Not Just Another MOOC: Wharton’s Specialization in Business Foundations

When massive open online courses first appeared in 2011, many saw it as a monumental game changer in traditional higher education by expanding access and reducing costs. “The hope was that MOOCs — classes from elite universities, most of them free, and in some cases enrolling hundreds of thousands of students each — would make it possible for anyone to acquire an education, from a villager in Turkey to a college dropout in the United States.”


From the “peak of inflated expectations” to the “trough of disillusionment”


Since the height of expectation in 2012, MOOCs have not lived up to its promise of disruption on higher education:

  1. The average student is not someone from a village with no access to higher education but a young white American man with a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job
  2. The basic MOOC is a great thing for the motivated and bright top 5% of the student body but not a great thing for the bottom 95%
  3. Majority of the students do not complete the free online course because they have nothing to lose

In February 2015, the Wharton School issued a press release on its new Specialization in Business Foundations through Coursera. A few days later, Wharton brings real business engagement to the world of Moocs” appeared in the Financial Times.

This latest MOOC will contain four edited versions of Wharton courses that will cover essential business topics (Marketing, Accounting, Operations, and Corporate Finance) plus a capstone project with either Snapdeal, the New Delhi based online marketplace, or Shazam, the music app. Students who complete the challenge, “which involves dealing with a real problem faced by one of the companies, will receive verified certification from Coursera.” By bringing the four courses and the capstone project together in one certified specialization, Wharton will be able to charge individual students for the first time at a cost of $595.

“To make the MOOC model sustainable, you have to cover your costs. Paying a fee also motivates students to complete the program. When learners have skin in the game, they are more committed to it. “ – Geoffrey Garrett

Wharton also plans to add the following incentive – top performing MOOC students will be invited to apply to the Wharton School. Those who apply will have their MBA application fee waived and those who successfully complete the regular MBA admissions process, up to 5 applicants will be awarded scholarship.

Learn more about the Specialization in Business Foundations from Dean Geoffrey Garrett:

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One Response to Not Just Another MOOC: Wharton’s Specialization in Business Foundations

  1. sydhavely says:

    Great post, Helen. What are your thoughts about it, your own opinion of the Wharton initiative and Coursera in general? Does the “skin in the game” argument hold water?

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