Harvard’s HBX: a misguided MOOC

There was a fantastic article in today’s New York Times called “Business School, Disrupted.”  The article discusses Harvard Business School’s strategy for online education.  Their solution: charge $1,500 for three online business school courses.


Called the Credentials of Readiness (with the clever acronym CORe), your $1,500 investment grants you access to online courses covering Accounting, Analytics, and Economics for Managers.  You will have nine weeks to complete the trio, at which point you will receive a paper credential with a grade of either high honors, honors, or pass.


HBX’s strategy is about the exact opposite of most MOOC’s.  When asked about their approach, the executive director of HBX, Jana Kierstead, commented, “We don’t want tourists.  Our goal is to be very credible to employers.”


In other words, HBX isn’t interested in those who are truly intellectually curious, and want to expand their skill sets by participating in a decentralized academic exercise.  They want to sell a piece of paper that employers will value.  Pity.


The article depicts a divided Harvard Business School, citing rock-star faculty members Clayton Christensen and Michael Porter with contrasting opinions of the online education debate.  The students themselves are also split; some think that HBS’s brand value and elite standing will prevent MOOCs from having an impact, whereas others think even the mighty HBS will be touched by the MOOC revolution.


Harvard Business School Dean Nohria believes their MBA program is not at risk.  Drawing on the analogy that Amazon.com has not replaced all retailers, he thinks that MOOCs will not replace such prestigious institutions as HBS.  He also mentions that MOOCs are more suited for lecture-based classrooms, not the case-based teaching method employed by HBS.


Dean Nohria is a very smart man, but I think his perspective is severely influenced by confirmation bias and a lack of personal experience with MOOCs.  If Dean Nohria had completed the MOOCs that I have during this Homemade MBA project, I think he would be much less confident in his assertions.  Then again, he has a slightly vested interest in his traditional bread-and-butter MBA program.


This great article concludes by pondering the longer-term future of MOOCs and the education system.  Which universities will be impacted first?  Will all universities as we know them always exist?  Will rock-star professors like Mr. Christensen and Mr. Porter become their own educational entities, and use their established reputations as management gurus to go it alone with MOOCs as a mouthpiece?


Like you, I don’t have the answers.  But if my Homemade MBA has taught me anything, it’s that MOOCs absolutely will reshape the educational landscape.  Free-access MOOCs might be a trend only for us early adopters, but decentralized, internet-based classrooms are here to stay.

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