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.  

Which of the 7 Types of Business Student Are You?

Find out which type you are and get targeted recommendations on how to study.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

When I first started the No-Pay MBA website - and my quest to get a business education with free tools -  it was all about replicating the full MBA, course for course, internship for internship. I wasn’t interested in anything less than the complete MBA experience.

But in working with business students through the No-Pay MBA Network, I’ve seen people approach their business educations in a variety of different ways. While there certainly are people who can benefit from the deluxe business school curriculum, it is no longer the only approach I recommend. In fact, I’ve seen people experience career-changing benefits just from taking a single course.

Through this work and my conversations with independent business students, I’ve identified at least seven different approaches to business education. The chart below can help you figure out whether one of them applies to you.

 

 

 

Figured out which type you are?

See below for course recommendations and study tips for each kind of business student.

Also, note that most of the courses I recommend are available to audit for free (that means no certificate and in some cases no quizzes or assignments). If you’re wondering how to audit a class on Coursera, check out this short video.

Note: This section contains affiliate links. 

The Test Driver

 

You aren’t sure where your career will take you, and you are seriously considering whether to get an MBA. Sure, an MBA can be a solid bet — but are you really ready to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt? If you’re on this website, then you’re probably having some doubts. If you are a Test Driver, then please do yourself a favor and take a few months to figure out two things BEFORE you commit to an education that will have you paying loans for the next 15 plus years.  Those two things? 1) the shortlist of careers you might like to pursue, and 2 ) whether an MBA is required for you to get a good job in one of those careers. Before you drop a hundred thou on tuition, you should be pretty clear on both points. MOOCs are a key starting point in your research. By “test driving” the MBA, you can figure out if b-school is really for you. Bonus: some schools are even counting MOOC success towards the application process.

 

A few good MOOCs:

 

The Business Foundations Series from the Wharton School of Business is a great place to start your business school journey.

Foundations of Business Strategy is another of my all-time favorites. It will give you a feel for the analytical work performed by management consultants.

You can find more course recommendations for Test Drivers in this article I wrote for The Daily Muse.

 

Business Foundations from the Wharton School

Extracurricular activities:

Outside the classroom, Test Drivers should focus on conducting informational interviews with people in their industries of interest. If you don’t have anyone in your personal network in the fields you’re considering, check out a site like Evisors, which allows you to schedule short conversations with industry experts.

By “test driving” the MBA, you can figure out if b-school is really for you.

The Executive

 

You are at a mid-career level (or higher) and working in a field you enjoy. You might have started out in a technical role, like Nick, a medical device engineer, did.The next move, however, will require you to manage a team of people. Perhaps you’ve already been promoted to a managerial position in which you’ll be managing people for the first time. Yikes! Are you ready for it? Thankfully, Coursera has you covered with some great resources to get started managing people.

 

A few good MOOCs:

 

You may want to start with a series like this one from the University of Minnesota on how to be a better manager of people.

Another great source of courses for you is the curriculum of the iMBA. This innovative program from the University of Illinois is literally an entire MBA, delivered via MOOC. You can do the degree program for $10,000 or cherry pick the content you need for free. Yep, that’s right. An MBA for free (no degree though). Start by checking out their Strategic Leadership and Management Specialization.

Finally, the University of Michigan offers a series of courses on Leading People and Teams. And this series comes with some extra sweeteners for top-performing students, including credit toward a Distinguished Leader certificate from the Ross School of Business, office hours with faculty, and a LinkedIn endorsement from the Ross faculty.

 

Extracurricular activities:

 

Here are a few additional non-MOOC resources that are great for managers:

 

  • Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability. This powerful and entertaining TED Talk is a great introduction to the importance of self-reflection and emotions, even in the world of work.

The Accelerator

 

Like The Executive, The Accelerator is content to remain in the field in which she currently works. Unlike The Executive, however, her focus is on building her repertoire of technical skills. Are there people who are both Executives and Accelerators? Absolutely!

 

A few good MOOCs:

 

My advice to Accelerators is to pick a specific area and take several courses on the same topic. For example, if you are a marketer, you might want to go deep on digital marketing, taking a series like the University of Illinois’s popular Digital Marketing Specialization.  

Or maybe you’ve discovered that an advanced understanding of quantitative analytics is the key to your move up the ladder. In that case, you might want to check out this series on Data Science and Analytics, or this one from Wharton on Business Analytics.

More and more, the content you can find in MOOC form is exceedingly high quality and of professional caliber. For example, you can study supply chain dynamics with MIT or earn a professional certificate on mergers and acquisitions, both through the edX platform.

 

Extracurricular activities:

 

See if you can be included as a member of a project team that is doing interesting work, or fill an interesting gap on your team. My husband isn’t a business student, but he did take a series of MOOCs relevant to his field of international development. The courses taught some cutting edge techniques in program evaluation. As a result of expanding his repertoire, he was able to take on some special projects in the office.

 

 

The Traditionalist and The Career Shifter

 

The Traditionalist may have the most difficult task of all the types. He is trying to orchestrate a career move into a field that is dominated by MBAs. In fact, depending on his prior experience, he may find that in order to make that move, he needs to get a degree himself. His best bet is to combine the strategies of the Test Driver and The Accelerator (above). That means taking a broad range of MOOCs to build a strong foundation in business, as well as building some additional technical expertise. He’ll also want to be sure to make a habit of conducting informational interviews to expand his network. With some luck, he may be able to avoid having to shell out for the degree.

The Career Shifter is in a similar situation to the Traditionalist, with the extra advantage that her field of choice is not dominated by MBAs. That means that by arming herself with an advanced understanding of business, she differentiates herself from the competition, instead of merely keeping up. In my view, these are the two types for whom a traditional MBA degree makes the most sense.  

 

Extracurricular activities:

 

Both of these types should make a concerted effort to do volunteer work or internships in the field they’d like to move into. The key here is to establish a track record in a new area, allowing you to make a lateral move. Developing a portfolio of work is all-important, as is growing your network in your new field. Internships and volunteer projects accomplish both.

 

The Explorer

 

If you are an Explorer, you may crave the kind of career transformation that an MBA can help you orchestrate. Yet, having weighed the cost of the degree against its benefits, you’ve come to the conclusion that a $100,000 bet on an unsure thing is simply too large! You’re not sure what you want to do post-business education. What if you realize that your passions do not lie in high-paying business fields, but rather in social entrepreneurship, international development, nonprofit administration, or government? You are wise to explore your options without adding a massive debt burden to the equation.  

What if you realize that your passions do not lie in high-paying business fields, but rather in social entrepreneurship, international development, nonprofit administration, or government?

The Explorer uses his business education as a way of figuring out what to do next. Many Explorers already have significant career experience and may already hold an advanced degree. All the more reason not to go back to school full time and at full expense.

 

A few good MOOCs:

 

Like the Test Driver, you’ll want to start by studying the fundamentals - topics like marketing, finance, operations, accounting, and management.

After that, study widely!  For The Explorer, the greatest things about MOOCs is the variety and the low cost of trying them out. Think you might be interested in running a hotel one day? Take Cornell’s course on Hotel and Hospitality Management. Always wanted to understand the music business? Try this course from Berklee School of Music. Curious about quality improvement? Study Six Sigma.

Eventually, through study and reflection, you will probably wind up in one of the other categories of business student and can plan out a next step.

 

Extracurricular activities:

 

Explorers can benefit greatly from career coaching, as well as from values and aptitudes inventories, like Career Leader, which is used by many business schools. (If you’re interested in taking the Career Leader inventory, which I administer in conjunction with a career conversation, you can contact me here.)

 

The Entrepreneur

 

I saved The Entrepreneur for last because it is unique among the types of business student. I’ve heard entrepreneurship described as jumping off a cliff and trying to build a plane on the way down. It can certainly feel like that. If you haven’t yet started your business - or if you don’t even have a clear idea yet of what kind of business you want to start -  take your time and give yourself the gift of a few months of MOOCs on general business topics, including entrepreneurship.

 

 

Once you gear up to launch you’ll be scrambling to learn whatever necessary to make your business work. When you’re an entrepreneur you end up being the chief, cook, and bottle washer. Translation: anything that needs doing, you’ll do it. Need a logo? You’ll study branding. Building a website? You’ll learn WordPress. On-demand is the name of your game.

Are you an Entrepreneur? On-demand is the name of your game. 

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A few good MOOCs:

My longtime favorite MOOC on entrepreneurship is Steve Blank’s course How to Build a Startup.

My new favorite course for entrepreneurs is Chris Haroun’s course on Udemy.  This course is a must take, especially if you might one day seek funding for your business.

In general, if you are an Entrepreneur, Udemy is your friend. This platform has inexpensive, practical courses on every topic imaginable. Here’s one for designing that logo and another for building your website.  Use this link to get 30% off any Udemy course during the month of July.

 

Need more MOOC recommendations? Grab a copy of the No-Pay MBA Handbook and Current Course List.

 

Meet the Silicon Valley VC Who Squeezed An Entire MBA Into One Course

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chris Haroun wants to teach you everything you need to know about business.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

 

My new favorite business course wasn’t produced by a business school, and it isn’t on any of the academic MOOC platforms. It is, however, the single most comprehensive, practical resource I have found for learning business on the cheap. An Entire MBA in One Course, created by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chris Haroun, is also one of the most popular courses on Udemy.

For obvious reasons, when I learned about a resource promising to be An Entire MBA in One Course, I had to check it out. Haroun’s background includes time at big-name finance and management consulting firms like Goldman Sachs, Citadel, and Accenture. He currently works at a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm and is a frequent guest lecturer at Bay Area business schools, including Berkeley and Stanford. Haroun received his MBA in finance from Columbia University.

If anyone can teach the entire MBA curriculum in a single course, Haroun certainly has the resume to do it.

 

Entrepreneurs, this course is for you

 

Incredibly, An Entire MBA in One Course  is pretty much as advertised. Haroun manages to distill the most important parts of his own MBA in finance, as well as his years on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley into a single, jam-packed course. Haroun follows a hypothetical company from birth through maturity.  While the course is geared towards entrepreneurs planning to seek funding for a startup, it is filled with insights that translate beyond startup world. An Entire MBA in One Course is fast-paced but accessible, and Haroun’s palpable enthusiasm keeps interest high.

As someone who has been in literally dozens of online courses, this one stood out to me for its practical usefulness and grounding in real-world experience. If you are an entrepreneur looking for concrete information that can help you start a company, raise money, and grow into a great manager, this is the course for you. But even as someone who isn’t planning to raise venture capital, I found Haroun’s tips on networking, sales, and presentations to be highly insightful.  

 

Chris Haroun’s advice about your business education

 

I recently caught up with Chris Haroun to ask him a few questions about business education, career management, and his experience teaching one of the most popular business courses on Udemy.

Note: Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Laurie Pickard:  What inspired you to become an educator, and what do you get out of writing and teaching?

Chris Haroun: One of my students called me up for mentoring, and she works at Udemy. So I checked it out, and I thought, this place is unbelievable. It reminded me of YouTube in the early days. Udemy is the quintessential education platform that is going to democratize the global education market. I was blown away.  And I decided to put up a course. I already had the slides.

I’m incredibly bullish on ed-tech because if you fix education, and if you incentivize people who teach, you can attract the best and the brightest. And I believe that with education every problem gets solved. Literally every problem in the world can be solved with education.

 

LP: Given all the materials and resources that are available today, I’m curious whether you think a traditional MBA is a good investment. How would you advise people who are considering their options for business education?

Every problem in the world can be solved with education.

CH: I think an MBA is worth it if you want to change careers. If you’re happy in the career track you’re on, I don’t think you need it at all. When it comes to business, I believe that business is common sense, except for two aspects of it, accounting and finance. You have to learn that language.

 

LP: Entrepreneurs pitch to you a lot. What would you think of an entrepreneur who had opted to take their business education into their own hands rather than pursuing a traditional MBA?

I never judge someone based on their education. All I care about is their passion for their industry.

CH: It’s different here in the Bay Area. There are fewer barriers. I never judge someone based on their education. All I care about is their passion for their industry. I see five- or six- hundred business plans per year. It never comes up where they go to school. My favorite success stories, and when I teach, my favorite students, are the ones who are poor, smart, and hungry. It doesn’t really do much to say, “I have an MBA from a top school.” I’m a firm believer in common sense and passion.

No-Pay MBA is thrilled that Chris Haroun is offering his course to our readers for 50% off!!  An Entire MBA in One Course normally costs $40. Use the link below to get it for $20.

MOOC Motivation Hacks: 30 Tips and Tricks to Keep You On Task

We’ve all been there. You’ve signed up for an online class that you’re super psyched about. You’re finally going to learn to code, or there’s a new design program you’re going to master. Perhaps like me, you’ve got one more finance class to take before you’ll feel fully finished with your MOOC-based business education. But you keep putting it off.

Perhaps you manage to log into the course and get started, but halfway through the first video lecture, you notice that a new email has arrived in your inbox or someone has PM’ed you on Facebook. Before you know it, you’ve been sucked into the vortex we call the internet, the video lecture is over, and you have no idea what the professor said.

Sound familiar? I know it does.

I have finished over 25 MOOCs and other online courses as part of a project to do an extremely low-cost MBA equivalent, so I know what it means to drive back the dragon of distraction. I am also the learner-in-chief of the No-Pay MBA Network, a diverse group of professionals, all pursuing business studies using the tools of the world wide web. Recently, I asked my community to help compile a definitive list of all the tips, tricks, and hacks that they use to stay on task while studying online. Here is what we came up with.

 

Technology tips

 

1. Maximize the course video. A simple but effective way to minimize distraction.

2. Close all other windows. More aggressive, but may be necessary.

3. Log out of you email and social media. And while you’re at it, make sure you disallow these programs from sending you notifications even while you’re not logged in. Same goes for for your smart phone.

4. Put your phone on silent - and maybe put it in another room too.

 

Time management hacks

 

5. Mark study times on your calendar. Then treat them like a real commitment.

6. Set reminders on your calendar and your phone. Don’t forget that you’ve set aside time to study!

7. MOOC at work - but only with your boss’s permission. Many supervisors will applaud your efforts at self-direction professional development. Some will even pay for your course certificates.

 

Physical environment tips

 

8. Use noise-canceling headphones. Block out audible distractions and stay focused on the task at hand.

9. Listen to music that helps you concentrate. Many learners use this method to keep their minds from wandering.

10. Pimp your study space. Make your study space comfortable and enjoyable to be in. Post images in your field of vision that will inspire you to succeed.

11. Close your door. Simple but effective.

12. Tape a goal to your workspace. Having a written goal in plain sight in your workspace can help you keep your eye on the prize.

13. Exercise while MOOC-ing. But be warned, it only works if you’re just listening to a lecture and don’t need to take notes or work on practice problems.

14. Stand up or move away from the computer. Again, if you don’t need to simultaneously work on problem sets or answer quiz questions, it can help to move out of reach of your keyboard to avoid any lingering temptation to see what’s going on in other browser tabs.

 

Psychology tricks

 

15. Reward yourself for completing small tasks. One completed lesson = one hilarious cat video.

16. Pay for the course certificate. According to the MOOC providers, people who pay for a course certificate are more than ten times as likely to finish the course.

17. Log your accomplishments. Whether you display your certificates on your LinkedIn profile or on an educational portfolio, or even in a private list, make sure you’re tracking your success.

18. Announce your intentions publicly. When you register for a new course, post about it on Facebook, tweet it out on Twitter, and mention it to friends and colleagues.  

19. MOOC as a reward for finishing less pleasant tasks. Rather than thinking of MOOCs as yet another to-do on your list, use your coursework as a reward for completing a difficult or unenjoyable task.

20. Use the Just Start technique. This simple technique says that if you simply take the first step, you are much more likely to continue. What is the easiest thing you can do to get started? Open the webpage, log in, or read through the syllabus. Or just open the first lecture and let it load. When you use the Just Start technique, you may be surprised to see that after you Just Start, it’s easier to Just Keep Going.

21. Get dressed for work. A way of getting your professional game face on and keeping you serious, focused, and on-task.

22. Give yourself small assignments. Like the Just Start technique, when you break up the work into very small assignments, like watching a single video or completing a single quiz, you can easily finish a course with just a few minutes of work per day.  

 

Social learning hacks

 

23. Become part of a study group. A powerful and proven motivator. Find a study group in the course discussion forum or bring your own to the course.  

24. Get a MOOC mentor. Some newer services, like Mentive, are springing up to offer mentorship for MOOC students in particular courses.

25. Find a study buddy. Meet someone in the course discussion forum, or sign up for a course with a friend.

26. Get an accountability partner. This is a great technique for staying motivated. All you need is a friend or relative who is willing to check in with you once per week, and listen while you list your goals for the coming week and your accomplishments over the previous week.

 

 

MOOC expert tips

 

These tips were most frequently mentioned and upvoted by the members of the No-Pay MBA community.

 

27. Use the Pomodoro technique. Similar to the Just Start technique mentioned above, the Pomodoro technique teaches you to work in a series of 25-minute intervals by setting a timer and actually stopping to take a break when it goes off. That way, your MOOC coursework is more approachable, since you only have to put in the effort until the timer tells you to quit. And you are able to more fully integrate the knowledge by vacillating between the focused and the diffuse modes of thinking. This technique is covered at length in the extremely popular MOOC Learning How to Learn.

28. Listen to scientifically designed concentration music. Concentrate more deeply than with regular music by listening to tracks that have been specially designed to put your brain in a heightened state of focused awareness. Focus@Will is one such service.

29. Crank up the speed. MOOC platforms like Coursera and edX allow you to set the playback speed. Multiple people recommended making the professor talk just fast enough that you have to pay close attention to keep up.

30. Take notes. By far the most highly recommended way to stay on task. Type notes in a second window, draw them on a tablet, or keep a pencil and paper next to your computer, because even in this new world of online learning, nothing beats old-fashioned note-taking.

 

What are your MOOC motivation tips? Share them in the comments below.

This article originally appeared on Class Central. 

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’s the real cost of a No-Pay MBA?

*Note: this post contains affiliate links.That means that for programs of which No-Pay is an affiliate, we stand to make a small commission if you click on a link and make a purchase. I only include links to products that I have actually used and personally endorse. I also make it clear in the body of the post which links are affiliate links.  -Laurie

 

It’s time to come clean. No-Pay MBA first made headlines as “An MBA for less than $1000.” We’ve been flying that flag ever since. But where did that $1000 figure actually come from? Here’s where: the reporter of that first big piece about my project asked me, “How much do you plan to spend on your education?”

 

I answered, “$1000.”

 

Which at that time was my best guess of how much I would spend, not for the education itself, but for converting my website from Blogspot to a proper, search engine optimized, .com website. I hadn’t actually thought much about the cost of the actual education. Back then, you couldn’t pay for a MOOC if you wanted to. Maybe I would buy a few books? But $1000 seemed to capture people’s imaginations, and it became a good benchmark. There you have it, my dirty little secret. 😉

 

 

Now, as my No-Pay MBA is drawing to a close (I plan to “graduate” in late spring of this year), I’m finally able to take stock of exactly how much my business education has cost. This exercise has been surprisingly difficult, as it isn’t always clear which expenditures belong in the No-Pay MBA account.

 

For instance, I’ve paid dearly for a high-speed internet connection in Rwanda, where I have lived throughout this experience. But I probably would have paid for internet access no matter what, so the expense wasn’t solely or even primarily for my business studies. Same goes for my laptop, so I didn’t count either of those things, vital though they were to this endeavor. But other expenditures were trickier to classify. Was web hosting part of the cost of my education?

 

Ultimately, I came up with a few different categories of expenses that were directly or indirectly related to my business education. At the lower end, counting only the cost of the education itself, I have managed to spend under $1000, about $795 to be more precise. But I haven’t pinched pennies in this project. I am a big believer in investing in myself, my career, and my personal development. Having saved over $100,000 on business school tuition, I felt free in this project to spend on anything that might enhance the value of my education.  At the higher end, counting everything I’ve put into the No-Pay MBA project, including starting a business, I estimate expenditures upwards of $19,000.

 

Without further ado, here is my final accounting of what I have spent to get a complete No-Pay MBA:

 

Direct costs of the education

 

I got into this MOOC thing while the gettin’ was good. Consequently, I earned a lot of course certificates while they were still free. I am about to start my first Coursera Specialization, Essentials of Corporate Finance, for which I will pay $395. I took a fabulous (and fabulously discounted) course on branding from Made Vibrant for $50. I also had a subscription to Lynda.com for about six months at $25/month, which was great for brushing up on Excel and learning more of the practicalities of managing.  I also read about 20 business books, most of which are displayed here. At $10 per book, that’s about $200 on books.

(Note: No-Pay MBA is an affiliate of both Lynda and Coursera, which means that if you click on the links in the preceding paragraph, we will get a couple of bucks if you end up buying something. Same goes for the link to No-Pay MBA’s Amazon Store, where you can see my favorite business books.)

 

Grand total for the education itself: $795

 

Cost of having a basic blog site:

 

The next category of costs associated with my No-Pay MBA iss creating and managing a website. While having a website wasn’t part of my business education per se, it was a vital part of getting the word out about the project. The website has also been a tremendous source of inbound traffic, and so has contributed greatly to my overall experience by expanding my network. As I said earlier, I started with a simple (free) Blogspot site. A few months into the project I got more serious and purchased a .com domain at a cost of about $60. Web hosting was another $8 per month on an inexpensive hosting site.  I shelled out $69 for a nice theme from Elegant Themes (another affiliate. They make some beautiful stuff!). Finally, I paid for some serious help in setting up and search engine optimizing my website. That cost about $1000. And I was in business!

 

Grand total for the No-Pay MBA blog site: $1321

 

Cost of career development and networking services:

 

Another key component of my education has been figuring out where I want to go with it and meeting the people who can help me get there. I am a huge believer in the value of coaching. I worked with a coach on several occasions during my education, primarily as a way of getting clarity around how to leverage my education in the course of my career. I even paid a pretty penny for one 90-minute session with a high profile executive coach. That session was so jam-packed with insight that it kept me busy for the better part of a year. Worth it, even at the cost of several hundred dollars.

 

The best value service I took advantage of in the career development realm was the Career Leader assessment. This comprehensive inventory cost $95, and it helped me to understand that my greatest professional interests and aptitudes lie in product development, project management, and mentoring/coaching. That insight ultimately led me to create a business centered around those elements. Well worth a hundred bucks, if you ask me!

 

Another big ticket item  in the career development and network category is my upcoming attendance at the South by Southwest Education conference (SXSWedu). Attending an industry conference can be a great way to expand your network and introduce you to the latest greatest ideas in your field. Expensive, but again, worth it.

 

Grand total for career development and networking: $2050

 

Cost of starting a business:

 

Finally, by far the most expensive thing I did as part of my education was to start a business. Now, on the one hand starting a business wasn’t strictly part of my business education. It was more an outcome of the education. I’ve also earned back nearly all of the money I invested in my business within the first 8 months of operation, and I stand to be fully in the black within the next several months. But that initial outlay was significant, I could have failed, and by far the greatest value of starting a business has been educational. So in that sense, starting a business was part of my business education.

 

I won’t go into too much detail, but between setting up my website for ecommerce, developing the portfolio feature on the site, registering a business and establishing a trademark, and hiring an assistant to help me with all the extra work, my investment in my business was 10X the investment in the education itself.

 

Grand total for starting a business: around $15,000

 

So, as I said at the beginning of this post, depending on how you slice it, I spent somewhere between $795 and $19,000 on by business education. That might sound like a lot, but even at the upper end, it’s only about 1/10th of what many traditional business students spend on an MBA when you count all the expenses.

 

What should you pay for as part of your business education?

 

 

Clearly, there is quite a lot you can spend money on, even as part of a tuition-free business education. If you’re operating with limited resources, deciding what to spend your money on requires a great deal of discernment. At the risk of making this into an excessively long blog post, below are my recommendations on how to make the highest returning investment in yourself and your education.

Course content and learning

 

Despite Coursera’s recent changes in policy (students now have to pay to access quizzes and other assessments), there are still plenty of free courses out there. Platforms such as FutureLearn, edX, and Alison still offer many if not most of their courses for free. There’s also iTunesU, which is often overlooked given the focus on MOOCs, but they’re still offering a lot of great courses.

 

I’m also a fan of professional training courses through Lynda and Udemy, which are typically quite affordable and oftentimes more practical (less theoretical) than what the university MOOC providers are offering. (See sidebar banner links for special deals at both of these sites.)

 

When it comes to course certificates, I stand by my advice to be choosy about what you pay for. That said, a serious business student should probably do at least one rigorous series of courses all on the same topic. It may be helpful to get a certificate that covers that whole series, in case a future employer ever asks to see proof.

 

And let’s not forget books! I’m currently reading Managers, Not MBAs by Henry Mintzberg. It’s a great read, and it’s really gotten me thinking about what the overall purpose of business education is and ought to be. Some of my other favorites can be found here. (Full disclosure, as with some of the other links in this post, I will earn a few cents if you purchase any books after clicking on the links above.)

 

Career development and networking services

At the free tier, there is a lot you can do in the networking department. You should definitely have a LinkedIn account and a fully filled out profile. Free Facebook and LinkedIn groups provide some opportunities to meet professionals in your field, as do the course forums for MOOCs themselves. By far the best thing you can do to build your network is to make a habit of conducting informational interviews (more on that in a future blog post), and it doesn’t cost a penny.

 

If you have a little bit of money to spend, coaching can be a phenomenal investment, especially if you are feeling stuck or are at a career crossroads.  I also recently learned about a service called Evisors, which is a kind of hybrid between coaching and informational interviews. The service allows job seekers to book short sessions with people who work at the companies or in the fields they are interested in.

 

As I mentioned earlier, I got a lot out of the Career Leader assessment. There are others like it, and they can sometimes reveal unexpected insight about where you ought to be focusing your career development efforts. Some colleges and universities offer free access to their alumni, so you may be able to get Career Leader or another assessment for free. If you don’t have that kind of access,  Strengths Finder 2.0 is an affordable alternative.

 

Industry conferences are also a valuable way to connect with professionals in your field. If the price of admission is too high, it may be worth it to show up at the event just for the coffee dates and networking opportunities, without actually attending any sessions.

 

Experiential learning

 

Getting out of the classroom and into the real world is key to a great business education. It’s free to apply your new skills at work, and doing so may even lead to a raise (as it did in my case). Volunteering or interning with a local organization or through a virtual placement requires some work to set up, but is also generally free.

 

International travel, which you may be able to combine with volunteering or interning, is an important add-on to many MBA programs. International exposure is highly valuable, no matter what you plan to do. But of course, international travel can be expensive.

 

Starting a business is an incredible, life-changing learning experience. It’s also difficult, risky, and expensive. But if you can swing it without draining your life savings or quitting your job, starting an entrepreneurial venture can be the ultimate business education.

 

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the No-Pay MBA Network, which brings together as many networking, career development, and experiential learning services as I can offer at a price under $20 per month.

How do you get the best bang for your educational buck? Let us know in the comments below!

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