(Editor’s note: This guest article by Robert McGuire is provided courtesy of SkilledUp. Robert McGuire is Editor of SkilledUp’s B2B blog and can be found on Twitter at @robertwmcguire. Image credit: modified from “Perspective: Lecture Hall” byTaqi®™ via photopin. CC BY 2.0.)
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Business skills training is perhaps the second most active category in online learning, with new entrepreneurs entering the space frequently alongside popular MOOCs in business and entrepreneurship. Could these new online ed resources possibly get a slice of the giant MBA market or even lure away undergraduate business majors? And how will hiring and recruitment professionals respond to graduates from these alternative business skills? SkilledUp talked to some of the leaders building online business education — both new startups and “veterans” like Udemy that have been on the market for a few years — to get their take on the macro trends in this area.
In most speculation about the possibilities for online learning, the clearest go-to examples are in IT subjects like software development and UX design. “Technical subjects” are where the skills gap is widest, where the ROI is clearest and where you can find real-life examples of people hacking their education with new resources like MOOCs and coding bootcamps. And those subjects are where businesses offering alternatives to traditional degree programs are making money right now alongside the higher ed market.
Some have dismissed the MOOC phenomenon and online ed in general as relevant only in a hyperactive technology skills market. But what about verticals without the same natural synergy with online ed? Where else are viable business models emerging and potentially even challenging the dominant model?
Naturally enough, it’s probably in business education itself, the most common subject for college majors and for master’s degree. (365,000 bachelor’s degrees and 187,000 master’s degrees in business were conferred in 2011.) For example, a look at the major online platforms, both free MOOC sources like Coursera and paid versions like Udemy and WizIQ, confirm that business skills run a near second in demand to IT subjects. Coursera has run 78 classes in business and management and many more in finance.
And apart from those large platforms, several smaller companies specializing in business-related courses have sprung up. These include places like 60 Day MBA, $100 MBA, Fizzle, Strategyzer, Thrive15 and Online Marketing Institute. These typically offer a library of highly polished short videos on an all-you-can-eat monthly subscription. Some of them also offer premium plans where students get real-time meetings with mentors or group discussions.
Compared to the coding vertical, the skills gap in business is less obvious, but the demand on the consumer side for these online education sources is clear. Frank Visciano, Director of Content at Udemy says where they see the most traffic, “both in terms of content creation and content consumption, tends to be in the areas of business, technology and entrepreneurship.”
The demand on the hiring side for online business education is less clear, but there is a vocal cry for more talent. Whether or not a skills gap among U.S. workers even exists continues to be debated (mostly because a variety of specialized skills and regional employment markets are lumped together into one discussion). But the business community has been loudly making its case. Readers may be familiar with the oft-cited (and disputed) survey from early 2012, “Hiring and Higher Education” from Public Agenda and the Committee for Economic Development, which laid out the frustrations employers have with the quality of college graduates being put into the job market.
Regarding business education more specifically, a survey from earlier this year from Hult International Business School finds that C-level execs are pretty disappointed with the job-readiness of MBA graduates, too. And earlier this summer, three other surveys of HR or C-level professionals were published that emphasized anxiety about the talent pipeline in sales, management and leadership training.
Meanwhile, there is a lot of activity in business education in MOOC land. Among the elite MBA programs, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania has been most prominent, offering enough courses in what they call a “foundation series” that a dedicated MOOC student could replicate much of the first-year MBA curriculum. Wharton has also hinted that they will eventually deliver a quarter of its traditional MBA content online. That will be a boon to individuals like Laurie Pickard who is attempting an experiment in free online education she calls the No-Pay MBA.
So, as business skills training emerges as a prominent category of online learning, we have been wondering where it fits in the overall education marketplace and how much it is a challenge to traditional institutions, both educational and in hiring and recruitment. We talked to a few of the entrepreneurs involved in this area to find out more. As we’ll see, a lot of the growth in this area is due to an imperfect union of management and entrepreneurship education in traditional business programs.