Education in the Digital Age: SPOCs, and MOOCs, and VLEs! Oh, my!
Led by the demands of the rapidly evolving digital consumer (read: millennial students), the digital revolution has reached classrooms across America, from kindergarten through university. Students commonly rely on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) like Blackboard to manage their courses, and instructors have broadened their teaching approach to include social technologies with things like blogging and video assignments.
At most colleges and business schools, teaching has reached the Internet with MOOCs (massive online open courses), which allow professors to reach millions of virtual students worldwide (and free of charge) through engaging, multimedia platforms like edX and Coursera. UNC even offers a fully online MBA program and Cornell opened a campus in NYC offering a 1-year technology-focused MBA … but where does that leave HBS? With a stronghold on the #1 ranking for top business school, a brand legacy dating back 100 years, and a pedagogical approach that is the antithesis of “online”, it’s hard to imagine why the school would invest in digital. Yet, though many of us may not experience it currently, we have, in our own unique HBS way, begun to broach the space in recent years. Let’s understand how first, and later, why.
HBX: the HBS pedagogy goes digital
In June 2014 HBS launched CORe, “a digital reimagining of Harvard Business School faculty’s thinking, philosophy of learning, and approach to business education.” Rather than going for the industry-standard MOOC or online MBA program, HBX, as the new digital HBS department is called, pioneered SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses), delivered on its internally-developed, proprietary MOOC-like digital platform. CORe offers rigorous online courses offered to a brand-new market: a pre-MBA audience, eager to learn the fundamentals of management. Like the physical HBS classroom, teaching is case-based and participant-centered, enabled by online technology developed to promote discussion, questioning/commenting, interactive exercises, peer-to-peer information sharing, and even cold calling. HBS offers CORe throughout the year to individual and company cohorts, and as a requirement for incoming MBA students, for a tuition of $1,800 with 50,000+ now having completed the program.
Meanwhile, HBX has also been developing a synchronous digital classroom called HBX Live. In the HBX Live classroom (example video here), ~60 students sign in using videoconferencing technology and are projected onto life-size screens in front of an HBS faculty member, with whom they interact as they would if in-person. The classroom is enabled by a full production crew, including mobile camera operators able to track the movement of the professor, and a quasi-television-studio-team who manage feeds and the online platform on the backend. This groundbreaking initiative, though still young and not monetized, offers huge untapped potential for creating new opportunities for enhancing the learning experience across educational programs at HBS and beyond.
Next Steps: Advice for Dean Nitin Nohria
It is no surprise to me that HBS has built a digital model that is disconnected from what goes on in the traditional classroom. For those of us in the business of digital transformation, it is commonly known to keep your core business intact while inspiring innovation within the edges of your company. By looking at peripheral projects for innovation, you identify net-new products/services or customer segments that align with, rather than combat with, disruptive trends in your industry. Instead of compromising their traditional MBA and Executive Education revenue streams, they’ve built a competitive advantage by being fundamentally different in the online education space, and therefore captured new revenue. Great! But given the rapid advancements technology will make in the next decades, this should just be the beginning for HBS. By responding to a few Dean Nohria quotes, I’ll offer my opinion on what HBX might want to do next.
Dean Nohria quote:
“I can’t – and won’t – predict what HBX might look like in the future.”
“I do not believe our M.B.A. program is at risk.”
Well, Professor Clayton Christensen (Disruptive Innovation Expert) expects half of the United States’ universities could face bankruptcy within 15 years due to digital innovation… As fellow incumbent MBA programs lead disruption in the space, HBS needs to continue to diversify its large legacy business models and identify new streams of revenue to stay viable long-term:
- We’ve developed what might be the future of the classroom. I would trademark, package and sell our SPOC proprietary platform as a digital B2B education platform for other schools and universities- before others do it better (Sloan and GSB are already experimenting with similar technology).
- As shown in the revenue section in the appendix below, global, digital and ExecEd is where the big money is for HBS. I would build out HBX Live as an international Executive Education curriculum and alternative to the current in-person-based program. This has the capacity to easily double our revenue streams.
- As MOOCs take the nation by storm (two-thirds of top academic institutions offer online courses today), I would offer a wider array of SPOCs by expanding the CORe platform to current students and non-HBS-students alike. This will make for a strong (inter)national brand play, keep us competitive in the market, and potentially prevent the Coursera’s of the world from poaching HBS faculty or even students. More in Appendix B below.
Appendix A: How HBS makes money
Harvard Business School’s biggest source of revenue (31%) is our publishing business. We sold 12 million cases last year, with our next competitor (Darden) selling 700,000. Within HBP (Harvard Business Publishing), ongoing digital and eLearning product sales were up 11% year-over-year and international revenues grew 13%, making up 34% total HBP revenues. Our Executive Education program accounts for 26% of revenues. With 10,000 executives enrolling in $14,000-a-week courses each year, ExecEd sees much greater profits than the MBA program (18%). HBS could not exist without the publishing and ExecEd businesses, and these businesses would have no validity without HBS brand ambassadors (us) entering the workplace every year.
Appendix B: Other HBS angles not explored
- Ratings falling if we cannot keep up with digital consumer (student) demand and expectations:
- other MBA programs offering time-flexible online courses
- students will demand digital tool integration in the classroom (to feel better prepared to leverage technology effectively in the workplace, and because they will grow up with, and remain reliant upon, them more and more)
- demand of non-case-based curriculum augmentation (more efficient way of learning business-necessary technical material such as finance, accounting and statistics)
- Inability to turn a profit and support students and faculty operations in a digital world
- online is easily scalable and comes with much lower variable costs, and in some cases, lower fixed costs as well
- lack of sustainability of current mass-printing practices
Sources cited throughout:
- “Assessing the Digital Transformation of Business Schools” by Courtney Hunt, January 2015: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/assessing-digital-transformation-business-schools
- “Case teaching online: Harvard Business School’s first year” by Emma Simmons, October 2016: http://www.thecasecentre.org/educators/casemethod/resources/features/hbxlive
- World Economic Forum White Paper Digital Transformation of Industries: In collaboration with Accenture, Digital Enterprise, January 2016.
- The future of higher education: How technology will shape learning. A report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by the New Media Consortium, 2008.
- “Why the education sector is ripe for digital disruption” by Rob Buckley, January 2015: http://www.i-cio.com/management/insight/item/why-education-sector-is-ripe-for-digital-disruption
- “Is the MBA Case Method Passé?” by Ronald Yeaple, July 2012: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ronaldyeaple/2012/07/09/is-the-mba-case-method-passe/#d22b33c31459
- “Business School, Disrupted” by Jerry Useem, May 2014: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/business/business-school-disrupted.html
- HBS Annual Report 2014: http://www.hbs.edu/about/annualreport/2014/Documents/HBS-Annual-2014.pdf
- “What Business Schools Don’t Get About MOOCs” by Pankaj Ghemawat, August 2014: https://hbr.org/2014/08/what-business-schools-dont-get-about-moocs
- “The Industries That Are Being Disrupted the Most by Digital” by Rhys Grossman, March 2016: https://hbr.org/2016/03/the-industries-that-are-being-disrupted-the-most-by-digital
- “Harvard Business School Has the Market Cornered on Case Studies” by Francesca Levy, April 2015: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-09/harvard-s-case-study-monopoly
- “I’m taking a 5-year leave of absence from Harvard Business School — here’s what I hope changes before I get back” by Ellen Chisa, December 2015: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-im-taking-a-leave-from-harvard-business-school-2015-12
- “Is Small Beautiful? Online education looks beyond the MOOC” By Stephanie Garlock, August 2015: http://harvardmagazine.com/2015/07/is-small-beautiful
- “Harvard Measures Its MOOCs” by Justin Reich, June 2014: http://harvardmagazine.com/2014/05/harvard-measures-its-moocs
- “Two Years at HBS: A Harvard Business School MBA Student’s Blog”: http://2y-hbs.com/hbs-as-a-business/