Studying Business Online? Your Credential Options

If you’re looking for affordable business education and credentials to show your skills, you may want to consider these options.

First published May 17, 2015. Last updated  November 10, 2016. This post contains affiliate links.

 

I first published a version of this post just after the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released their entire MBA program through Coursera and announced that you could earn a bona fide MBA degree from them via MOOC. Students would still need to go through the regular admissions process and be accepted to the business school, and they would pay $20,000 for verified certificates and other fees, but this was (and remains) the first full MBA available 100% through MOOCs.

Since then, we’ve continued to see a proliferation of new business credentials that you can earn through online study, ranging from certificates for single courses to U-IL’s iMBA, with a lot of new options in between. While most of these credentials don’t enjoy the same level of recognition as a full-scale MBA, there is reason to believe that some form of credentialing could be valuable in the job search. And at a price many thousands of dollars less than a traditional MBA, the cost-to-value of these new credentials has the potential to be quite high.

Here is a rundown of the current options for both degree and non-degree credentials when studying business online, in ascending order of cost.  

The Smartly MBA

Cost: $0  

One of the newest and potentially most disruptive credentials out there is the Smartly MBA. This highly selective program admits just a few top performers (as demonstrated by prior work and educational experience) to earn an accelerated MBA in just 4 months. Content is delivered through an interactive app. While this is not a MOOC-based option, some of Smartly’s content is available to the public. Which is a good thing because only a small portion of those who are excited about Smartly’s free (though as yet non accredited) degree program will actually make it through the admissions process.

 

Coursera Specializations

Cost: $200 - $600

When I first published this post, Coursera’s Specializations were new, and there weren’t very many of them. Now, you can find dozens of multi-course series on Coursera, typically consisting of 4-6 courses and a capstone project. The topics have gotten more specialized as well, including not just general business subjects such as financial management and entrepreneurship but also niche topics such as construction management and culture-driven team building.

Become a Web Developer in 2016 with Coursera

Coursera has also recently introduced a new subscription-based payment model (something I suggested a while back, though at a higher price than I proposed) for certain Specializations, with fees ranging from $39 to $89 per month. This might make some courses cheaper, though if you tend to procrastinate it could also make them more expensive.  While the value of Specializations in the job market is still relatively unknown, recruiters do report that they are seeing MOOCs on candidates’ resumes and that they generally view them positively.

This might make some courses cheaper, though if you tend to procrastinate it could also make them more expensive.

edX MicroMasters

Cost: $600 - $1700

The newest credential on the block is the MicroMasters, offered through the edX MOOC platform. As its name suggests, a MicroMasters involves master’s level coursework, but in a shorter, more condensed program. The first MicroMasters was created by MIT in the field of Supply Chain Management. The new crop of MicroMasters includes programs in Project Management, International Business Management, and User Experience Design, as well as non-business fields. The big advantage of the MicroMasters is that they shares a direct linkage with traditional master’s programs, allowing students who choose to do so to enter directly into a degree-granting program, with their MOOC coursework counting for credit towards the overall degree. Overall, the value to cost of a MicroMasters makes it a very promising option.

 

HBX CORe

Cost: $1950 - $3600

Harvard Business School’s Certificate of Readiness (CORe) is an interesting one. Harvard being Harvard, the business school has created its own platform, HBX, through which to deliver a small set of business courses. CORe is a sort of mini-MBA, covering just the foundations of an MBA program, designed for people with no previous business background. The big advantage of this program is the Harvard name.

There are a few attractive features of CORe. First, having a credential from Harvard, even if it isn’t a full degree, is bound to be worth something. If you can get the Harvard brand name onto your resume for $2000, even when other more affordable options are available (such as the Wharton Business Foundations Specialization), it might well be worth the price. Second, the HBX is more interactive than many of the MOOC platforms. It still operates on cohorts, and it has an admissions process. Admitted students are invested in the program and the level of engagement is high, which translates to added networking benefits. Finally, HBX also offers an option to take CORe for credit. The price of the for-credit option is double, at $3600, but it could be a good option if you’re planning to do a full-scale MBA in the future.

Professional certifications

Cost: in the range of $2,000 - $5,000

Many professional business certifications are available online, most of them offered through professional associations. Organizations like the Project Management Institute, the Institute of Management Accountants, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, and many others all offer professional certifications.  The advantages of these professional certifications is that they are very specific, and many are very well-recognized within their industries. The disadvantages are that you typically need to already be a practicing professional in order to reap the benefits of the certification, or even to become certified. Being so specific, these narrow credentials aren’t as versatile as an MBA, but within their respective industries they can be just as valuable.

Accredited degrees from low-cost online universities

Cost: $10,000 - $15,000*

*(varies significantly depending on how long you take to finish and how much credit you transfer in)

Several online-only universities offer low-cost MBA programs targeted towards working professionals. These include Western Governors, Capella University, and Excelsior College. All of these institutions allow students to study online at their own pace. Western Governors is a competency-based program, meaning that degrees are conferred based on the completion of projects. The advantages of these programs are the flexibility, the cost, and the fact that you can earn an accredited degree. The disadvantages are that if you take longer than expected to finish, you may end up paying more. And even though the degrees are accredited, the reputations of these schools aren’t as strong as, say, the University of Illinois.

 

Coursera Business Vertical

University of Illinois’s iMBA

Cost: $20,000

As mentioned above, the University of Illinois is the first business school to offer a degree based on MOOC coursework. The big advantages of this program are the significant savings over other online programs, the flexibility of the program, and the reputability of the final degree. Downsides? $20,000 is still a lot of money, you’ll have to go through the admissions process and be accepted to the program, and you might still be missing out on some of the in-person benefits of an MBA. Still, if you need the degree and can afford the tuition, this is a great option.  

 

Online MBAs

Cost: $60,000 to $100,000

Most of us are familiar with online MBA programs. Many universities offer online MBAs. The advantage of these programs is that they are just as well-recognized in the job market as brick-and-mortar MBAs. The downside is that the cost is equivalent – and sometimes greater – than what you would spend on a traditional, on-campus MBA program.  

5 Strategies to Advance Your Career With MOOCs

Online courses can help you get ahead, if you’re smart about how you use them.

This article originally appeared on the blog of the MOOC platform edX

 

It’s official. Your MOOC coursework can improve your career. Last year, the Harvard Business Review reported on a survey of MOOC learners. Over 30% of those surveyed had experienced tangible career improvement as a result of their coursework, with 26% reporting that they had gotten a new job as a result of studying by MOOC. Others reported promotions, pay increases, and starting their own businesses.  A whopping 85% of respondents said that they had experienced some kind of career benefit from having taken one or more MOOCs.

I’m not surprised by these results, as I am among both those who have been promoted and those who have started a business as a result of a MOOC education. I’m also the facilitator of a community of independent business students and have worked with a number of professionals who have used MOOCs for career advancement. I’ve also spoken with recruiters, who are increasingly seeing MOOCs on candidates’ resumes. Based on these conversations and experiences, here are five strategies for using your MOOC education to get ahead.

Five Strategies for Turning a MOOC Education for Career Advancement

 

Strategy #1: Develop skills and savvy across a range of subjects.

MOOCs are an excellent way to develop a wide range of skills and knowledge that may come in handy on the job. For students and early-career learners in particular, MOOCs are a good way to explore new areas while you’re figuring out how your career will take shape. This strategy is particularly useful if you are interested in working in a startup, on a small team, or in a small company where a broad range of skills may be required.

One exceptional learner, Joris Schut, took over 140 MOOCs over a two-year period, while simultaneously studying as a full-time master’s student. Joris formally studied Educational Science and Technology as well as Information and Library Science (he holds a master’s degree in each) and used MOOCs to supplement his education with topics like business strategy and R coding.  After finishing his studies, Joris landed a job in a small design unit within Capgemini, a large IT/consulting firm in the Netherlands. He describes the work in his unit as “like running a startup inside a big organization.” As in any startup, versatility is required. “I can do strategy in the morning, chase down project managers at lunch, and code in R to automate sales reporting in the afternoon. A lot of what I learned through MOOCs, I apply here,” he says.

 

Strategy #2: Build and signal targeted skills.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a MOOC education can be an excellent  way to learn and demonstrate targeted skills. The recruiters I’ve spoken with are most positive about the resume-boosting benefits of skill-based courses. Learn to do data analysis in Hadoop, become an Excel whiz, or study supply chain logistics. Earn a certificate and build a portfolio of work to highlight on your resume, and this strategy just might make the difference between you and another candidate.

“Listing the course made the difference between her and other candidates. She got the job.”

Roberto Hernandez, founder of the recruiting agency Stffng, Inc., says that MOOC coursework is especially valuable when it builds concrete skills. For example, he tells of a candidate applying for a Sales Manager position whose resume included an online course on a particular software, which the employer relied upon heavily. “Listing the course made the difference between her and other candidates,” Hernandez says. “She got the job.” edX student Akshay Kulkarny employed the same strategy, using edX courses to build skills in Python programming and SaaS. His self-directed learning ultimately landed him a job at Microsoft. 

 

Strategy #3: Accelerate along your current track.

 

 

These days, good career management requires continual learning and development. MOOCs not only keep your skills and knowledge fresh, they may also help you move up more quickly. Many MOOC students say that their coursework has boosted their confidence at work. That confidence can translate into new opportunities and may ultimately lead to promotion.

While it may be hard to quantify, I know this strategy works since it’s the one I used to score a promotion within my current organization in the field of international development. My MOOC coursework on business strategy, entrepreneurship, and finance helped me see increased scope to engage with private sector businesses interested in poverty reduction. I became a better representative of my organization was able to raise our profile with potential partners. My work ultimately earned me a promotion and a sizable raise. To get started with this strategy, simply search for courses related to your field and sign up for one or two that look interesting. With just a couple of MOOCs under your belt, you may be surprised by the opportunities you start to see.

Strategy #4: Learn the language of a new industry to prepare for a lateral move.

 

 

If you have significant industry experience and have long occupied a certain kind of role, a MOOC education can help you take that experience into a similar role in a different industry. For example, let’s say your functional expertise is in communications. You’d like to make a move from the corporate world to the nonprofit sector. MOOCs on environmental issues, business ethics, sustainability, and global poverty can help you better understand the issues and terminology you will encounter and help you make that shift.

One learner I work with is a physician who is orchestrating a move from clinical care to product development in a fast-growing healthcare startup. Courses in entrepreneurship and human-centered design taught him the language and worldview of startups. In job interviews, he has wowed interviewers with his unique combination of medical expertise and business acumen. He now has his pick of positions with several of the hottest startups in the industry.

Strategy #5: Build experience outside your current role, a.k.a. Job Jiu-Jitsu

 

While all the recruiters I’ve talked with express a positive attitude towards MOOCs, multiple have commented that work experience is best. Direct experience performing tasks that are similar to what will be expected in a future position, they say, is far more valuable than even a traditional university degree. If you’d like to orchestrate a big move in the mid- to long-term future, a MOOC education can help you with a strategic play that I like to call “Job Jiu-Jitsu.”

Here’s how Job Jiu-Jitsu works:  Start by talking with your supervisor about your interest in taking on projects outside of your regular role. Explain that you are taking courses that have prepared you to do new kinds of work. Next, be on the lookout for projects that use your new skills, and volunteer when they come up. (Note that you can also take on special projects on a volunteer basis, outside of your place of employment.) Then, do an incredible job on the new work, making sure to produce outcomes that you can discuss in future job interviews. Finally, when you’re ready to make your move, highlight your work experience on your resume. You can choose to mention your MOOC coursework or not; your achievements are what matter most.

Whether you’re exploring your options, seeking targeted skills, or planning for a career transition, at least one of these strategies is likely to help you get ahead. Be sure to comment below if you’ve already seen career benefits from using one of these techniques!

6 Ways to Boost Your Productivity While Studying Business

I am not a tech person. I do not have the mind of an engineer. I spent my childhood reading library books and pretending to be a ballerina, not taking apart electronic gadgets or building Lego towers. At one point, just before starting graduate school, I remember consciously considering what it would be like to get off the technology train and just stick with what I knew. That was in 2006.

When I started graduate school, I was decidedly tech phobic. I was studying geography, and one of the requirements of my master’s program was two semesters of geographic information systems, GIS. At that time, GIS software was quite technical, requiring knowledge of SQL, database logic, and an ability to enter terms exactly into a command bar in order to produce a result. I was terrified.

But then something remarkable happened. I took my first semester of GIS, and I actually liked it. It was a grind, the software was clunky, and it could take hours to produce single decent map, but when it worked it was amazing. Even more important than making maps, GIS helped me conquer my fear of adopting new technology.

Which is a good thing because over the next several years I got a Gmail account, joined Facebook, created my first blog, and started using cloud storage. Let’s just say it was the right decision not to drop out of technology in 2006.

One of my early maps using GIS

The thing is, these days, technology is not an option. We are all required to be tech people, at least on some level. Just for a second, allow me to channel my husband and think like an economist. If you’re studying business or planning to do so, you are trying to increase your productivity as a worker. Ultimately, increasing your productivity - the value you are able to produce in a given amount of time - is what drives your ability to command a higher salary. Productivity is a function of your skills, knowledge, and abilities in combination with the technology you are able to use.

The second half of that equation - technology - is not to be overlooked. I am not talking about your ability to create new technologies as a programmer or engineer. That is a different skill set - and a highly valuable one indeed. But no matter what your profession, and even for those of us who are much more poet than quant (myself very much included), there is absolutely no excuse for not becoming proficient at using ordinary workplace technologies.

 

A few words of encouragement for the technologically challenged or out of date. First, technologies have gotten a lot easier to use. Second, some of the simplest things you can do to improve your productivity are also the most impactful - like increasing your typing speed. Third, there are a TON of resources out there to help you.

The main purpose of this site is to help you get a graduate-level business education using the resources of the internet. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are the bread and butter of that undertaking. But university MOOCs don’t tend to focus much on concrete skills like making PowerPoint presentations or managing your email inbox, vital skills that you should absolutely master during your time as a business learner. Fortunately there are now plenty of ways to teach yourself new technologies, using tutorials within the programs, with YouTube videos, or with short courses on platforms like Lynda or Udemy. Throughout the rest of this article whenever I mention a technology or give a tip, I will link to an online course if there is one I know of. (FYI, some of these are affiliate links, which means I stand to earn a small commission if you make a purchase. As always, I only link to material that I think you will find useful in your business education.)

Without further ado, for anyone who is studying or considering studying business on their own, here are 6 pieces of advice on how to get up to speed, boost your productivity, and set yourself up for your technology future.

 

6 Ways to Become More Productive While Studying Business

 

1. Become a faster typist.

 

It sounds simple, but one of the best things you can do to improve your productivity is to become a faster typist. Most jobs today require that you engage in some form of written communication, most commonly email. If you can increase your typing speed, you can dramatically increase your overall email throughput, and that can add up to hours over the year.

The average person types about 36 words per minute. Imagine you respond to 25 emails per day, averaging 200 words per email. If you could increase your typing speed from 36 words per minute to 90 words per minute (which is fast but attainable), you could save yourself over 300 hours per year. That’s almost 8 full work weeks! Here is one of several websites where you can test your typing speed.

2. Manage your email like a pro.

 

I am somewhat of an email fanatic. I have three email addresses - one for my day job, one for No-Pay MBA, and one personal account. I can’t stand letting my email build up. Which is why all three of my inboxes usually look like this.

You don’t have to hit inbox zero every day, but trust me, you will feel so much better if you can figure out a way to keep your inbox to less than a page. Because I feel so strongly about this, I have started helping friends, family, and colleagues to make a fresh start using a process I call Inbox Therapy.

If you’re interested, here is my process for Inbox Therapy:

  • First, go through just your first 1-2 pages of emails and move all of those that you still need to deal with in some way to a folder called ‘Important’ or ‘To do’
  • Next, archive all your other emails. Seriously. All of them.
  • You may then move those emails from ‘Important’ or ‘To do’ back into your inbox
  • Going forward, deal with all incoming emails immediately in one of four ways - delete it (or archive it), file it, respond to it (if responding will take less than 2 minutes), or keep it in your inbox for later. (But don’t let the save for later list grow to longer than 10 at the end of the week!)

If you’d like a more in-depth treatment of email management, I suggest this course on keeping your inbox to a minimum.

3. Get good at online coordination.

 

Whether your team is scattered across the globe or in cubicles on the same floor, much office coordination now happens online. The ability to manage shared documents, calendar invites, video conferencing, and other coordination software is key in the modern workplace. It’s also something that we stress quite heavily in the No-Pay MBA Network, given that we have members from San Francisco to Singapore.

Below are some of the tools we use to stay organized. If you are ever planning to change jobs again, I recommend learning all of these, even if your current organization doesn’t use them. All of these technologies are widely used by businesses of all sizes, and are completely free or have a free version, so there is no excuse for not learning the basics.

Slack. The best messaging app around. Allows conversations to be organized into “channels,” which group members can opt into or out of. Integrates with everything. Gini Courter, who has taught workplace software classes for 20 years, offers this primer on Slack through the Lynda platform.

Trello. A visual project management tool that lets you put tasks onto “cards” and then move them through a workflow (e.g. to do, doing, to review, completed). Commonly used in software development, Trello has migrated to other industries. I like this beginner course on Trello, which explores some of its more commonly used features.

Zoom. I searched high and low for an affordable video conferencing program that would let larger groups participate with both audio and video. Zoom is by far the best in the biz. Functionality out the wazoo. Video conferencing is social, though, which means that you can’t just pick your favorite and only use that. What happens when someone invites you to a meeting using another technology? Coming out of a business education you should be capable of using Skype, Google Hangout, Go-To Meeting, Join.me, FaceTime or any other video conferencing program that comes your way. This is key not just for team coordination, but also for job interviews, sales calls, and networking. (But if you ever end up in a meeting that I’m hosting, be prepared to use Zoom.)

Google Calendar. Calendar invites are another small signal of your professionalism. I love Google Calendar for its ability to deal with multiple time zones - and the fact that it is free. Productivity and technology expert Jess Stratton teaches a short course on Google Calendar on the Lynda platform, which is a great place to get started.

Google Drive. I don’t mean to come across as a Google evangelist, but the suite of tools housed within Google Drive is incredible. With this free program, available to anyone with a Google account, you can create shareable documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, and surveys. Being able to share and edit documents in real time is critical to collaboration on team projects. While there are other platforms for document sharing and collaborative editing, Google Drive is ubiquitous and free. If you ever expect to be on the job market again, you should know how to use it. Jess Stratton also offers a beginner course on Google Drive, giving you exactly what you need to start using this powerful tool.  

4. Learn some basic design skills.

 

“Content is king,” Bill Gates declared in 1996. Those words were prophetic indeed. We have become gluttons for content, gobbling up YouTube videos, Medium articles, and BuzzFeed posts, always hungry for more. Even if it isn’t the organization’s core business, almost every organization, whether for-profit, nonprofit, or governmental, is in the business of creating content.

Individual workers, too, must create content from time to time. From the slide presentation you deliver to your extended team to drafting an email newsletter, most jobs require some ability to organize and present information visually.  

But where do you start, if like me, you are graphic-design challenged? Luckily, you don’t have to learn Photoshop in order to make decent-looking visual communication products.

If you’re frustrated with Power Point, the web-based presentation program Prezi is a great alternative, allowing you to create dynamic, visually compelling presentations that capture the big picture. This course on Lynda is a good place to get started learning Prezi.

If you’re creating images for web or print, Canva is an excellent, easy-to-use, free program, also with a nice Lynda course to help you get started.

5. Employ robots to do routine tasks. (Optional)

This one I’m throwing in just for you personal productivity whizzes who are looking for a new way to up your game. A few newer apps like Zapier and If This Then That (IFTTT) allow you to sync up web applications to create automated tasks flows. For example, you can automatically save Gmail attachments to Dropbox. Or automatically create a Trello card each week for a recurring responsibility.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 12.09.54 PM

If you don’t do many routine tasks, you may not have an immediate use in mind for this kind of application. However, I am convinced that going forward the most productive people will be using automated workflows to do more and more of their routine work. Zapier is my favorite of the automation apps I’ve tried. I have several “zaps,” as they’re called, going at any given time. Udemy has a good starter course on Zapier if you’re interested in giving it a try.

6. DON’T STAGNATE.

This last item is more a rule than a tip. The point is that it’s not enough to master the list of popular productivity technologies of today. Rather, it is incumbent upon you to continually update your personal operating system. If you don’t, you send a not-so-subtle signal to your colleagues that you are out of date, that your skills have gotten dull. While your mind may be as sharp as ever, by ignoring or failing to learn new technologies you diminish your professionalism. Your goal is to become nimble enough with technology to continue to pick up the latest technologies throughout your career.

If you are in danger of sliding out of date, here are some habits you may want to adopt:

  • Try out one new app per month. This article on the best new apps for iPhone and this one for Android are good places to start.
  • Start listening to one of the many technology-focused podcasts, such as those listed here.
  • Volunteer to learn a new technology and teach it to your team at work.
  • If you have a hobby or side project or belong to any organizations, channel your enthusiasm for your passion project into learning a new technology - for example starting a blog site or creating a visual communication product with a new design software.

 

One of the best things you can do during your business education - whether self-administered or university-led - is to double down on your commitment to boosting your productivity and getting up to date on the latest technologies. That, dear readers, is my challenge to you. May you embrace it with gusto.

What Belongs In Your Business Education Portfolio

Here’s university education in a nutshell: First, the university deems me talented enough to succeed by putting me through an admissions process. Next, the university provides a series of hurdles for me to clear, primarily courses that I must complete. The courses are of varying levels of difficulty and quality, and I have a fair amount of choice over which courses I take, so my set of hurdles may be higher or lower than my classmates’, but no matter. After I complete the requirements the university has set out for me, it grants me a diploma and allows me to carry around the university’s brand name for the rest of my working life.

 

With the university’s stamp of approval, I am able to access higher quality and better paying jobs. Which is a pretty good thing because in exchange for this process, I have paid the university a pretty penny. I need a high-paying job in order to be able to pay off my students loans.

 

But what if higher education didn’t actually work like this at all? What if education were actually a transformation that occurred inside of the learner’s mind? What if professors were neither task masters nor the arbiters of my success but were rather guides in a process of transformation that I, the student,  was ultimately in charge of? What if I could learn not just in the classroom but also in the real world? And what if everything I learned, no matter where I picked it up, could “count”?   It sounds lovely, but of course there is a problem with this method of learning. Who will be there to attest to the change the learner has gone through?  

 

In other words, if you direct your own education, how will future employers know that you’re qualified to hire?

 

This, of course, is exactly the situation at hand.

The credential problem

 

When I started the No-Pay MBA project, I set out to complete the equivalent of a two-year MBA program in three years of part-time study. I have used MOOCs and other free and low-cost online resources to complete this education. I based my course progression on the curricula of top-flight MBA programs.   Now that I am nearing the end of my program - I expect to finish in May of 2016 - I have proven (at least to myself) that I am capable of learning what is taught in business school, even if I wasn’t willing to drop a hundred-fifty grand to do it.  And I have indeed gone through an internal transformation. However, I am still left with what I have come to think of as “the credential problem.” Who will legitimize my transformation so that I can take it into the job market and be paid for it?

 

Ultimately, I would like for my business studies - and yours - to provide a direct pathway to increased employment prospects. But new survey data from the Graduate Management Admissions Council shows that we still have a ways to go toward that goal. Currently only 8% of recruiters in the US see MOOCs as a viable alternative to business school (other regions view MOOCs more favorably).   I’ve thought about various solutions to this problem. Would a university grant me ‘credit’ for the courses I’ve taken? How much would they charge to do it? Would I be willing to pay $5,000 for that service? $10,000? Would I be willing to trade in my No-Pay MBA for a degree from a lower-tier university? Or would I hold out for a degree from a mid- or top-tier school? It seemed unlikely that the better business schools would go in for a scheme like this, and I wasn’t sure I was willing to pay even a modest sum for a lower-tier degree. I even thought briefly about creating my own credential, which I could grant to others who go through my program, but ultimately I rejected the idea. Quality control seemed much too difficult, and it seemed like a risky business overall.

The portfolio solution

 

The credential problem is not just my problem. Anyone who wants to leverage a MOOC-based education for career advancement faces the same issue.

Fortunately, there is a solution to the credential problem.

 

While MOOCs have gone on a wild roller coaster in the press, by turns hyped as the great disruptor and scoffed at as entertainment for the overeducated, a quieter revolution has been occurring in education. The serious thinkers seem to agree that the real disruptive potential rests with competency-based education, which emphasizes skills over seat-time or course completion.

Furthermore, while recruiters may be tepid towards MOOCs, fully 92% of employers say that proven ability to perform is critical to their selection of who to hire, more employers than for any other criterion.  

Hence, I would like to present the portfolio solution to the credential problem.   The portfolio solution says that you can legitimize what you’ve learned in MOOCs - or any other means - by demonstrating your competency, displaying what you can do for anyone who wants to know.  By creating a portfolio, you can provide external evidence to anyone who wants to understand your education. No third-party validation, just direct observation of what you are able to do.

Core business competencies

 

When I first released the portfolio feature on No-Pay MBA, I didn’t yet have specific guidance to give about what to put in a portfolio. Having had some time to mull it over, here is my take on what a competency-based business education might look like. (Keep in mind that this is just a first draft.)  Below is a list of the skills that I believe every business student should strive to master, along with some suggestions on how to display those skills in an educational portfolio.

Communications

 

Business professionals need to be able to express themselves in a variety of settings and through a variety of media, including oral presentations, written reports, and slide decks. You should be able to make a case for your point of view, giving a compelling argument that draws on concrete evidence. You should also be a good listener, able to understand the viewpoints of others.

Suggested portfolio pieces:

  • Recording of a talk you have given,
  • Slide deck you have produced,
  • Article or blog post expressing an opinion.

 

Strategic Analysis

 

A business professional should be able to analyze the strategic position of an organization, understand market opportunities, and assess the potential of a new project or idea. Strategy brings together many disciplines, including finance, entrepreneurship, and marketing. Effective presentation of a strategic viewpoint also requires excellent communication skills.  

Suggested portfolio pieces:

  • Strategic analysis report,
  • Business model canvas for an entrepreneurial idea.

 

Management and Leadership

 

Management and leadership are at the core of the MBA, yet they are the most difficult skills to demonstrate virtually. However, among our colleagues we all know who we want to have on our team. A business professional should be able to organize a team to produce a deliverable (project management), delegate and supervise the work of others (management), and be able to contribute to a team she is not leading (teamwork). She should also be able to conduct a negotiation on behalf of the organization she represents. One of the main functions of the No-Pay MBA Network is to provide opportunities to hone one’s management and leadership skills, including managing projects, facilitating teams, and conducting negotiations. We do this through facilitated group courses, team projects, and business simulation activities.

Suggested portfolio pieces:

 

  • Narrative feedback from those you have supervised or from a team you have facilitated (available through the No-Pay MBA Network),
  • Narrative assessment of a negotiation or feedback from a negotiation partner,
  • Feedback from team members in a business project or simulation.

Financial and Quantitative Analysis

 

Business professionals need to be able to work with numbers. They must understand the key concepts and language of finance, and should be comfortable reading and interpreting financial statements. They should be able to build financial models, value projects and companies, and make recommendations regarding investment decisions. In today’s data-rich environment, it is also helpful to be able to extract insight from large datasets.

Suggested portfolio pieces:

 

  • Financial model you have built,
  • Valuation report for a project or company,
  • Data analysis report.

 

Technology

 

While a business professional does not need to be a computer programmer, he does need to be able to use the technologies of the day. Coming out of a business program, a graduate should be comfortable with a wide variety of organization, communications, and productivity technologies. These include email, shared calendars, video-conferencing, messaging (e.g. Slack), file sharing, and project management softwares. Standard business software solutions such as spreadsheets, word processing, slide presentations, and database management should also be part of the repertoire. Above all, a business professional should be comfortable adopting and learning to use new technologies, given the rapid pace at which technology is changing and the impact technology has on all businesses.

Suggested portfolio pieces:

 

  • Links to social media profiles,
  • Implicit use of technology as demonstrated in other portfolio pieces.

What I want No-Pay MBA to be for you

 

This website has been a critical component of my business education. It has been my calling card, a facilitator of new connections, a place to share my thoughts about what I’ve learned and to display my education in a way that allows anyone in the world to judge whether I’ve been successful.   My goal for this website is to provide a portal for you to do the same. And I want it all to be free or extremely affordable, while building a sustainable business model that allows me to continue creating new and better resources.   So far, I am able to offer guidance on what to study, a way to meet the people who are critical to your business education, and a way to demonstrate mastery (now with suggestions on exactly how to do that). In the coming year, my focus will be on providing more advice on how to build a great portfolio, as well as more and better opportunities for you to put your skills into practice in a hands-on way.

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What’s the best way to put a MOOC education on your resume?

Guest post by Anna Sparks of Anna Sparks Coaching

 

Anna Sparks Photo 2015

Anna Sparks

Earning an MBA-equivalent through self-study with MOOCs says a lot about you as a job candidate. It says that you are willing to do things creatively. It says that you aren’t confined by traditional ways. It shows that you can get things done even with limited finances. It shows that you are dedicated to finishing a project. These qualities are all incredibly important to most employers in the current market.

Your No-Pay MBA should absolutely be listed under Education on your resume, but don’t stop there! I want you to let this non-traditional experience shine, highlighting it in your cover letter or in a key qualifications section at the top of your resume.

Let’s explore some strategies for showcasing your No-Pay MBA  - both on your resume and in your cover letter.

 

How to Include Your No Pay MBA on Your Resume

 

If you have not yet completed your coursework, check out these ideas for how to put a No-Pay MBA in-progress on your resume. Once you’ve completed your MOOC-based MBA, it absolutely belongs in your education section.

EDUCATION

Master’s in Business Administration (equivalent)                                        2015

Online Courses offered by University of Michigan, Wake Forest University, etc.

 

Let’s dissect this starting with the first line. It’s important to write “equivalent” because, like it or not, employers may ask for a copy of your degree and then you’ll be in a bit of a pickle. It’s also important to write what year you earned your degree (or finished your last class to complete the degree) so that it follows the same format as your other education and so that the employer understands how recently this happened.

If you have a hole in your resume, from taking time off from work for any reason, and during that time you completed all or part of your MOOC MBA, I suggest adding a date range (such as 2012 – 2015) to the end of each of your listings under education. This will show your employer that you weren’t sitting around unemployed, but you were working towards an advanced degree (or the equivalent).

The second line should list the universities where you took your classes. Try to list the universities where you took most of your classes. If it is a complete hodge-podge, name a few of the universities and then add “etc.” as I did in the example.

 

Don’t stop at the education section!

 

Because getting your MBA equivalent using MOOCs is still pretty innovative, it’s a good idea to present your MBA in another way instead of just writing it on your resume and letting your potential employer figure out what it means and if it’s important or not. Remember: it’s your job to tell them why it’s important. For those of you who are applying for jobs that require an MBA, this is going to be especially important. And, even if an MBA is not a requirement, you’ll want to take control of how the conversation goes. The best way to do that is to start the conversation yourself.

You’ve got two options here: 1) key qualifications section of your resume or 2) cover letter. Notice I said “or.” I wouldn’t mention your MBA in both spots because it would be overkill. Choose the option that works for you.

 

MOOCs on your resume

Make a good first impression in the key qualifications section

 

A key qualifications section is your best friend if you have done anything non-traditional in your career, including working in something wildly outside of your field, taking more than a year off of your career or, in your case, pursing a non-traditional education.

A key qualifications section is a short paragraph (three to four sentences) that provides an introduction to the resume. If you have one, it should be the first section on your resume (before professional experience). This section is important because it gives you a chance to control the first impression of you as a job candidate. Most employers will not read your resume bullet by bullet. By putting a short paragraph at the beginning of your resume, you give them something quick to read that nonetheless gives a full picture of who you are.

For someone who has completed a MOOC MBA, her key qualifications section may look something like this:

 

Graphic designer with ten years of experience supervising a team of twenty designers and working on logos and websites for clients such as Temple University, the Arizona State Congress, and political candidates. Independently earned a completely free MBA equivalent through strategically planning a curriculum based on Stanford University’s MBA coursework. Wide network of contacts in the greater Phoenix/Tempe region.

 

Exactly what you write in your key qualifications section will depend on your own qualifications AND (don’t forget this part) what your potential employer is looking for. In this example, I chose to highlight this candidate’s experience working in the state of Arizona. However, if the candidate has moved to California, she is wasting space by highlighting her network of contacts in Phoenix. In that case, she should look at the job announcement (or better yet, talk to her contacts that work at that employer) to see what skills she has that will be appealing to her potential employer. Then, those are the skills she should highlight in her key qualifications section in order to catch their eye.

 

Give a longer explanation in the cover letter

 

If you don’t love the idea of including your MBA in the key qualifications section of your resume, you can include it in your cover letter. This option gives you a few extra lines, which may be a plus for some people. A good cover letter should have a clear intro paragraph, three paragraphs describing accomplishments or skills that your potential employer will be interested in, and a closing.

If you choose to mention your No-Pay MBA in your cover letter, make sure to mention it in the introduction. Then dedicate one of the three body paragraphs to explaining it. The reason it is so important to mention it in the intro is because your potential employer may not read the whole cover letter, but they are pretty likely to read the first and last paragraphs. You want to make sure they get the main points of your cover letter even if they don’t read it all the way through.

An example always helps:

Dear XXX,

 

I am writing to apply for XXX position. I will be able to make a significant contribution to XX organization because XXX. My prior experience dealing with difficult donors, successful efforts raising over one million dollars in my position with the Red Cross, and my creative problem solving skills as evidenced by my non-traditional MBA will all serve the American Cancer Society well as it enters into a period of rapid growth.

 

Paragraph 1: experience dealing with difficult donors with a great example.

 

Paragraph 2: raised over one million dollars in these creative ways.

 

Paragraph 3: (And this is the one you guys are really interested in so I’ll write it out completely.)

 

While working for the Red Cross, I realized that earning an MBA would not only enhance my fundraising abilities but also give me a better insight into the field that many of our most significant individual and corporate donors worked in. Although the Red Cross doesn’t provide funding for advanced degrees and I was not in a financial position to make an investment at that time, I didn’t let that stop me. I researched the MBA program at University of Michigan and decided to complete the relevant coursework, including a thesis, using online courses through Coursera. This non-traditional approach allowed me to complete the same coursework included in a traditional MBA and proved to me that lack of funding is never a reason to give up. The skills I learned from my non-traditional MBA helped me double the Red Cross’s fundraising dollars in 2014. 

 

I look forward to talking more with you in an interview. Please feel free to contact me at XXX or XX@gmail.com.  

 

Sincerely,

 

XXX XXXX

————-

Take these ideas and run with them! Because earning an MBA exclusively through MOOCs is such a new concept, it’s up to you to blaze the trail in terms of educating employers. Give these strategies a try and let us know how it goes!

 

Anna Sparks is a global career coach who helps professionals create attention-catching resumes and prepare for successful interviews. She works with people with international experience and those who need help fitting a unique job or educational experience into their resumes. She has lived and worked in six countries in Europe, North America, Africa, and Latin America in the last fifteen years. Anna currently lives in Quito, Ecuador. Get Anna’s free guides on How to Edit Your Resume Like a Pro and how to write The Best Cover Letter in 30 Minutes or Less over on her website.

 

Women, MOOCs, and a Career Boost

woman with ideas cropped

 

Where are the women?

I’ve been taking massive open online courses and blogging on MOOC business education for over two years. In that time, I’ve followed the research on MOOCs with great interest.

One thing that I continue to find perplexing, and which comes up in all the stats on MOOCs, is that far fewer women enroll than men. It was reported last year that men were 71% of the general population of MOOC users. In computer science courses, the numbers were even more skewed, with women accounting for less than 20% of enrollment.

A few months ago, I started a business providing group learning and networking opportunities for MOOC business students, and this gender imbalance really hit home. When customers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 were men, I started to wonder what was going on. Finally some women began to sign up, but my clients are still far more likely to be male than female.

While many research papers and articles have noted the MOOC gender gap, I have not come across any that has sought to explain it. I don’t think it has to do with lack of interest in learning, and it certainly has nothing to do with ability to complete higher level coursework. In fact, on regular college campuses, women now outnumber men significantly (57% - 43%).

So I’m still scratching my head as to why fewer women than men are using MOOCs. And it’s really starting to bother me.

 

Women, MOOCs, and a career boost

As a woman who has used MOOCs for career advancement, not just to satisfy an intellectual curiosity (though MOOCs are good for that too),  I believe that MOOC education can be particularly good for women. Which is why I find it troubling that so few women are taking advantage of the opportunities for career advancement that free online learning presents.

Here is why I believe MOOCs can be a boon to women looking to get ahead in their careers.

MOOCs build confidence

When I first started my project to get an MBA-equivalent using MOOCs, I remember feeling like I was playing catch-up. Part of the reason I wanted a business education was that it felt like everyone in the world know more about business than I did. I had the sense that everyone could read a balance sheet, that everyone know what acronyms like MVP and ROI stood for, that it was just me who didn’t have a solid grasp of business vocabulary.

As was reported in The Atlantic  last year, this is an experience common to many women. The “confidence gap” leaves many women feeling like imposters at work, which in turn causes many women to shy away when it comes time to put themselves forward for promotion or other opportunities.

While men may be more likely to take risks at work, women can use MOOCs to build up their confidence before volunteering for a new assignment.Because MOOCs are so low stakes, they can prepare you to take risks in other professional or academic settings.

As I started taking business MOOCs, my confidence began to grow. I stopped feeling that I was lagging behind my colleagues in terms of my understanding of business. As I progressed in my coursework, I even began to see opportunities for my team to improve our operations based on the business concepts I was learning, and I became confident enough to propose new initiatives.

 

MOOCs allow you to try something new

The most popular MOOCs are in technical fields, such as computer science, programming, and data analysis. The gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics - the so-called STEM fields - is not unique to MOOCs. But the MOOC environment is actually the perfect place for women to try out something new. At the price of $0.00, the stakes couldn’t be lower.

Carolyn McIntyre, who now runs MoocLab.club, found a passion for coding through MOOC coursework. “Back then I had zero coding knowledge, had no idea what lay behind a web page and had never heard of the acronym MOOC,” she said. “ Now I live and breathe MOOCs and coding and I’m loving it!”

For women who have wondered if they might benefit from building a tech-based skill set, MOOCs are the perfect place to start.

MOOCs and work-life balance

The New York Times reported this year that a 24/7 work culture takes a heavy toll on women in particular. At the same time, women are more likely than men to use formal flexible working arrangements, while men are more likely to simply take the time they needed without asking for it. Perhaps a similar preference for formal agreements keeps women from exploring educational alternatives that have not yet been established as clear pathways to career advancement.

Given the fact that MOOCs are so much more flexible than traditional educational programs, they could be a huge boon to women (and men) seeking to preserve work-life balance while continuing to build skills.

For example, Nick Switzer, a medical device engineer from California, turned down the opportunity to get a formal business education at his company’s expense, opting instead for a MOOC-based business education. In large part, this decision was based on a desire to spend more time with his young children and to keep a more flexible schedule in the evenings.

Likewise, Hillary Strobel owns a media business and is taking MOOC courses to improve her knowledge of business. She finds that MOOCs allow her to work around her toddler’s schedule. Nap time guarantees her at least an hour to watch online lectures, though she may not know exactly when that hour will start. With MOOCs, that isn’t a problem.

How to get started

For women interested in exploring MOOCs as career enhancement, there are a lot of great resources to help you get started. The Washington Post published an article last week with some great tips. But the best thing to do is to simply log into one of the MOOC platforms - Coursera and edX are my favorites - and start browsing the course listings. You’re almost guaranteed to find something both piques your interest and has a direct application at work.

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