A challenge to higher ed?
Do these new forms of online business skills training have a chance to take market share from higher ed? That’s probably going too far, everyone I talked to agreed with, though they point to isolated cases. Llorens describes a current customer who at first considered going back to school for lack of any better idea how to proceed in starting her own business. Now that she’s a 60-Day MBA customer, that’s one less student for the evenings-and-weekends accelerated programs less competitive schools use to attract working adults.
Singh says there’s still a lot of cultural inertia propping up the MBA market, even more so in India where he is based and where many WizIQ customers are. Potential students in the U.S. may be turning away from degree programs, he speculates, “but not to a major degree. A lot of people want to learn the skills but don’t care about the MBA. However, I don’t think any major chunk of the market share is going away from the MBA school anytime soon. People in India will take online courses, but they won’t skip an MBA for an online course. There is still a lot of social stigma of not going to college.”
Visciano says one segment of MBA students that might be carved out in the future are people who go to school to figure out what they want to do. “What does the Chinese restaurant menu of options look like for what you can be when you grow up?” he says. “Business school is a way to test out a lot of different things and then pursue the path that fits you. Online learning can introduce you to all of those alternatives at a much lower cost.”
Barr thinks entrepreneurship in general, rather than courses in entrepreneurial skills like his, do more to dent MBA enrollments. “You see a lot of young people starting companies as opposed to going to business school these days,” he says. “And a lot of high profile people are very successful — the kind of people who start Tumblr or Facebook or whatever the next hot startup is. I think that is drawing some market share away from business schools.”
But that’s only a small segment, he emphasizes, and if you look at the trends overall, “business schools seem to be doing well. There is a category of people who are just looking for career advancement, and those trends are very slow to change.”
The businesses I spoke with seem more interested in partnering with higher ed than overthrowing it, anyway. As mentioned earlier, institutions are a growing number of the accounts for places like Market Motive and Udemy.
And they speculate about future ways to serve degree programs with enhancements like “pre-matriculation” classes, supplementary materials and alumni engagement. So far, universities are serving MOOCs to alumni as a kind of personal enrichment. But picture your alma mater letting you know you can keep up to date on an emerging skillset required in your profession through a third-party vendor they’ve partnered with.
The MOOC challenge to business programs
Naturally, higher ed leaders are paying particular attention to the free and open version of online business skills training. For example, one recent study by Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich, is titled “Will Video Kill the Classroom Star? The Threat and Opportunity of Massively Open Online Course for Full-Time MBA Programs.”
They describe three scenarios where the MOOC technology of short asynchronous videos — a feature now common in online learning far beyond MOOCs — could impact business programs. In the most dire scenario, “the functions of a business school are unbundled and business schools as we know them are substantially displaced by alternatives.”
That word substantially defines a result with less likelihood, but in the meantime, it’s pretty clear that alternatives are emerging that unbundle the business school experience and offer up what entrepreneurs believe there is a big paying market for.
And in the short term, according to another Wharton professor’s study, MOOCs are all upside for business programs. “MOOCs Won’t Replace Business Schools – They’ll Diversify Them” by Gayle Christensen, Brandon Alcorn and Ezekiel Emanuel, looked especially at the loads of enrollment data from Wharton’s numerous MOOCs. They conclude:
“Rather than cannibalizing business school course offerings and executive education, open, online business courses appear for now to be expanding the overall reach of business education. Even in their infancy, business MOOCs from Wharton are reaching groups of students most commonly targeted for outreach by business schools: working professionals outside the United States as well as foreign-born and underrepresented minorities in the United States.”
Harvard Business School apparently doesn’t see the same potential. Like Wharton, HarvardX is replicating the introductory portion of its curriculum with a sequence in the “fundamentals of business thinking.” But, bucking the MOOC trend, they are charging $1500 for the three courses, targeting recent graduates without a business background. (For those following the “disruption” debate, Clayton Christensen has said this is a textbook example of an incumbent brand making a short-term innovation while wrong-footing the long game.)