100 Days of Business Education

Join me in the #100DaysOfBizEd Challenge.

Have you heard of the 100 Days of Code Challenge? This incredible concept leverages the power of social media to help people stay motivated to learn something new. People who take on this challenge pledge to code for 1 hour a day for 100 days. They make a public commitment on Twitter using the hashtag #100DaysOfCode. Part of the challenge also involves encouraging others who have taken on the challenge, using social media.

The 100 Days concept works for any endeavor that requires practice and consistency. Now, in addition to #100DaysOf Code, there are many challenges using this methodology, including #100DaysOfWriting, #100DaysOfFitness, and even #100DaysOfKindness.

If you’re new to this site, I blog about my project to replicate a traditional MBA using free and low-cost resources from the internet (primarily MOOCs). I finished that project some time ago, and I even have a book out on the subject of doing a self-directed business education.



Now I’m feeling a need to refresh some of my skills and to revisit some topics that I didn’t fully cover while I was doing my No-Pay MBA.  Also, it’s January and I’m making goals for the New Year. Two of my goals for this year are 1) to become an Excel power user, and 2) to get better at social media marketing.

My goals for the year:

1) Become an Excel power user.

2) Get better at social media marketing.

How the #100DaysOfBizEd Challenge Works

This month, I will be starting my own challenge, 100 Days of Business Education. I’m using the hashtag #100DaysOfBizEd, and I’m adopting the same rules as the #100DaysOfCode Challenge.

1. I pledge to work on my business skills (primarily Excel and social media marketing in my case, but you could work on any business-related subject) for 1 hour per day for the next 100 days.

2. I will tweet my progress each day with the #100DaysOfBizEd.

3. I will use social media to encourage others who join the challenge.

New Year, New Career_728x90

Will You Join Me?

Do you have business education goals you are trying to reach in 2018? If so, please join me for the #100DaysOfBizEd Challenge!

Click here to tweet your commitment to joining the challenge.

The First Truly Free MBA Degree

The Smartly MBA is 100% online and 100% free for students.


Note: This post was originally published on August 22, 2016 and was updated on December 8, 2017. This post contains affiliate links.

Folks, hang onto your hats. The free MBA has finally arrived. Over the past several years we’ve seen a variety of business education options tailored toward price-sensitive students. Starting around 2012, MOOCs made it possible to get a top-tier business education for free (minus the degree of course).


Since then, there has been an explosion of MBA programs and other business credentials, all costing less than a quarter of a traditional MBA. In 2015, the University of Illinois launched its iMBA through Coursera, a MOOC-based MBA degree for $22,000 - still a big chunk of change but much more affordable than a typical top-25 MBA program. That same year,  the University of the People premiered its “tuition-free” MBA, though students still need to pay about $2,000 in testing fees to get the credential. HEC Business School now also offers an online Master’s in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (also through Coursera) for 20,000 euro. And earlier this year, MOOC provider edX introduced a new suite of MicroMasters programs in business, all at around the $1000 mark.


Still, none of them has managed to do what Smartly has done. Smartly offers the only truly free MBA degree. Not a scholarship, not free-to-audit, but a fully free business education resulting in an MBA degree.


How the Smartly MBA Works


The Smartly MBA was created by a company called Pedago, which was founded by Tom Adams, Alexie Harper, and Ori Ratner, all of whom worked together at the language learning company Rosetta Stone. The Smartly MBA is built on Pedago’s interactive web and mobile app. “We had succeeded in bringing active learning principles to the language learning market, but were frustrated that most of the online learning industry was stuck in the lecture-and-broadcast mode of instruction. So we decided to start Pedago with the mission of delivering mobile-first, bite-sized lessons on an active learning platform that could support content in any subject-area,” says Harper, Chief Product Officer at Pedago.


The Smartly MBA is delivered online through a highly interactive technology application. No PowerPoint, no lectures. To complete each lesson, students must interact with the system constantly, every 8.7 seconds on average. The curriculum includes 600 lessons on 9 business subjects, a full MBA education.


The program is one hundred percent free for students. Smartly makes its money on the back end, by charging recruitment fees to the employers Smartly expects will eagerly snap up its graduates. Job placement is an integral part of Smartly’s offering.

HEC Paris v2 720x90

Students are accepted by application only. So far, Smartly has had about 2,000 students go through its programs, including both currently enrolled students and alums.


Perhaps even more incredible than its price is that fact that students can finish the program in just nine months. That’s about half the time it takes to complete a traditional MBA.


“We were frustrated that most of the online learning industry was stuck in the lecture-and-broadcast mode of instruction.”

Is it really an MBA?


At present, the Smartly MBA is not accredited, meaning it hasn’t been reviewed and accepted by one of the official bodies that accredits business schools. However, Smartly is licensed to offer an MBA degree by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, DC. Smartly decided to launch their offering into the marketplace without waiting to complete the lengthy accreditation process, which can take multiple years. Smartly does plan to seek accreditation in the future.

“These aren’t your typical online MBA students. These are Ivy Leaguers, entrepreneurs, investors, top-tier coders, consultants, and graphic designers.”

Who’s doing it?


The typical Smartly student has already achieved considerable academic and career success. That is certainly the case with Yash Jain, one of the members of the inaugural Smartly cohort. Jain currently works as a strategic business development consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. His a long term goal is to become a venture capitalist in the area of health technology. Jain holds an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from The George Washington University and a graduate degree in Biotechnology and Entrepreneurship from the University of Pennsylvania. He describes his ideal professional role as “the bridge between the engineering and business worlds.”

While Jain did have some hesitation about joining an unknown and untested online MBA program, he says those fears evaporated once he started to meet the other members of his incoming class. “These aren’t your typical online MBA students,” he says.  “These are Ivy Leaguers, entrepreneurs, investors, top-tier coders, consultants, and graphic designers.”  


Smartly’s students interact through a social learning platform that accompanies the interactive software. This is where students in each cohort do collaborative group work and case studies online.


The catch? You probably won’t get in


Does a free MBA sound too good to be true? Well, for most people, it still is. Smartly advertises itself as “the world’s most selective MBA.” With an acceptance rate under 7% and an average GMAT score among accepted students topping 700, Smartly beats out programs like Harvard, Stanford and INSEAD when it comes to selectivity. So, while its technology program is scalable, Smartly serves the same kind of students that would typically be found in the most elite MBA programs. Members of Smartly’s first cohort have work histories that include Morgan Stanley, Accenture, KPMG, McKinsey and Company, and Google; and academic transcripts that include schools like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. This year, two of Smartly’s MBA students appeared on the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 List. To put that into perspective, Harvard Business School had 4 alumni on the same list.

Going forward, Smartly plans to keep its MBA highly selective but says that the company is still solving an important problem for many talented students. Not everyone who is able to get into a top MBA program can afford to go. With the Smartly MBA, price is not a barrier. Thanks to its scalable technology, Smartly can accept more students than many on-campus programs can. Of the top 10 business schools worldwide, Smartly is on pace to be the largest in enrollment in 2018. Additionally, as the company expands, it plans to develop other programs and degrees that will be open as well as free.

New programs to meet the needs of more students


In addition to its signature MBA program, Smartly has recently launched two more offerings, a Business Certificate program and an Executive MBA program. Like the MBA, the six-week Business Certificate program is free for students. It also includes access to Smartly’s virtual network of students and career network.

The 12-month Executive MBA program is geared towards mid-career professionals with additional courses in management, leadership, entrepreneurship and strategy. Admission is weighted more on career achievements, and the curriculum emphasizes peer activities with group projects and collaborative case studies. The EMBA also features optional on-site weekends in Washington, D.C. for networking and business-oriented activities. At $9,600 the EMBA isn’t free, but it is much more affordable than many other comparable programs. 

Coursera Business Vertical



Smartly is currently accepting applications for the Free MBA and the Executive MBAInformation about the Business Certificate can be found here



What do you think about the Smartly MBA? Is it a good option for people seeking an affordable business education? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

What’s My ROI? Calculating the full return on a business education

What to consider before you start a business education.


Four years ago, I hatched a plan to do my own “MBA” composed of free university courses (what I called a No-Pay MBA). At that time, MOOCs were just becoming more widely known, and many famous business schools were introducing new courses. I didn’t yet know how to calculate the financial value of an investment of time and money into a traditional MBA program (I would learn it later, in my first finance course), nor did I know how to compare that expected return with the value I hoped to reap from my DIY business education. I did, however, have an intuitive sense that a fully featured, prestigious MBA with all the bells and whistles (and all the debt) wouldn’t serve me as well as a more stripped down business education, designed and administered by me.


That hunch turned out to be right, but interestingly, it is only with the benefit of hindsight that I can fully account for the ways in which my decision not to pay for a regular MBA was a good one.


More than just financial return


The funny thing about trying to value an investment is that it always involves a bit of guesswork. You can calculate the net present value of an expected cash flow, but you can’t always predict with 100% accuracy whether said cash will trickle or gush. Even more importantly, while your quantitative classes will teach you to calculate return in dollars, for a big life decision like getting an MBA the money side is only one dimension of return. “Is an MBA worth doing?” is a bigger question than “Is an MBA a good financial investment?” Interestingly, even the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which publishes an annual report on the perspectives of MBA alums, doesn’t just focus on financial return but also asks whether graduates found the MBA professionally and personally rewarding.


HEC Paris v2 720x90

The return on my No-Pay MBA


Having finished my own No-Pay MBA a year ago, I can now look backward with more clarity at what the return was on my investment of time and energy (and a small amount of money). The main career and life events that have transpired in my career since getting my MBA are the following:

1. In 2015, I got a $20,000 raise and moved into a new position in my current industry (international development). That alone would have made my modest investment “worth it” from a financial perspective.

2. In 2016, I got a book deal to write a book about how other people could get their own self-administered “MBAs”. That book was released this month. While the financial payoff from the book remains to be seen, I found writing a book extremely rewarding and enjoyable. Professionally, there are few honors more prestigious than being asked to write a book. That mark of expertise can’t be bought. It can only be earned.

The raise alone would have made my modest investment “worth it” from a financial perspective.

3. In 2017, I gave birth to twins and quit working. I expect to be a stay at home mom/author for at least the next year, maybe more. Being home with my children is the most rewarding job I have ever done. It was possible financially only because I don’t have any student loans to service.

And who knows what 2018 will bring. So, looking back on my decision to skip the traditional MBA and go my own route, would I have done it all again? Yes, Yes, and YES!! Though interestingly, only one of these outcomes - the first - was in my original calculation of the return of an MBA.

What return DON’T you want from your MBA?

Calculating your personal return requires using your imagination to envision what your life will be like with an MBA, but it should also include imagining a range of possible outcomes and worst case scenarios. You have probably already asked yourself questions such as, How much money will I make in my first job out of the MBA?  And, what industry do I plan to work in? However, you may not have considered the negative case, i.e. What do I NOT want from my MBA?


What do I NOT want from my MBA?

For example, a few of the things I DIDN’T want from an MBA included working 80 hour weeks, moving for a job, working in finance or management consulting, or ending up being a stay at home mom with MBA debt. Not wanting those things influenced my decision to create my own business education rather than getting a traditional MBA.

As the adviser to independent business students, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions before you decide to get an MBA. These questions apply to all potential MBA candidates, and they aren’t the ones that are usually found on business schools’ websites.


iMBA - 728x90

How might my options be constrained by going into debt or spending my life savings?

What if I score my dream job, only to find that I don’t love the work?

What dreams are out of reach if I forego a traditional MBA? Am I sure those dreams are out of reach? How do I know?

If you end up with some doubts, do yourself a favor and fully explore the possibility of designing your own MBA program. The resources on this site are designed to help you do just that, as is my new book Don’t Pay For Your MBA.

5 Reasons I’m Okay With Not Getting A Degree

So did you get an MBA degree?

This is the question I field most frequently when I tell people that I created my own business education program using MOOCs and then wrote a book about it.

While I did get a fabulous business education, I did not get an MBA degree. I also didn’t get buried under a mountain of debt, nor did I waste time (or money) in classes that weren’t interesting or relevant to my career ambitions.

Perhaps you’ve considered taking a few business MOOCs, or even undertaking a complete MBA-style education as I did. If so, then you may also be wondering whether it makes sense to pursue an education that doesn’t come with that piece of paper.

Here are the top five reasons why a No-Pay MBA made sense for me, even without a degree.

Reason #1: I am confident in my ability to present my No-Pay MBA as a legitimate part of my education.

While some employers might not consider my resume due to the fact that I don’t have a true MBA, I expect that many will be intrigued by my choice to pursue an unconventional learning path. But don’t take my word for it, see this letter from CEO Mark Olvito. Once I get an interview, I’ll be happy to demonstrate my business skills and savvy. I also have my website to back me up – but you wouldn’t need a whole website to showcase your learning. A strong portfolio would probably do the trick.

Reason #2: Given m personal career ambitions, the investment in a traditional MBA wouldn’t have paid off.

I can certainly understand the financial case for getting an MBA, especially for people with very specific goals or people who want to enter certain industries (e.g. finance, consulting). But my situation is a little different. My career thus far is in international development – not known for salaries of the kind that make an MBA investment worthwhile. I enjoy this work and the opportunity it provides to have a globe-spanning career. Now that I have finished my No-Pay MBA, I plan to follow a more entrepreneurial path. Being debt-free leaves me open to riskier options, such as starting my own business or working for a startup. I am happy not to be saddled with a debt burden that constrains my choices. And I’ve done my homework. Check out the No-Pay MBA calculator if you want to know whether a No-Pay MBA makes financial sense for you.

Reason #3: The content of an MBA is valuable with or without the degree!

How cynical are we if we can’t see that the education itself has value, whether or not you get the piece of paper to prove it? In my view, what you get at a traditional business school has three components – the educational content, the network, and the degree. It is probably true that of those three, the slice that makes up the smallest share of the total price tag of an MBA is the educational content (which would help to explain why some top business schools are willing to give away their courses for free). Still, I believe that education has intrinsic value. And business education has more than intrinsic value. Ask me how much my No-Pay MBA was worth after the next time I conduct a salary negotiation using what I learned in Successful Negotiation.

My No-Pay MBA did earn me a promotion and a sizeable raise. I was also able to start putting my new skills into practice immediately on the job, bringing additional value to my employer right away.

Reason #4: An MBA isn’t usually required.

For many jobs an MBA is a “nice to have.” In only a few jobs is it a “must-have.” Marketing strategist Dorie Clark recently wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review titled “Do You Need a Formal Degree, Or Will a MOOC Do?” As Clark points out, “having an MBA may be considered a selling point, but it’s rarely required for a particular job.” She goes on to say that in industries in which MBAs are relatively uncommon, getting one may be “overkill”, especially when there are other options for acquiring the skills that are valued in your industry.

Reason #5: The MBA is no longer the only credential in town.

The MOOCs platforms are hard at work creating credentials that will hopefully have real value in the job market. So-called “microcredentials” encompass many kinds of credentials that are less than a full degree, including verified certificates of completion from the MOOC providers, Udacity’s Nanodegrees, and edX’s MicroMasters, among others. EdSurge recently reported that these kinds of credentials are proliferating. During my studies, I earned many MOOC Statements of Accomplishment, some of which I display in my portfolio.

So yes, I took a risk by getting a business education that didn’t result in a degree. It cost me much, much less than a traditional MBA would have, and it paid off in both financial and personal ways. What about you? Do you think a business education can be “worth it”, even if it doesn’t result in an MBA degree?

Does the Fitness Industry Hold the Key to the Future of Education?

Is the fitness industry showing us the path education will take in the not-so-distant future?

It’s January, and like other gym-goers, I can’t help but notice the uptick in attendance. The classes are a bit more crowded; it’s harder to find an open treadmill or an empty lane at the pool. It’s New Year’s resolution time, after all, and everyone is getting in shape, signing up for personal training services, and squeezing in shoulder to shoulder in hot yoga classes.

Being in the gym at this time of year has gotten me thinking about the many parallels between fitness and education, as well as the striking differences in how these services are delivered and consumed. I’ve started wondering whether the fitness industry might be showing us the path that education will take in the not-so-distant future.


Exercisers Are Like Lifelong Learners


As both a committed exerciser and a lifelong learner, I can see obvious similarities between these two types of self-improvement/self-maintenance. First, both are habitual practices that are developed over a lifetime. Both physical fitness and mental sharpness are best maintained as part of an overall lifestyle, not in one-off binge sessions or by cramming.  

Second, both exercising and learning require willpower and self-discipline. It’s not always easy to get out the door to go to the gym, just as it’s not always easy to work through a difficult reading assignment or tough problem set.


Coursera Business Vertical Orange Design 10

Third, in order to really do you any good, both learning and exercising have to be challenging enough to require real effort. Anything less doesn’t achieve the desired effect.

Finally (and fortunately), both education and exercise become more enjoyable and require less willpower the more ingrained the habit becomes. So, while it may hurt at first, tying on your shoes and hitting the pavement eventually becomes its own reward. And so does working your way through a difficult course.

In order to really do you any good, both learning and exercising have to be challenging enough to require real effort. Anything less doesn’t achieve the desired effect.

Education Is Not Personal Fitness…Yet


Despite these similarities between lifelong learning and lifelong personal fitness, the differences between these two pursuits remain stark. Much of education is delivered in one-size-fits-all packages, where a one-time achievement (earning a degree) is singularly important and sets a learner down a path that may be difficult and costly to change later on. We know this because while every job announcement lists which degrees an applicant ought to hold, almost none request applicants with an ongoing practice of learning or ask what an applicant has learned in the years since graduation from a degree-granting institution.

Applying the same logic to exercise, no one would hold up the college athlete who has fallen woefully out of shape as the paragon of physical fitness. So why do we consider the one-time achievement of earning a degree so much more important than the learning a person continues to do throughout a career and a life?


From a Hobby to the Basis for Hiring


In a recent column in EdSurge, Amy Ahern mused on her experience using a digital fitness app to augment her exercise habits. Unlike fitness apps, she observed, online classes too often feel isolated and removed from experiences and practices that take place outside the digital classroom. While she often found it hard to find the time to complete a MOOC, she was excited each day to log miles in her fitness tracker. As an instructional designer, Ahern was interested in how online courses could create this kind of “stickiness”. Like Ahern, I believe that education could learn from fitness.

Today nearly everyone knows that developing an exercise habit is a good thing to do, and methods for establishing that habit abound. Gyms offer equipment you can use on your own, group classes in disciplines ranging from Pilates to kickboxing to weight lifting, personal training, and specialized preparation for competitive races. Books, apps, home workout DVDs, and streaming services add more ways a person can develop an exercise practice on terms that work for them.

So, what would it mean for education to look more like fitness?

First, we could start by recognizing the importance of lifelong learning not as a fringe hobby but as a vital pursuit integral to a full and healthy life and a successful career. What I love about MOOCs is that they open up possibilities for individuals to direct their own learning efforts.  

Second, education companies could expand their delivery methods. Just as physical fitness takes a variety of forms, so could education.

Like group classes at the gym, social learning opportunities could make learning more enjoyable and help people stick with it.

Open access courses such as MOOCs are a great start. Education apps could help keep people motivated. In the vein of group classes at the gym, social learning opportunities, such as in-person meetup groups, facilitated projects, online office hours, networking, etc., could make learning more enjoyable and help people stick with it.  

Finally, employers could shift their focus away from brand-name degrees and toward objective performance. Just as it doesn’t matter whether I run on the treadmill at 24-Hour Fitness or on the one in my basement, it shouldn’t matter where or how I learned to conduct a net present value analysis or an A/B test. As the lifelong learning company Degreed proclaims in its mission statement, “There is no single path to expertise…The challenges of the future won’t care how you became an expert, just that you did.” Ideally, employers would learn to take advantage of the expanded educational landscape and the multiplicity of paths to expertise, becoming more able to assess a candidate using objective measures, taking into account the skills he or she has developed outside of any institution.  

Business Foundations from the Wharton School


“Hold on,” one might argue, “aren’t the stakes different between exercise and education? In one case, you’re talking about entirely personal goals (health, wellness) and in the other you’re talking about goals that affect a person’s career trajectory.” Indeed. My fitness level is primarily important to me, while my education level, my smarts, and my skills are important to the people who would hire me. Which is why it is all the more important that education become more like fitness, with employers more able to evaluate candidates’ ongoing learning efforts and continuous skills development, not just the work they did before entering the workforce.

Looking ahead, I am optimistic. I predict that the education industry will come to adopt some of the attitudes, techniques, and modes of delivery that have come to characterize the fitness industry. In the process, we all stand to win.

Want to Succeed in Self-Led Learning? Act Like An Entrepreneur

Not everyone is capable of succeeding in a self-directed business education.  Do you have what it takes?


Let’s face it. Not everyone is capable of succeeding in a self-directed business education.  I have used this blog to chronicle my journey through a self-made, MBA-style business education, which I put together using MOOCs and other free and low-cost resources. Along the way, I have worked with many other self-directed learners (some of whom you can meet by joining our Facebook group).  I have seen a number of people experience great success with self-directed business education, from gaining confidence at work, to scoring promotions, to launching businesses. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen a lot of people who start out with great intentions fail to see it through.

In my years of studying business and working with self-directed learners, I have noticed some common characteristics, behaviors, and ways of thinking that define those people who do succeed with self-directed learning. It turns out, the people who are most successful pursuing No-Pay MBAs have a lot in common with entrepreneurs.

Based on these observations of successful independent business students, here are six ways acting like an entrepreneur can help you get a career-launching business education without breaking the bank.


Online business courses to jumpstart your future.

How Acting Like an Entrepreneur Can Help You Succeed In Your Business Education



1. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo.


Entrepreneurs don’t take the world as it exists today as a given; they are constantly thinking about how things can be improved. Likewise, don’t assume that the holding (or lacking) a particular credential is the most important factor in your success. Entrepreneurs inspire people with their vision of the future. Can you imagine a future in which your skills and abilities are more important than the credentials you hold? So can I.


2. Take calculated risks.


Many people erroneously assume that entrepreneurs are unbridled risk-takers. It’s true that entrepreneurs take risks, but rather than simply betting the farm on whatever prospect comes their way, successful entrepreneurs take smart, strategic risks. Pursuing a self-directed business education rather than an accredited MBA is certainly a risk. But if you’ve done your homework on your industry of choice and the expected financial return on a degree, it could be one of the smartest risks you ever take.


3. Decide when to play by the rules and when to make your own rules.


Sometimes it pays to follow the established path. Other times, it makes more sense to drop out of Stanford and pursue your own dream. Maybe it makes sense for you to get a traditional degree. Then again, maybe you’ll be better of making your own way.



4. Remain curious about the world and open to the fact that you always have more to learn.


Rather than assuming your current skills and abilities are fixed and unchangeable, adopt the attitude that you can expand your horizons, adopt new skills, and seize new opportunities. Many entrepreneurs get bored quickly and are constantly seeking out new problems to solve. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Seek out new ways to learn and grow.


5. Learn from failure.


Perhaps one of the hardest things entrepreneurs have to do is to pick themselves up and dust themselves off after a failure. So you failed Advanced Credit Risk Management on your first attempt? Take a hard look at your approach, tweak it, and try again.

Coursera Business Vertical

6. Develop deep self-confidence.


Entrepreneurs believe in themselves and their ideas, even after experiencing failure, and even when those around them question their decisions. A rock-solid belief in your ability to learn, grow, and succeed will serve you well in your self-directed business education.

Are you interested in starting a No-Pay MBA?

Enter your email to get the first chapter of my book "Don't Pay For Your MBA"



Are you interested in starting a No-Pay MBA?

Enter your email to get the first chapter of my book
"Don't Pay For Your MBA"

Thank you! Check your email to claim your download file.