UPenn Professors Say MOOCs the Future of MBA Programs

According to a recent study by two professors from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, online learning could benefit students in ways separate from the benefits gained from traditional classroom learning.

The study, titled “Will Video Kill the Classroom Star? The Threat and Opportunity of MOOCs for Full-Time MBA Programs,” looked at the video technology used for massive open online courses (MOOCs), which the authors call “SuperText”, and discovered that it could make MBA courses 40% cheaper to produce.

Currently, a full-time traditional MBA involves many professors giving in-class lectures.  Each course costs about $1,500 to produce, while “it costs just pennies to register a new student in a MOOC,” writes Seb Murray for website Business Because.

SuperText involves three main parts: videos, online learning platforms, and a community-enriched social network.  All of this offers the potential for better suiting the needs of the individual student than traditional programs.

“In a classroom, every participant is forced to share an identical experience,” co-author Karl Ulrich said in an email. “With SuperText, the learning experience can adapt dynamically to the needs and preferences of each individual student.”

Co-author Christian Terwiesch adds:

“As simple as it might sound, the SuperText has a rewind button. You watch that video and you get confused so you just rewind it, pause it, text a friend and get an explanation,” Terweisch said. “That’s actually more adaptive than the traditional classroom environment.”

The authors also discuss an “adaptive learning” feature of SuperText, allowing the program to discover where an individual student is having problems and direct them toward success in the areas where they most need help.

The two professors currently use SuperText in their own classes, where students meet in person once or twice a week after spending time completing coursework online, to clarify what they have learned and work in small groups, writes Ariel Smith for The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The co-authors state that MBA schools have three options if they do not want to become irrelevant.

First, students need better programs offered.  According to the authors, students spend 100 times less finishing an online course than a traditional one.  They report that students would be better served with less time in the classroom and more put toward experiential learning or studying abroad.

“You can either leave the old customer satisfaction in place and you have cost savings, or you hold cost per students constant and you can provide a more worthwhile experience for students,” says Terwiesch.

Next, schools need to downsize faculty members on a tenure-track.  The authors also suggest offering higher salaries to those professors who become masters of video.  Terwiesch suggests faculty members “should think about what can we do to deliver value to our customers so when the world changes, we’re not a Kodak married to an old technology.”

Last, the professors suggest programs move to an iTunes model, comparing current programs to a Swiss army knife, where students to develop business skills to “use it one day in the future.”  This method, according to the authors, is irrelevant as it allows too much time to pass between learning the skills and actually putting them to use.

Instead, “business education has the potential to move to mini-courses that are delivered to the learner as needed, on demand.”  They suggest schools certify certain skills in place of groupings of skills, writes Cory Weinberg for Bloomberg Businessweek.