MOOCs no threat to traditional business courses

150606 moo cowMassive Open Online Courses, or MOOCS, pose no threat to traditional business programs like the MBA, according to a comprehensive study by University of Pennsylvania.

Data from a study of MOOCs offered by Penn’s Wharton Business School show that far from being a threat, the courses may present an opportunity for business schools to expand to underserved markets.

The survey captured data from more than 875,000 students enrolled in nine MOOCs offered by Wharton.

“It is clear from our research that, rather than cannibalising business school course offerings and executive education, open, online business courses appear for now to be expanding the overall reach of business education,” the reports authors write in the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review.

“Even in their infancy, business MOOCs from Wharton are reaching groups of students most commonly targeted for outreach by business schools: working professionals outside the United States as well as foreign-born and underrepresented minorities in the United States.

“MOOCs are undoubtedly disrupting higher education. Business schools, like other university institutions, will need to strategically adapt to changing circumstances. But the MOOC disruption may not necessarily be the threat everyone is worried about. In fact, it looks more like an opportunity.”

Seventy-eight percent of individuals who registered for the Wharton MOOCs came from outside the U.S., with about 45 percent hailing from developing countries. By comparison, 45 percent of two-year MBA students and 14 percent of Executive MBA students are foreign. Thirty-five percent of all U.S. individuals enrolled in the Wharton business MOOCs are foreign-born. By comparison, only 12.9 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born. Nineteen percent of Wharton’s American MOOC students are under-represented minorities compared to 11 percent of students enrolled in traditional M.B.A. programs at nine of the top U.S. business schools.

The study also found that, for the majority of the Wharton MOOCs students, completing an online course is not the most important outcome. Just 43 percent of respondents to a pre-course survey indicated that receiving a certificate of accomplishment was “extremely important” or “very important.”

The implication, researchers suggest, is that schools should move away from a business model of charging for certificates of completion.

The study is the first of its kind to focus on MOOC participants taking business classes. The researchers were Ezekiel Emanuel, Penn’s vice provost for global initiatives; Gayle Christensen, executive director of Penn Global; and Brandon Alcorn, Penn Global project manager. The full study is published here.


Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (