MOOCs: MBA for less than $1,000


Do you really need to go to a fancy B-School and spend big bucks to get an MBA? What if you reframed the problem and decided to get the education needed (without the degree and the fat fee paid to a B-school)? Here’s a person who has done just that.

Laurie Pickard, of NoPayMBA fame, completed her MBA-level education using only MOOCs —Massive Open Online Courses. She is the facilitator of the No-Pay MBA Network, a learning community dedicated to help its members get the benefits of business school, at a fraction of the cost —less than $ 1,000! She now lives in Kigali, Rwanda and has documented her studies to serve as a resource to other learners.

Abhijit Bhaduri, chief learning officer, Wipro, chats with Pickard to know more about the NoPayMBA and MOOCs. Excerpts!

Abhijit Bhaduri: You started NoPayMBA at the time when MOOCs were in its nascent stage. How would the learning experience be better today for someone following the same approach?

Laurie Pickard: First, the quantity and the diversity of MOOCs is much greater. When I started, there were only a few business courses available. Now, you can take courses on everything, from digital marketing to supply chain management to social entrepreneurship. Students really do have access to the MBA course catalogue almost in its entirety.

Second, many courses are now on-demand, meaning that students don’t have to wait to get started and can study at their own pace.

Last but not the least, programmes such as the No-Pay MBA Network fill a key gap in the MOOC experience, bringing a community element to online courses. And mine is not the only programme that gives people a way to build real-world connections through MOOCs. I think the desire to connect is strong, and we will continue to see the formation of new learning communities.

Abhijit Bhaduri: Some people do question the MBA programme’s ability to prepare the students to succeed in business. What’s your opinion?

Laurie Pickard: I think classroom experiences, in general, are limited in their ability to prepare students for the world of work. That is why, strong MBA programmes are not just about time spent in the classroom, but also include hands-on projects, internships, travel, and other practical, real-world experiences.

Likewise, I encourage people who are part of my community to get out of the (virtual) classroom and find ways to use their skills, whether through volunteer experiences, internships, or even their current jobs. Not only does that solidify learning, it also bridges the gap between the classroom and the workplace.

Abhijit Bhaduri: What is the value of a non-conventional MBA programme in a country, such as India, where the pedigree of the college matters to employers?

Laurie Pickard: This is a very important question. What are employers looking for? Sure, they are looking for people with degrees from good universities, but what does that signify to them? Well, a degree from a good programme gives some indication about a person being hard-working, talented, and motivated. It also tells the employer that the applicant is capable of learning new things, and probably comes with a lot of skills as well.

A strong track record in MOOC courses could also demonstrate these same qualities, especially among those who complete a rigorous course of study. But employers may be skeptical if they can’t rely on a degree-granting institution to verify the education.

Even so, if learners can find ways to demonstrate their skills, either to their current employers, or by creating a portfolio of work, they may still be able to advance their careers on the strength of an MOOC education. I think we will soon begin to see employers becoming more sophisticated in assessing non-traditional forms of education, even in places like India.

Abhijit Bhaduri: The soft skills-related courses are better learned in a social setting with students getting a chance to try out new forms of behaviour. How does the NoPayMBA deal with such subjects?

Laurie Pickard: This is a big part of the value of being part of a learning community like the No-Pay MBA Network. MOOCs themselves are quite limited when it comes to teaching soft skills. Through the network, students work together on projects, make presentations, and receive feedback from one another. We also get a chance to engage in dialogue that goes beyond what you would find on an MOOC discussion board. Many of the members come in with significant career experience, and we all benefit by listening to their perspectives. That kind of discussion and person-to-person feedback is essential if you’re looking to learn business, and MOOCs by themselves cannot provide it.

(Do employers care about the degree more than the knowledge? What do you think? Do leave your comment.)
Follow Abhijit Bhaduri on Twitter @AbhijitBhaduri


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