MOOC Education: How Does It Compare to an MBA?

The new MBA derby pits the classic format against a course which is massive, online, and free. MOOC education vs. MBA. Which offers what?

MOOC Education: How Does It Compare to an MBA?

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, a course that allows for unlimited participation and an open access via the web. Professed to be one of education’s greatest breakthroughs, the MOOC indeed has a lot to offer.

A MOOC course does not have an admission process and consists primarily of video lectures. It uses quizzes to test the knowledge of participants, together with individual and group assignments, and final exams graded by professors or peers. MOOCs are offered by over 400 schools across the world, including the world’s top universities. Oh, and they are free.

Interested? Let’s look at the brief history of one of world’s greatest educational breakthroughs.

MOOCs are a fairly recent trend, in their present form since 2012. Named after a 2008 course in “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge”, the actual breakthrough happened in late 2011, when Stanford University started offering several of their engineering courses for free. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology followed closely, introducing MITx, a free programme of courses. And the world of education changed forever.

2012 was the year of MOOC platform start-ups – Udacity, Coursera, edX and FutureLearn, to name but a few. By 2013 the MOOC revolution had begun. Currently 22 out of the top 25 US universities ranked by the US News World Report are offering courses online for free, including courses from their MBA programmes. In 2013, MOOC had a permanent spot in the media, resulting in an increase in MOOC platforms to over 20 in 2014, partnering with over 400 universities across the world – numbers that had doubled over the course of a year.

Carried out entirely online, MOOCs are often compared to other forms of distance learning such as online MBAs – but do they really measure up? Both options have their pros and cons, and if you are determined to grow further and learn something new, both can serve your means. Do not expect exactly the same outcome though. Here are the five main characteristics of a MOOC, compared to those of an online MBA.

MOOCs are free

There is no fee to enter a massive open online course, and usually you are not required to spend any money on textbooks or other reading material, as the material is presented in the sessions and available for download. In some cases, the professors will suggest buying their book/s, at a reduced price, if you are interested in additional reading. Recently, MOOC providers have started offering verified certificates, linking your course results to your identity, which are priced at 20-100 USD per course.

Online MBAs could be priced anywhere between 10,000 USD and 70,000 USD depending on the school – but do not be fooled by the price tag as it does not always prove quality. Public schools usually have affordable options, and the course content, together with your goal and your financial situation have precedence in deciding on an MBA.

You can build an MBA curriculum in MOOC

If you are not satisfied with the MBA curricula offered or it is not the MBA degree itself that you are after but rather its contents, you can easily create your own programme from different MOOC courses, supplied by top universities such as MIT, Stanford, Yale, Princeton. Those courses are often taught by the schools’ top professors, mimicking the regular curriculum so well that they are even attended by regular students. The Wharton School of Pennsylvania University, for example, offers four of the nine first-year courses of their MBA programme for free, and some professors  are even encouraging students to watch the recorded lectures in advance to lead to better classroom discussion.

Even if you are already enrolled in an online MBA, using MOOCs can help you gain better insight into a particular subject, or you can choose complementary topics to your main field of study. However, a word of caution: doing a MOOC is not the same as doing an MBA because it will not grant you the MBA title, thus depriving you of all the benefits that come with it.

MOOCs allow you to study at any time

The length of the offered courses can vary from 4-6 weeks up to 10-12 weeks with the expectation of up to 10 hours per week of active work on lectures and assignments. Lectures follow a predefined schedule, usually one or two per week, and are available at any time through the course dashboard. Assignments are released after the lecture and can be discussed on the course forum.

The average online MBA lasts for two years, with certain flexibility given if you would like to accelerate or delay graduation. Many universities are re-evaluating their online programmes and are taking a blended approach, also known as Blended MBA or Blended EMBA – online courses combined with periods of face-to-face classroom training every couple of weeks, or even less frequently in EMBAs. This approach melds online education with a more personalised approach and a chance to learn from your peers, yet still allowing you to maintain your work, travel and family schedules.

To network or to leave?

A survey undertaken by The Chronicle of Higher Education in February 2013 suggested that the average MOOC enrolment is 33,000 students. The users of MOOC are primarily well educated – over 50% are already in possession of a graduate or a professional degree; and over 80% of all registered users are from outside the US.

Although the main educational method is through recorded video lectures, there are discussion fora and group assignments which allow for collaborative work among students. Often students form local study groups where residents of the same town or city get in touch and organise face-to-face study sessions, so growing your network is actually possible, but there will be no support provided to make it happen. There are no alumni as such either – a tangible advantage of MBAs over MOOCs.

The massive scale that the MOOC has reached brings with it an almost complete lack of a personal approach, and it takes a great deal of self-discipline and motivation to take lectures and complete assignments by yourself. It is no wonder then that the average drop-out rate for MOOCs is 90%. So, free and available does not mean easy.

MOOCs do not offer a degree

A fairly big disadvantage, the lack of a degree award with MOOCs cannot be underestimated. Lately, course providers have started offering ‘Specialisations’, i.e. courses bundled together to form a particular curriculum. Even with verified certificates though, MOOC completion cannot be compared to an actual MBA graduation, either in effort made or in return of investment expected.

Despite the challenges, the MOOC seems like a good opportunity to obtain MBA-like knowledge. But could it ever replace the online MBA in the future?

That is rather unlikely.

The MOOC is more of a supplement to the MBA, rather than its replacement.

Having no admission process and using peer grading and quiz-like exams, means that completing a MOOC course does not certify your subject matter knowledge in a particular area, as an MBA would. Certainly, future employers could take into account the knowledge obtained and the persistence required for completing one or several courses, but that might not affect their selection process, nor could you expect to have the same job opportunities and benefits as an actual MBA graduate.

Attempts have been made to use mass courses for transferable college credit. In April 2013 Udacity partnered with San Jose University on a pilot programme, which was put on hold just a few months later, due to poor performance of enrolled students. Still, universities continue experimenting in this area, so 2015 could be the year when a sustainable solution is found.

Speaking of benefits, the greatest one an MBA can offer is the networking opportunities and the contacts you will build during your study, which open up a world of possibilities for MBA alumni, an area where the MOOC will continue to lag behind.

Still, if you are considering trying out a MOOC, by all means do it! Course provider platforms have continued growing and attracting more capital and partnerships, and new platforms have emerged, covering language-specific markets. The pace has accelerated and more courses are being offered every month. With the improvements in technology and pedagogy their quality can only get better.

Look up MOOC, find the topic you have always been interested in and take the plunge – education, regardless of its form, always pays off!

This article has been produced by Advent Group and featured in the 2015-2016 Access MBA Guide.

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