Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 12am

Wharton Steps Up Experimentation with MOOCs: MBA News

Wharton Steps Up Experimentation with MOOCs: MBA News main image

The number of business schools creating and utilizing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to develop their teaching methods is rising, with more leading institutions opting to experiment with free online education for the wider public.

Since their inception, MOOCs have been thought of as harbingers of the democratization of higher education, offering world-class education to anyone who seeks it. And although MOOCs have since been heavily critiqued for not doing this – with many courses being introductory and the quality of content varying from course to course – they do still have their advantages, in particular for top business schools like the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Not only are MOOCs used to build the global brand of universities and business schools, helping to develop each school’s prospective student pools; they can also help develop teaching skills. Karl Ulrich, the vice dean of innovation at Wharton believes that his involvement in teaching MOOCs has changed the way he teaches all his students. “I think I am a better teacher as a result, and that is to the benefit of everyone,” he tells the Financial Times.

Free online education serves a different demographic

Professor Ulrich’s product design videos, free online classes initially created for his MOOC, are now being used on the campus-based program at Wharton. They have increased the efficiency of his paying students, in his view. “I’d like to see a third to a half of the learning part delivered online,” he says of the future of the Wharton MBA program. This approach is known as ‘flipped’ learning and is becoming popular in many business schools due to advanced technology and the idea that viewing recorded lectures prior to seminars allows students to engage more to gain a deeper understanding of course material as well as to improve their communication skills with more time for in class discussion.

Wharton is a school that views the disruption of the traditional classroom model as a good thing, shown by the platform Knowledge@Wharton which champions innovation and technology both within education and out. The school’s MOOCs are some of the most popular around, with a record of 130,000 students enrolling in one single course. The school now even offers 10% of its entire MBA core courses on Coursera for free as part of its ‘Foundation Series’.

The majority of the big business schools remain unfazed by free online education and the growing market of MOOCs as their on-campus programs (as well as full online programs) are deemed to offer an entirely different service which is to provide certification and a rounded business school experience.

Professor Ulrich believes the average MOOC consumer to be very different, “It’s an adult learner who just needs to know something,” he says.

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