Whether it is through CORe or -in my case- a Disruptive Strategy course with Professor Clayton Christensen -architect of and the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation- it is very unlikely that you’ll encounter a learning experience as unique as the one Harvard Business School has been able to orchestrate at HBX.
Three years ago in an interview with Jeff Howe at Wired, professor Christensen stated that Higher Education was at the top of his list of industries that were soon to be in a stage of disruption crisis 
The reason? Increasing availability of ivy-caliber higher education —-> at half the price!
On the verge of disruption Harvard Business School decided to undertake its digital learning initiative: a platform that would enable them to use technology as a tool to expand on their fundamental pillar to educate leaders who would make a difference in the world while recreating the unique HBS learning experience and the worldwide practice approach to b-education : the case method!
The new operating model
In order to replicate the HBS signature experience in their online platform, careful thought was given to take advantage of the full potential that digitalisation had to offer and how it could be best implemented on this initiative.
First of all, they created a similar application process. Unlike other online courses which are either free or available -at cost- to anyone willing to pay, HBX courses are only accessible if you are granted a spot! Among the different application requirements, you have to articulate how you expect to contribute to the cohort and the course. Sounds familiar?
Once you are in, content delivery begins!
“The aspirations Harvard Business School sought to address when the case method was developed more than 100 years ago would appear to be just as strong in their new online reincarnation” Emma Simmons 
If you ask me, this is where they really got it right! One of the main challenges to replicate the class discussion was overcoming the asynchronicity inherent to the online learning model… so they developed content that -although self paced- had a particular set of characteristics:
1. Content is available at specific set dates, not all at once. It includes videos, interactive graphs and exercises. All video content, of course, delivered by HBS faculty.
2. You cannot advance in a module until you go through all the content. How do they make sure that you do? you guessed it !! COLD CALLS, polls and trigger questions spread throughout every module, which are available for all the Cohort to read and comment. This also reinforces class participation, one of the most distinctive aspects of the HBS learning experience.
3. You do quizzes at the end of each module
… And if the uniqueness of the course structure was not convincing enough for you, lets talk about the platform itself.
The “Dashboard” was designed to enable interaction between cohort participants, enabling them to learn about their background and location as well as giving them various communication tools within the platform. It invites people to share, engage, debate and network. It is also well structured so all group assignments are completed in an interactive way.
The final touch: HBX Live !
This is the ultimate collaborative online learning setup. Yes, it requires a certain degree of synchronicity, but the more I stare at this picture the more it resembles my beloved♥ Aldrich 9 classroom. 60 people located all over the globe engaged in an active learning environment, much like what we experience here on a daily basis.
Currently, HBX live sessions take place once or twice throughout the course and only 60 people can participate at any given time. The 900+ rest of the cohort can, however, be part of the conversation via chat and live streaming.
Although HBS has accomplished great things with the digital learning initiative, there is still many ways in which they can integrate transformations into their business model.
My recommendation moving forward would be
- Trying to increase the HBX live sessions offered in the Cohorts
- Develop a hybrid model in which full time MBA students are also exposed to this online platform – not just pre MBA CORe
- Resist the idea of developing an online MBA until they can guarantee that they are delivering on every aspect that makes Harvard Business School unique.
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