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.

 

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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.

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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.

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.  

The First Truly Free MBA Degree

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

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. (That, of course, was the goal that launched this website.)

Last year, the University of Illinois launched its iMBA, a MOOC-based MBA degree for $20,000 - still a big chunk of change but much more affordable than a typical top-25 MBA program. Then, earlier this year the University of the People introduced a “tuition-free” MBA, though students still need to pay about $2,000 in testing fees to get the credential.

But, a new provider, Smartly, has done them all one better. Smartly is offering the first 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 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.

Students are accepted by application only. A first cohort has recently been selected and has started studying. For this first round, all students are US-based, though the second cohort and future cohorts will include international students.

Become a Web Developer in 2016 with Coursera

Perhaps even more incredible than its price is that fact that students can finish the program in just four to eight months. Even at the outside, that’s less than half the time it takes to complete a traditional MBA.

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.

“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.”  

 

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.

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 who is able to get into a top MBA program can afford to go. With the Smartly MBA, price is not a barrier. Additionally, as the company expands, it plans to develop other programs and degrees that will be open as well as free.

Coursera Business Vertical

Details

 

Smartly is currently accepting applications for its second cohort of students, slated to begin in late September 2016.

To apply visit https://smart.ly.

 

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

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.

 

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. 

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