MOOCs – First steps towards a digital education revolution?
Over the last few years, digitization has been transforming education with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) making educational content widely available to anyone with an internet connection.
It is estimated that currently 4000+ MOOCs are offered by 500+ global universities and that last year ~35 million students signed up for at least one of them. However, the quality of the MOOC experiences (available on Coursera, Udacity, edX etc.) has been constantly questioned as class sizes are in thousands and students receive minimal personal interaction from the academicians. Furthermore, it is estimated that the average completion rate for MOOCs is less than 7 per cent.
HBX – A Disruptive and Transformational Initiative
In June 2014, HBS launched the digital HBX Initiative, starting with the CORe offering (three courses — Economics for Managers, Business Analytics, and Financial Accounting). Initially intended as a pre-MBA package for incoming students without a business background, during the development phase the team realized that CORe could potentially be further monetized by expanding the target audience to young professionals looking to progress their business careers.
The 11-week online CORe program (currently priced at USD 1800) imparts knowledge on essential business fundamentals through short 3 – 5 minute case based videos. Videos are immediately followed by questions that mimic the HBS “cold call” method. Currently acceptance to the CORe program is through a selective application process meant to build a cohort of ~400 students. Students create profiles on the platform and actively engage with peers on discussion boards. Greater than 85% course completion rate has been observed with the cohorts and candidates receive a hard copy certificate with grades on passing. While a certificate of completion gained from a class on Coursera wasn’t seen as extremely valuable, candidates of the HBX program are reporting that hiring managers seem a lot more curious and impressed to learn about the HBX Certificate.
HBX Live – Class, Show or Both?
For years, colleges and universities have been trying to model the high tech classrooms of the future. But no one has undertaken either the expense or the ambition to uniquely recreate a classroom to teach 50+ people in real time, with no lag in voice or image, no matter where they are located in the world—and to do it with the same spirit and energy as seen in an animated case discussion. That is, no one until Harvard Business School.
After three full years of planning and building a unique virtual space, in August 2015, HBS launched HBX Live – a virtual classroom designed to reproduce the intimacy and synchronous interaction of Harvard Business School’s famed case study method.
The HBX Live studio is a custom-designed studio, featuring a high-resolution video wall mimicking the amphitheater-style seating of an HBS classroom, where up to 60 participants are displayed on individual screens simultaneously. But achieving this goal has been complex – during the development phase, most technology experts felt that the futuristic classroom design could support a maximum of 15-20 people. A significant initial challenge was latency, the typical delay built into audio and video that is streamed over the Internet. Constant pushbacks to inadequate solutions led to continuous product innovation. Ultimately high quality video and audio feeds, digital black boards, e-polling and real time chat features has enabled candidates to immerse themselves into an ‘HBS like’ case learning experience. To enable access to such a learning environment despite the physical distances between candidates and challenges of internet technologies is a game changer for the digital delivery of business education.
Having personally experienced both the HBX Core and Live platforms, I firmly believe these are revolutionary and disruptive offerings, years ahead of anything on the market. Although still in a nascent stage, one thing is clear – HBS has the strongest of launch pads to work from and just needs to decide when and to what extend it would like to scale up these digital offerings to change the market dynamics for top quality business education. Going forward I would like to see HBS taking the following initiatives:
- Scale up their business model by setting up additional virtual classrooms. HBX Live can be further monetized by engaging with corporates and other global business schools wanting to expose their top candidates to the HBS learning experience.
- Launch an entire portfolio of executive education offerings, or even an accelerated online MBA that would not compete with its more expansive, two-year, full-time residential program.
- HBS can even use the HBX Live environment to bring together and engage leading business leaders on key global issues. This will serve as a rich learning experience for an HBS audience (academicians, students and alumni) as the school strives towards its vision of educating leaders that make a difference in the world.