Skipping The MBA For Online Ed? How Far Has The Business Skills Category Come?

Moving at the speed of business

Harman Singh, CEO and founder of WizIQ, an online course builder and marketplace, says that one overlooked segment of consumers for business courses are working professionals who seek out business training on their own initiative as opposed to being sent by their employers.

“This is similar to the bring-your-own-device movement,” he says. “Traditionally, corporations set up their own training, plan it, arrange for the trainer, the cost, everything. Now we see professionals are going online and looking for courses for themselves. We were actually surprised with that trend. People are ready to pay out of pocket.”

One underlying driver of this market, Udemy’s Visciano says, is a precise and immediate need. “Folks come to Udemy saying, ‘I need to learn X today for Y reason,’” he explains. “They have very specific business purposes for the skills they’re trying to acquire.”

But the major driver of these emerging companies is that traditional education can’t keep up with changes in business, which leaves a lot of opportunity on the table. Market Motive, for example, which specializes in online marketing courses, finds itself in the position of selling to universities that need updated curricula on digital and social media marketing for their classes. Udemy also sells courses to universities through its Udemy For Organizations program, though the schools prefer to keep this confidential, Visciano says.

Mark Lamkin, VP of Business Development at Market Motive, says, “The typical progression at a university is to put together a class in some aspect of digital marketing because their students are asking for it, and what they find is that this is an industry that’s not static. By the time you’ve completed the first semester, it’s probably out-of-date. It becomes a real challenge.”

And the challenge doesn’t let up for people finished with their classroom years, according to Visciano. “The skills you need to be relevant in the workplace are a moving target,” he says. “It’s moving faster and faster, depending on what industry you’re in, so there’s more of a need to keep fresh skills, not just if you’re staying on the same path but if you’re trying to change from one to another.”

That’s driving customers to look for nimbleness, he says, “And the marketplace model gives us a lot of nimbleness. The bootcamp model is a similar thing. You see General Assembly doing very well, because they’re almost a pop-up shop for education that focus on timely relevant skills. It’s much harder to move an institution with as much inertia as university to do that.”

What can’t be duplicated

Lamkin goes so far as to say that judging purely by the content of online resources alone, “it is possible to come up with something that would be potentially equivalent to a program through a college or university.”

But everyone acknowledges that, even though a surprising amount of the MBA and BA in business curriculum is now available online — more cheaply and with more flexibility for more people — there’s more to school than seat time in the classroom.

That point is made by Karl Ulrich, vice dean of innovation at Wharton in a presentation of his research into how MOOCs will challenge MBA programs. Two years of opportunity costs and $100k-plus tuition get a student not only instruction but career services, “co-curricular activities” and an alumni network, all of which are arguably more valuable from the student’s perspective than the content itself.

“Teaching and learning, the more traditional academic topics, are probably only a quarter or a fifth of the reason that students come and get an MBA,” Ulrich writes. “And that’s the piece we think is most susceptible to change from this emerging new technology but that probably doesn’t impact other elements of the MBA program.”

In other words, no one yet imagines that the entirety of an MBA experience can be replaced by online resources — just the part that happens in the classroom in between bonding with peers at orientation and meeting recruiters at the finish line.

Nor can these startups duplicate the signal to employers that a sheepskin does, although “that is something that potentially could change over time,” Lamkin says.

The credential value of an MBA program, says Singh, is a factor particularly “in much larger organizations. They need to have those resumes on the table, because it matters in that business. In those cases, a MOOC or a WizIQ course on your resume wouldn’t matter.”

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4 thoughts on “Skipping The MBA For Online Ed? How Far Has The Business Skills Category Come?

  1. September 22, 2014

    Adam Hassan Reply

    hi sir
    i am Bachelor Degree in a social senses, so in need master of public police & and administration .
    dear sir help me that course with free online course and how can i get the degree ???

    • October 2, 2014

      Sean Connor Reply

      Hello Adam,

      Unfortunately, our MPA and MPP knowledge is limited (indeed, close to zero). We do not offer degrees ourselves, but many students have used our courses to help prepare for graduate program admissions, especially to deal with prerequisite courses or to revitalize an aging degree.

      You can review our catalog of courses here and here. They come with (free) digital certificates of completion. Their value lies very much more in what you can do with them than in the value of the certificate — if that is a bit of a curse, then it is also a bit of a blessing! Maybe one or more of these courses can help you prepare for a graduate program. See, too, our frequent questions here.

  2. November 6, 2014

    David Wilson Reply

    I have an MBA. So here’s my tuppence. Have to say that I am doubtful about some of the claims that I’ve read online. One person I chat to on Coursera, claims he’s doing an MBA online. He is an exceptional case, I’ll say why in a moment. In his case he probably is, since he’s reading the actual texts from a formal institution and completing topics which ‘about’ cover the course subjects. He agrees that 18 or so MOOC’s is really not an MBA. I am not saying it can’t be done, quite the opposite actually. You can teach yourself anything at any level. It can be done (or close approximation anyway) but requires considerable background reading imo, and as many MOOC’s as it takes, from as many platforms as is needed! Whether you can sell this ‘virtual MBAS’ to an employer – as being the same as an MBA, I am not so sure. But then comes the question, why does it have to be an MBA anyway? I’d say the Saylor ‘Business Administration’ Bachelor’s program is adequate to prove you have some Business Administration.

  3. May 21, 2015

    Srushti Patel Reply

    Yes.. I agree with you.. Its absolute details.. Thanks to share this information..

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