBA classes vs. official MBA classes that have MOOC-like features including online lectures, discussion boards, and other content.

So stay tuned, my fellow MBA hackers, as you will now have access to an MBA insider who has “been there and done that” on the MOOC MBA side of the house as well.  This should be a fun comparison.

But for now, I need to go study.

Harvard Gazette article on ‘MOOCs and More’

Provost Garber issues white paper on digital and residential education at Harvard


Credit to the Harvard Gazette, Nov. 5, 2015 article found here.


Coined by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island, the term MOOC was a brainchild of necessity: the need to name a new learning experience in time for an upcoming talk.

Nearly 3½ years later, massive open online courses are common. MOOC has become a catchall, personifying the rapid evolution of educational technology, and at the same time indicating the changes happening to higher education in the digital age.

In a recently released white paper, “Everywhere and Anytime, Here and Now: Digital and Residential Education at Harvard,” Provost Alan M. Garber reflects upon the rise of MOOCs — “heralded as a disruptive change, garnering praise and provoking anxiety” — and discusses how the University is pursuing its learning and research mission in their wake.

His discussion is centered around the genesis and impact of HarvardX, a faculty-led “organizing force and a testbed for emerging approaches to teaching,” and the edX learning platform, co-founded with Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012.

Both efforts, in fact, have helped to make MOOCs mainstream.

As with many innovations in academia, including Harvard’s elective curriculum and the development of case teaching in the 19th century, the promises offered by digital learning have been met with healthy skepticism. MOOCs are no exception. Yet, Garber writes, “They have become so much a part of how we think about teaching and learning that it is difficult to envision this University — or any other, for that matter — without them.”

As an example, edX has reached 5 million global learners and now has more than 100 partner institutions dedicated to expanding access to knowledge, improving teaching and learning on campuses, and advancing the science of learning.

More than 90 faculty across 10 Schools have participated in HarvardX courses. The initiative has developed more than 60 courses, enabled nearly 20 blended residential classes, and helped generate nearly 100 related research publications.

Given that context, the heft of Garber’s paper wrestles with questions that he and many others had when MOOCs were just emerging — and ones that remain now.

“Would expanded access herald a new age of higher education unbound from brick-and-mortar campuses? Would well-funded institutions render other colleges and universities obsolete? Could the in-person experience be replicated, or at least closely approximated, online? Could the real and the virtual complement and strengthen one another — or would learning and teaching be unrecognizable 50 years hence?”

There are no pat answers, but compelling insights are emerging. Through stories from faculty and learners, data and research insights, and analysis of School-based innovative learning efforts such as Harvard Business School’s HBX, Garber does more than just survey the local landscape; he strives to present firsthand accounts of those on the front lines of new pedagogies.

The paper also identifies issues that will require more attention in coming years, such as the economic sustainability of MOOCs and related efforts and translating research on learning and teaching into improvements in the residential setting. Ultimately, Garber’s aim for the white paper is to inform as well as to provide a basis for conversation around the future of teaching and learning at Harvard.

Why Virtual Classes can be Better Than Real Ones

An engineering professor takes online-course critics to school.


(all credit to Barbara and Francesco, this article was originally posted here)

I teach one of the world’s most popular MOOCs (massive online open courses), “Learning How to Learn,” with neuroscientist Terrence J. Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The course draws on neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and education to explain how our brains absorb and process information, so we can all be better students. Since it launched on the website Coursera in August of 2014, nearly 1 million students from over 200 countries have enrolled in our class. We’ve had cardiologists, engineers, lawyers, linguists, 12-year-olds, and war refugees in Sudan take the course. We get emails like this one that recently arrived: “I’ll keep it short. I’ve recently completed your MOOC and it has already changed my life in ways you cannot imagine. I just turned 29, am in the middle of a career change to computer science, and I’ve never been more excited to learn.”

It’s a wonderful feeling to receive notes like this, as teachers around the world know. As gratifying as the note is personally, it also speaks for the impact of MOOCs. We all know about the importance of an education system, and how much society could gain if education, particularly for the disadvantaged, were improved. Online courses allow us to scale up those opportunities—a better education at lower cost. Already the numbers are impressive. More than 500 colleges and universities and 200 organizations and institutions offer MOOCs, with a total of 30 million users.

At the same time that “Learning How to Learn” has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my 20 years as a teacher—I am currently a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan—I confess to feeling a little defensive. The success and tremendous educational potential for MOOCs has been dinged by some high-profile articles in the past couple of years. In an article called “Trapped in the Virtual Classroom” in the New York Review of Books, David Bromwich, the Sterling Professor of English at Yale University, claimed that the “MOOC movement cooperates with the tendency of mechanization” and “discourages more complex thinking about the content and aims of education.” Some research papers have reported the dropout rate in MOOCs is above 90 percent. And Robert Zemsky, Chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, has written that MOOCs, facing diminishing prospects, “were neither pedagogically nor technically interesting.”

Human brains have evolved with a flitting, fleeting ability to maintain focus on any one thing.

I would venture to say most MOOC deniers have little experience with creating and teaching online courses. The reality is MOOCs can be artistically and technically fascinating and can have terrific pedagogical advantages. This is particularly true in the fraught area of STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Math), where difficult explanations often cry out for a student to replay a portion of a lecture, or simply to take a pause while comprehension works its way to consciousness. As for those dropout rates, Keith Devlin, a mathematician at Stanford University, has pointed out that some widely cited papers on MOOC attrition have depended on traditional metrics of higher education that are “entirely misleading.” People sign up for MOOCs for different reasons than they do for traditional college classes. “A great many never intend to complete the course,” Devlin writes. They “come looking for an education. Pure and simple.”

With the best MOOCs, students are getting an education that does indeed encourage complex thinking about the goals of education. Online courses can hold students’ attentions, at times better than teachers can. Creating “Learning How to Learn” provided an opportunity to do a “meta” on teaching and learning. Terry and I could use the online medium to help overcome some of challenges that students experience when facing traditional methods of teaching, and give them insight into the learning process itself.

DIY: For less than $5,000, Barbara Oakley (above) and neuroscientist Terrence J. Sejnowski created an online class on the brain and learning. Thanks in part to what Oakley calls “a creative mashup of academia meets Silicon Valley meets Hollywood,” their do-it-yourself course is the most popular class, among a total of nearly 1,500, on the website Coursera.Barbara Oakley

Chilean recluse spiders are believed to be among the most dangerous recluse spiders. One bite can kill you. Those suckers are big—up to an inch and a half across. They’re also very fast. Imagine you spot a Chilean recluse spider 20 feet in front of you on the floor. Look again—suddenly, it’s two feet in front of you. That gets your attention, doesn’t it?

We’re beginning to tease out the neurocircuitry behind why motion—especially looming motion like that of a spider—attracts attention. When looming objects are detected, neurons send a cascade of information to the brain’s amygdala, a processing center of emotions and motivation. Looming is a big deal, phylogenetically speaking—creatures as different as insects, reptiles, birds, and people respond to looming motion.1

Human brains have evolved with a flitting, fleeting ability to maintain focus on any one thing. Those who kept too fixed a gaze on the wildebeest they were stalking could end up being killed by the lions stalking them. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that humans may not have been meant to sit boxed up for prolonged periods, focused on a teacher in a classroom. No matter how much we might like or be interested in the material, a lecture is out of tune with how our brains work.

This is a problem for teaching. It sounds heretical to even ask whether teachers help us learn. Our intuition tells us they should. And in fact they do help us learn—the best teachers seem to get inside our heads to intuit just what we need to get that ah ha! of initial understanding. They can charm, bedevil, and inspire us to learn well, even when the mountaintop of mastery seems insurmountably high. Clear explanations, inspiration, humor, personal focus on individual pressure points of conceptual misunderstanding—they all help us want to keep moving forward in the sometimes difficult task of learning.

But counterintuitive research has shown that teachers don’t seem to help us learn very well. A 1985 paper, “The initial knowledge state of college physics students,” by physics professors Ibrahim Abou Halloun and David Hestenes, revealed that when we put physics students in front of a traditional “talk-and-chalk” instructor, those students claw their understanding of physics forward by only a tiny amount—even when the teacher is an award-winner.2

One of the tricks used by many of the past greats in science has been to imagine themselves transported into what they’re trying understand.

The Halloun and Hestenes paper produced an upheaval in science education. How could it be that traditional methods did such a poor job of educating? As researchers grappled with the implications, they began to test out new and better methods for teaching. Seminal research by physicist Richard Hake and others revealed that interactive engagement in a classroom, including big classrooms with over 100 students, resulted in a marked improvement of knowledge gained in a semester, compared to more traditional “sage on the stage” approaches.3 Maintaining students’ attention can be improved, it seems, by allowing them to talk and work interactively with one another.

Many college classrooms have shifted to this approach. A meta-analysis by Scott Freeman and his colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that “active” learning produces such an improvement in science, engineering, and math classrooms that it is almost pedagogical malpractice not to use it.4 But learning can’t all be interaction. Sometimes the more the interaction, the slower the progress. Usually, proponents of active learning (I’m one of them; I coauthored a 2004 paper on the subject) suggest that a good approach to teaching provides a balance of explanation time by the instructor coupled with “active” time, where students are able to grapple with the material themselves, often while interacting with teammates.5

The resolution to the paradox about the value of teachers lies, it seems, in the context of the researcher’s studies. Private tutoring can naturally hold a student’s attention by not only giving clear explanations, but by switching things up, asking questions, and taking short breaks as needed. In the traditional talk-and-chalk larger classrooms that Halloun and Hestenes were investigating, even the best teachers couldn’t help but become boring as a lengthy college class among a herd of other students dragged on.

These findings point toward the flitting nature of our brains—driven much more than we might like to admit by elusive, unconscious factors. Our inability to maintain focus for lengthy periods of time, coupled with our need to try things out for ourselves and talk things out with others, reduces our ability to make the best use of teachers who teach in traditional sage-on-the-stage form.

With the advent of the Internet, an even newer approach to teaching has been the “flipped” classroom. In this approach, professors are recorded on video so they can be viewed at home, helping to synthesize and bring key ideas to life. Class time is then taken up with answering questions and with collaborative interactions: solving problems, discussing issues and concepts in teams, and working out the misunderstandings that have arisen during the preliminary solitary study. These types of personal interactions are where the teacher, and other students, are both invaluable.

The development of the flipped class has led to MOOCs as the next important frontier in education.

Perhaps my biggest asset to creating “Learning How to Learn” was that I had been a terrible student. I flunked my way through elementary, middle, and high school math and science. Remedial math didn’t even hit my playbook until age 26, after I’d gotten out of the military. (Poor job prospects can be a great motivator for career change.) I couldn’t learn well by listening to lectures—in class, virtually everything but the professor was a shiny object of glorious distraction for me. The only way I could ultimately be successful was to become a classroom stenographer—later studying the notes at my own pace and in my own way.

As I started to learn math as an adult, I was often terribly frustrated by the material—sometimes I felt that textbooks and professors ganged up to present matters in the most arcane way possible. Whenever some professor with a near lifetime experience with Fourier and Laplace transforms would say something like, “Of course, it’s intuitively obvious that …” I’d get a shiver, because I knew it wouldn’t be intuitively obvious to me. I’m not a quick study—it would often take me a long time to see that what I was looking at was actually very simple.

Terry and I created “Learning How to Learn” to get students to grasp that simplicity themselves. We wanted to incorporate some of the advantages of face-to-face tutoring with recent lessons from video game makers and TV. From the fast pace of Grand Theft Auto to money flying in a dryer inBreaking Bad, motion is an important aspect of reaching deep into viewers’ subconscious to get a lock on their attention.

In “Learning How to Learn,” we make assiduous use of motion. Using green screen, I can suddenly pop from one side of the screen to another. Or I can loom from full standing to a close up of my face. Or, as I laugh on the side of the screen, I can speed up the onscreen picture-in-picture video of my daughter ineptly backing the family car off the driveway and onto the lawn—a living example of what can happen when procedural fluency hasn’t been acquired. It’s all video trickery, of course, but it works to keep students’ attentions.

In fact, one of the tricks used by many of the past greats in science has been to imagine themselves transported into what they’re trying understand. Einstein famously imagined himself chasing a beam of light to help him formulate theories of relativity. Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock imagined herself in the realm of the “jumping genes” she became famous for discovering. We can help our students to develop the same sort of intuition as these Nobel Prize winners by bringing objects to life in video in a way that’s virtually impossible to do in a classroom. We can walk into the mitochondria of a cell, or the ionic interaction that sparks an aurora, or the spiraling epiphany of Euler’s equation.

Online videos allow students to do what their brains are naturally geared for—focusing, replaying the toughest parts of what they’re trying to learn, then taking a break.

A technology often used in current “in person” classroom instruction is to have a PowerPoint slide on the screen while the instructor stands to the side. Mimicking this approach in video format, we often see a small talking head in the corner of the screen (which is basically, because of its limited range of motion, like a still image), while the main image—whether it’s a piccolo or a Picasso—is enlarged and discussed on another part of the screen.

But this “two image” approach actually increases a learner’s cognitive load. With two separate images on the screen, you’ve got to process two different things at once. However, green-screen technology can allow a professor to appear to walk around a digitally upsized Greek vase that’s the same size as she. In a biology video, the professor can point to life-sized structures of the cell. In engineering, she can point to the counter flow aspects of a heat exchanger. This cinematic joining of professor and object-under-discussion into one image reduces cognitive load and focuses students’ attention on important details—even when, in real life, those details are small. All this has a big effect in making it easier for students to grasp key ideas.

Metaphors and analogies are just as important to learning as reducing the cognitive load. A theory called “neural reuse” posits that we seem to often use the same neural circuits to understand a metaphor or analogy as we do to understand the underlying process itself.6 When we use water flow as an analogy for electron flow, or the idea of a stalker who creeps ever closer to help us understand the concept of limits in calculus, we’re calling into play the same neural circuits that underpin our ability to understand those abstract concepts. Science, engineering, and math professors can be a bit snooty about dumbing down their material through sometimes silly analogies. These types of pedagogical tools are extraordinarily valuable—they serve as intellectual on-ramps to get students on board with complex ideas more quickly by using pre-existing neural circuitry.

Good online courses make students feel professors are speaking directly to them. A teacher’s direct focus on the camera translates as personal attention in the videos. Students develop a sense of familiarity; we are often seen as friendly private tutors. It makes us more approachable and “listen-to-able.” It’s not that we’re replacing teachers in a classroom. It’s that we serve as additional personalized resources, despite the fact that we’re explaining at massive scales. And I should mention that every single video lecture I give in our MOOC is the best lecture on that topic I’ve ever given in my life.

Online classes make enhanced quizzing available. Testing, as it turns out, is one of the best ways we can learn.7 Tests at key points in videos, and dozens of carefully created alternative quiz questions at the end of each module, can do a lot to improve students’ understanding of the materials. Educators sometimes point to research from physics showing that students don’t really learn from careful explanations—they learn from making mistakes. But physics, unlike most subjects, is rife with pre-existing misconceptions that induce students to skip past explanations because they think they already understand—a stuck-in-a-rut mindset known as “Einstellung.”8 Mistakes in the frequent low-stakes quiz questions available online can force students in physics—or any other subject—to revisit the explanation.

So online videos allow students to do what their brains are naturally geared for—first focusing, then replaying the toughest parts of what they’re trying to learn, then taking a little break. They can quiz themselves, or I can quiz them. They can stop the video and stare into the distance, thinking away until all of a sudden, it clicks. They can touch base on the discussion forums with a friend in Zimbabwe or Chile. Much of this is impossible to do in a conventional 2-hour class period. (Have you ever tried to follow 10 fully worked out examples of Bayes Theorem in a 2-hour class period?)

Not all MOOCs are fabulous. But with their increasing diversity and quality, what MOOCs offer students—those enrolled in colleges and those not—is choice. Students can sample a wealth of subjects and classes, and if they are not sparked, move on. And MOOCs alone aren’t the answer to improved education. That will come from a variety of sources: MOOCs, resources developed by textbook companies, and teachers themselves. Online assets will not serve as a replacement for in-person instructors—rather, they’ll serve as assets, providing high-quality personalized tutoring and great testing materials with rapid grading.

Terry and I made “Learning How to Learn” for less than $5,000, and largely in my basement. I had no previous film editing experience—in fact, I could barely click a camera shutter. Much of the moving imagery for the course was created using simple PowerPoint slides. So I would issue a challenge to MOOC critics. Make your own online course. Film the most interesting, most insightful lecture you’ve ever given in your life. If you don’t think your lecture is good enough, reshoot it until you’re happy. Make your video available for millions of students around the world, not just the privileged few in your classes. Come up with questions for a quiz on the mistakes you most commonly see in your classes. You will learn more than you know about the outreach and capabilities of MOOCs. More importantly, you will exemplify a wonderful openness for learning to students everywhere.

Barbara Oakley is a professor of engineering at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, and the author of, most recently, A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra). She is co-creator, with Terrence J. Sejnowski, of the online course, “Learning How to Learn.”


1. Skarratt, P.A., Gellatly, A.R., Cole, G.G., Piling, M., & Hulleman, J. Looming motion primes the visuomotor system. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 40, 566-579 (2014).

2. Halloun, I.A. & Hestenese, D. The initial knowledge state of college physics students. American Journal of Physics 53, 1043 (1985).

3. Hake, R.R. Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics 66, 64 (1998).

4. Freeman, S., et al. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, 8410-8415 (2014).

5. Oakley, B., Brent, R., Felder, R.M., & Elhajj, I. Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of Student Centered Learning 2, 9-34 (2004).

6. Anderson, M.L. Precis of after phrenology: Neural reuse and the interactive brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16, 1-22 (2015).

7. Keresztes, A., Kaiser, D., Kovacs, G., & Racsmany, M. Testing promotes long-term learning via stabilizing activation patterns in a large network of brain areas. Cerebral Cortex 24, 3025-3035 (2014).

8. Bilalic, M., McLeod, P., & Gobet, F. Why good thoughts block better ones: The mechanism of the pernicious Einstellung (set) effect. Cognition 108, 652-661 (2008).

A big day for Homemade MBAs: MIT announces MOOC Micro-MBA

On October 7, 2015, MIT announced a ground-breaking step in embracing MOOCs in the mainstream with the introduction of their “Micro Masters.”


MIT announces new Micro MBA

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, is well known for being filled with technical geniuses and math lovers of all kinds, so it is apt that they made this MOOC-loving announcement with a new equation:

Online Courses + time on campus = a new path to an MIT Masters Degree


This is an exciting announcement for those of us in the pro MOOC community, as it reinforces our early-adopter status and adds significant academic clout to MOOCs.  We now have MIT, a powerhouse institution and one of the most prestigious technical universities in the world using MOOCs to help their students earn a real-life masters degree.  This is a big deal.


This will be a very interesting space to watch, as MIT’s Supply Chain program, and Sloan MBA in general, are consistently ranked in the top 10 and usually top 5 MBA programs.  For such a top-tier program to add MOOCs in a credit-granting function is a significant step forward for the MOOC world.  Let’s hope that other highly regarded universities see this move by MIT as a step in the right direction, and follow suit.


In the meantime, keep on keepin’ on with your DIY MBA projects.  Keep taking those business-school MOOCs, reading business books, and self teaching yourself the equivalent MBA skills in your own free time, for free.

A second chance to take Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence

A few days late, and perhaps a dollar short, I’d like to pass along the announcement of the second offering of Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence, by Case Western Reserve University.

Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence

Award for worst Coursera course image…”Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence”

The second running of this course started May 15th, but you can still join today if you want to participate (here is the link).


Though I think the focus on emotional intelligence is important for any good leader, I think this course left some room for improvement.  Click here to read my review of Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence.  Given, this was over a year ago now.  There is a decent chance the course has been improved since then, and this offering could be much better.


A final observation (which will come as no surprise to those that have read my posts before) – please stop using MOOCS to solicit funding or make money.  If you click the link to the Coursera webpage in the top paragraph, you will soon be greeted with the following message:

MOOC money request

MOOC money request

I get it.  Everyone playing around in the ‘MOOC space’ is hustling to some extent, and probably has an entrepreneurial bent.  But seriously?  A kickstarter campaign to fund Neuroscience research?  This just rubs me the wrong way. In my opinion, basic research isn’t too be funded the same way small businesses are.  Stick to teaching and applying for grants.


End rant.

Now On-demand: Foundations of Business Strategy

It just got a whole lot easier to take the best business school MOOC I have come across yet – University of Virginia Darden School of Business’ Foundations of Business Strategy is now available on-demand!

University of Virginia's Foundations of Business Strategy

University of Virginia’s Foundations of Business Strategy is now on-demand!


As you can see in my review of Foundations of Business Strategy, I would give this course a 10 out of 10, 5 stars, an A+, or any other measure of near perfection.  I can’t recommend this course enough for those of you who want to learn more about business strategy.  The course is extremely well taught, the content is rich, and the delivery is as polished and professional as it gets.  You will love this course if you have any interest in business strategy.


UVA Darden Foundations of Business Strategy



This is great news for those of you who want to take your own MBA classes online but can’t seem to align your schedule with the academic calendar.  Now that you can start this MOOC whenever you want there is no excuse not to enroll!

MOOC MBA March Madness: Coursera and NovoEd’s March roster

As a former Big Ten student, I know March Madness might consume a disproportionate amount of your time and energy this month.  However, for those of you looking to improve your business skills with free MBA and  business school MOOCs, here are a few new courses I recommend taking a closer look at this month from Coursera and NovoEd.


Coursera’s March Madness MBA MOOC lineup:

Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills
Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills
  • Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills

    • Offered by: University of Michigan
    • Course Description:   This course provides you with a practical, holistic introduction to the strategies and skills that can lead to successful negotiations in your personal life and in business transactions. The course covers the four key stages of negotiation: (1) planning, (2) negotiating, (3) creating a contract, and (4) performing the contract.   Each stage examines the key questions that you should be prepared to answer in future negotiations.
    • My take: Negotiation is an often overlooked area of business concentration.  While Accounting and Finance may be the language of business, they are ultimately put to use through negotiation in most business contexts.  As this course rightly points out, we all negotiate in our daily lives – regardless of our career roles and choices.  For that reason alone this course out to be on your list.
Competitive Strategy

Competitive Strategy

Law and the Entrepreneur

  • Law and the Entrepreneur

    • Offered by: Northwestern University
    • Course Description: This course will highlight the critical legal and business issues entrepreneurs face as they build and launch a new venture. We will explore real world scenarios, and address the legal and business issues that entrepreneurs face, from the moment they conceive of the “million dollar idea” to all of the important junctures along the path to success.
    • My take: as litigious as our society is, it can’t hurt to learn some basics of law.  If you have a successful business or business idea, you will inevitably need to get some legal assistance to protect your intellectual property, and this course looks like it will arm you with some essential knowledge to help you along your way to entrepreneurial success.  It may not make you an IP attorney, but it will probably help you choose a good one to help you protect your future business venture.


NovoEd’s March Madness MBA MOOC:

Design Thinking for Innovative Problem Solving: A Step-by-Step Project Course

Design Thinking for Innovative Problem Solving:                    A Step-by-Step Project Course

  • Design Thinking for Innovative Problem Solving: A Step-by-Step Project Course

    • Offered by: University of Virginia, Darden School of Business
    • Course Description: In this new online program, you’ll apply the design-thinking process to one of your real-life challenges. Using a clear, guided process that combines creative right-brained thinking-such as brainstorming and visualization-with traditional left-brained analysis, you will reach an innovative solution.
    • My take: As I mentioned above, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Strategy course I took during my own Homemade MBA project was fantastic.  I can only imagine this course will follow suit, or potentially take it up a notch.  As such, I wholeheartedly recommend trying this course.  Well…at $395, it may not be wholehearted, but at least majority-hearted.


So there you have it.  If you aren’t a basketball fan, or want to get that next promotion into a management position, take a look at these free business school MOOCs.  Based on my experience creating my own MBA, these should be winners and will arm you with the business skills you need.


Coursera Specialization: the mini-MBA

For those of you making your own free MBAs out of MOOCs, I would like to bring to your attention Coursera’s new(ish) concept: Coursera Specializations.

coursera speacializations

Coursera Specializations: the (potentially free) mini-MBA



What is a Coursera Specialization?

Coursera Specializations are kind of like my DIY MBA, but perhaps a bit smaller.  Whereas my MBA project consisted of 12 courses, the Coursera Specializations are bundles of three or four related courses.  Though these are still not offered for credit (yet), they do provide the added benefit of a Certificate of Completion that verifies that you have successfully completed all courses in the Specialization module.  Most Coursera Specializations also have some sort of capstone project included as one of the requirements in order to obtain the Certificate of Completion.   In my opinion, the capstone project could also be good resume fodder, and useful for you when interviewing for your next job provided you choose a relevant topic.


Are Coursera Specializations free?

Yes and no.  There are two routes to your Coursera Specialization Certificate of Completion: the Coursera Signature Track route, and the non-Coursera Signature Track route. The Signature Track route costs money (typically around $150-500), the non-Signature Track route is free.  As you know from my emphasis during my Homemade MBA project, I strongly prefer the free version.  There is one caveat, however; with the free route, you will not be able to participate in the capstone project – you just get to take the courses.  Although I am certainly a proponent of the free MBA path, I just might cave here as I think a few hundred bucks for three or four potentially top tier (read Ivy league MBA content) classes, a capstone project, and a legit certificate of completion is a bargain.  It is also worth noting that Coursera is offering Financial Aid.


What Coursera Specialization should I take?

Since I am focused on MBA classes and business school content, perhaps I should have phrased that headline, “is there an MBA Coursera Specialization?”  The answer is yes; and you have a few options.  The best Coursera MBA Specialization is called Business Foundations, and is offered by the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania).  Link:

Wharton Business Foundations

Wharton Business Foundations

This is essentially the same as the 4-course Wharton Business Foundations courses (Marketing, Operations, Accounting, Finance) that I completed for my Homemade MBA, but with fancier packaging.  However, there is one massive drawback to the fancy package: it costs $595.  My advice? Take the courses for free and create your own capstone project.


Are there other good business Coursera Specializations?

Yes, of course, but they are more concentrated.  I recommend the Wharton Business Foundations Coursera Specialization for those looking to cover the business basics.  For those looking to go to the next level in a specific business subject, I recommend the following:

Though I can only speak from experience about the Wharton courses (and one of the Entrepreneurship courses from University of Maryland), I am confident enough in Coursera and the reputations of these universities to recommend these Specializations to you.


If any of you other Homemade MBA-ers out there are taking a Coursera Specialization, please let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Merry Christmas from Homemade MBA (and Stanford!)

‘Tis the season, so here is my (slightly early) Christmas present to you other Homemade MBA-ers out there!

Christmas present

Okay, fine, I’ll admit it – I actually am just re-gifting Stanford University’s recent release of fantastic MBA MOOCs that you should take as part of your do it yourself MBA projects!


Although there are many other Stanford MOOCs out there, here are the best ones for your  self-study MBAs:

Stanford Online

  • Statistical Learning
    • Offered by Stanford OpenEdX and starting January 19th.
    • Course Description: This is an introductory-level course in supervised learning, with a focus on regression and classification methods. The syllabus includes: linear and polynomial regression, logistic regression and linear discriminant analysis; cross-validation and the bootstrap, model selection and regularization methods (ridge and lasso); nonlinear models, splines and generalized additive models; tree-based methods, random forests and boosting; support-vector machines. Some unsupervised learning methods are discussed: principal components and clustering (k-means and hierarchical).
    • My take:  Statistics is the most important subject in life today.  Bold statement? Yes, of course.  However, statistics are used (manipulated?) in almost every facet of our lives today.  The more you know about statistics, the better.  Soon enough you will find that as a society we are data hungry but information starved.  You need a solid foundation in Statistics to know when you are presented with bad studies and bogus conclusions.
  • Technology Entrepreneurship
    • Offered by NovoEd and starting on January 5th.
    • Course Description: This course introduces the fundamentals of technology entrepreneurship, pioneered in Silicon Valley and now spreading across the world. You will learn the process technology entrepreneurs use to start companies. It involves taking a technology idea and finding a high-potential commercial opportunity, gathering resources such as talent and capital, figuring out how to sell and market the idea, and managing rapid growth. To gain practical experience alongside the theory, students form teams and work on startup projects in those teams. This is the 7th offering of the class. In total nearly 200,000 students from around the world have participated and worked in teams together in this class. The the best teams at the end of the class pitched their ideas to investors. Many of the alumni of the last class are continuing to build their startups and will be mentoring teams this time. By the conclusion of the course, it is our hope that you understand how to: 1. Articulate a process for taking a technology idea and finding a high-potential commercial opportunity (high performing students will be able to discuss the pros and cons of alternative theoretical models). 2. Create and verify a plan for gathering resources such as talent and capital. 3. Create and verify a business model for how to sell and market an entrepreneurial idea. 4. Generalize this process to an entrepreneurial mindset of turning problems into opportunities that can be used in larger companies and other settings.
    • My take:  Though there is an overly rosy focus on Technology Entrepreneurship these days, who better to offer such a class than the academic backbone of Silicon Valley?  Regardless of the reasons you should be interested in learning about this, it will be worth the price of admission to hear from the experts in high tech business.
  • Organizational Alaysis
    • Offered by Coursera with a unique, self-paced structure
    • Course Description:   In this introductory, self-paced course, you will learn multiple theories of organizational behavior and apply them to actual cases of organizational change.It is hard to imagine living in modern society without participating in or interacting with organizations. The ubiquity and variability of organizations means there is ample room for complexity and confusion in the organizational challenges we regularly face. Through this course, students will consider cases describing various organizational struggles: school systems and politicians attempting to implement education reforms; government administrators dealing with an international crisis; technology firms trying to create a company ethos that sustains worker commitment; and even two universities trying to gain international standing by performing a merger.

      Each case is full of details and complexity. So how do we make sense of organizations and the challenges they face, let alone develop means of managing them in desired directions? While every detail can matter, some matter more than others. This is why we rely on organizational theories — to focus our attention and draw out relevant features in a sensible way.

      Through this self-paced course you will come to see that there is nothing more practical than a good theory. In every module, you’ll learn a different organizational theory, and it will become a lens through which you can interpret concrete organizational situations. Armed with a toolset of theories, you will then be able to systematically identify important features of an organization and the events transforming it – and use the theories to predict which actions will best redirect the organization in a desired direction.

    • My take:  This class was rated as the best MBA MOOC by the Financial Times in 2013.  My take is that they probably know what they’re talking about.


While I think these courses would be fantastic for your self made MBAs, I also think a little down-time over the holidays is a good idea.  If there comes a time when you have to choose between a MOOC and spending time with your friends and family, just remember this – the MOOC will still be there next year!


One of the seemingly endless advantages to creating your own MBA is that you set the pace and schedule.  Make sure you enjoy some rest and relaxation over the holidays.  That way you will start 2015 refreshed, and your enthusiasm for your MBA projects will be renewed!