First Impressions: Wharton’s Coursera Intro to Corporate Finance

This is the real deal.

This class IS Intro to Corporate Finance exactly as you would take it at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School.  I’m shocked that this is the real thing, but offered for free on Coursera.  How do I know it’s the real thing?  Because the professor spent a few minutes of the first lecture explaining to the rest of the class that there are cameras and microphones placed throughout the classroom so that 50,000 of us can join them via Coursera.  The homework assignments are the same, the case study we will complete is the same, and the final exam is the same.  This IS the Wharton class.


Sidebar:  wouldn’t you be upset if you were one of the real-life MBA students taking this class at Wharton?  I mean, you’re paying what – $150-200k? to sit in the real classroom, you have taken two years off of work for this MBA, and on your first day in class your Finance professor begins the course by explaining that 50,000 other students will be getting the exact same material as you, except they will be getting it for free?  Not to mention the fact that if I ask a question in class, I’m not only asking it in front of the other 50ish students in the room, but also 50,000 others watching on their computers throughout the world.  I would love to hear what the real Wharton MBA students think of their experience being shared on a platform like Coursera.  (If you are one of those real-life students – please, please, please comment below and leave your thoughts!)


Now for the usual First Impressions stuff…


Introduction to Corporate Finance is one of the four-class Wharton Foundations series of MBA classes Wharton is offering through Coursera (the others are Intro to Marketing, Intro to Financial Accounting, and Intro to Operations Management – all of which I am taking as part of my DIY MBA).

Wharton's Intro to Finance, part of the Wharton Foundations series

Wharton’s Intro to Finance, part of the Wharton Foundations series

Video lectures are recordings of in-class lectures

In many ways, this is like Maryland’s Entrepreneurship class in that the professor uses recordings of the actual lectures given at Wharton as the video lectures posted on Coursera.  The (massive) difference is that here I’m super pumped to be in Wharton with the real MBA students, whereas in Entrepreneurship I was just annoyed (sorry, Maryland!).  The experience of being in a top 3 b-school class is one that not a lot of people get…or, at least, it used to be an experience that not many people got.  Maybe this is the way of the future, where everyone can participate in top tier programs as and when they wish?


Massive workload

Maybe I’m just intimidated by the fact that this is the real Wharton class, but it seems like this course will be a major step up in workload and rigor than most of the other classes I’ve seen.  I have only completed the first set of homework problems, but they took a lot longer and were a lot more thorough than most of the other homework assignments on Coursera.  This does seem like the real thing, and has the workload to suit.


Fast lecture pace

I know this class is only six weeks, but the pace of this lecture is ridiculous.  In the first lecture we have already covered microeconomics, present values, future values, and all of statistics.  Of course, the microeconomics and statistics were just overviews of what we will be using in Finance, but still.  I would have thought present values and future values would at least get their own weeks.  I mean, what else is there to cover in Finance? (kidding)


New video lecture format

As I already mentioned, the video lectures in this class are just recordings of the actual lectures given to the real MBA students at Wharton.  However, these video lectures are presented in a new, split-screen format that is very nice.  The split-screen allows you to see the professor and what the professor is writing at the same time:

Wharton's Intro to Finance split-screen video lecture

Wharton’s Intro to Finance split-screen video lecture

Another nice touch is that the professor provides a copy of all the handwritten notes and graphs he sketched during the lecture notes as a scanned .pdf file.  This way, you don’t have to worry about scribbling down everything he does.  Instead, you can focus on taking your own notes on top of the material provided.


Explanations aren’t the best

I know I’m only a few lectures in, but so far this professor isn’t the best at answering questions in class.  A few times a student has asked for an alternate explanation or for the professor to clarify a point and the professor essentially just repeated himself with a slightly condescending tone, and moved on.  It made me feel glad that I’m not in the real class.  It seems like the professor assumes that everyone in the classroom knows everything about Finance before they even showed up.  I was under the impression they showed up to learn Finance…


One particularly frustrating example ended with the professor saying something to the tune of, “Again, if any of those things are…not quite certain…then spend some time and make sure you understand what’s going on there.”  This was in reference to the entire subject of Statistics.  I’m so glad I didn’t pay $200k for that.


Background noise

This is a technical complaint about the video lecture experience – there is a lot of background noise.  I am watching the videos at 1.5x playback speed, and it seems like every other second, literally, someone in the brick-and-mortar lecture hall coughs, clears his/her throat, sneezes, or sniffles.  It sounds like a minor thing (and it is), but it is really distracting.  I think they could turn the audience microphone sensitivity down a couple notches, or find out a way to filter out the noise if they ever do this again.


Very excited

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am very excited about this class.  It’s so cool that I am able to experience a real Wharton Business School class like this.  Although I’m not physically there, the material, professor, and learning outcomes are all the same.  How cool is that?

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