The drag-and-drop MBA

A few days ago, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania put the first year of its MBA online for free (with the help of Coursera). This is hugely significant and here’s why.

Currently ranked no. 3 in the world by the Financial Times behind Harvard and Stanford, Wharton doesn’t need to do this. Whether it is philanthropy, a profiling exercise, or a nice little earner at some stage because of the huge volumes involved, this does not affect core business. The exclusive on campus MBA degree will still cost in the region of USD200k and anyone completing the freebie online would not get any advance standing into the on campus program even if you pay the USD49 per course for a Verified Certificate.

But this is where it gets interesting. Around 700,000 students in 173 countries have already enrolled in Wharton MOOCs which, staggeringly, is more than the combined enrolment in Wharton’s traditional MBA and undergraduate programs since the school’s founding in 1881! Now if, hypothetically speaking, you were a second or third tier business school struggling for student numbers, is there a possibility you might be tempted to give credit for Wharton MBA courses if they were accompanied by a Verified Certificate? The courses are from Wharton after all.

On the other hand, if you hold firm and only grant credit for courses completed via the traditional means, can you be confident that your $2500 ‘Introduction to Marketing’ course delivered by Dr Joe Blow will carry more weight in the market place that the $50 ‘Introduction to Marketing’ course offered by Prof Big Shot from Wharton?

Three months ago, I blogged about how business schools ought to be preparing for MOOCs, and I suggested that, in the wake of the Georgia Tech-Udacity tie-up to offer a USD7000 MSc in Computer Science, it was probably time for business schools to start preparing for a top 100 business school getting in on the act by offering an MBA for $7000. This will still happen in all likelihood, but the Wharton development adds a whole new dimension to the debate because the notion of a DIY drag-and-drop MBA may now not seem quite such an outrageous proposition.

Ultimately — whether academics like it or not — the market will decide. So, picture this caricature: the smart, hungry, entrepreneurial 30-something from Mumbai who, through edX, Coursera and Udacity, manages to pull together their own MBA curriculum using Verified Certificates (or badges) from courses from Ivy League business schools versus the slightly less bright and stodgy 30-something middle-manager from Midtown paying $30k for an unaccredited MBA. Who would you employ?