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.



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. 


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. 

An Open Letter to Coursera

Dear Coursera,


Let me start by saying that I love what you do. Having used MOOCs to put together a business education equivalent to an MBA, and now as someone who gives advice and guidance to people seeking high-quality, debt-free business education, I am a major proponent of your work.


Which is why I feel compelled to say something about your newest revenue model, in which you charge students for access to quizzes and assessments.


Since this is an open letter, let me break it down for people who aren’t as intimately familiar with your services as I am. Coursera offers massive open online courses - MOOCs - taught by university professors from well-respected institutions of higher learning. At first, these courses were totally free, including a certificate if you finished a course. Then Coursera started offering identity-verified certificates for a fee, and gradually free certificates were phased out. Most recently, Coursera has adopted a new model in which it is still possible to watch course videos for free, but users must pay a course fee in order to access quizzes and assignments.


Coursera, I understand that you need to find a way to earn money. After all, it is expensive to create and deliver university courses, even online. But this latest model feels like a big step toward the closure of a resource that was so exciting precisely because it was radically and truly open.


When MOOCs first appeared, they seemed almost too good to be true. It was thrilling to be part of such a bold experiment in higher education. What would happen if everyone in the world were able access courses taught by the brightest minds on the planet? Would people be interested in free university courses? (Yes.) Would they find value in the courses? (Big yes.) Would employers recognize the additional knowledge and skills being transferred through MOOCs?


The answer to this last question is still unknown. And in chipping away at the foundation of free-ness upon which MOOCs were initially built, you’re making it more risky for us to try to find out. You’re also facing a PR problem, as even die-hard MOOC fans begin to question whether pseudo-free courses, where the assignments are hidden behind a paywall, are as exciting as truly free ones.  

Rather than gradually closing off your courses, what about focusing instead on value-adding products and services that can complement them?

I’ll continue recommending Coursera courses to readers of the No-Pay MBA blog. You continue to have the biggest and best catalogue of business courses around. But I’m disappointed by the incremental reductions in offerings that were once available for free. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. I am writing this letter on behalf of the MOOC students in my community, many of whom have expressed their frustration in our community discussion forums.


I have to wonder, rather than gradually closing off your courses, could you instead focus on value-adding products and services that can complement them?  

I would be excited to recommend to my readers the following course add-ons, some of which you are already piloting:

  • Mentorship. One of the big criticisms of MOOCs is that completion rates are low. Your new mentor-guided courses seem like a great way to boost motivation, keep people on track, and give them a way to form the kinds of relationships that make in-person education so transformative.


  • Assignments graded by experts. Rather than charge for computer-graded quizzes and peer-graded assignments, why not add assignments that are graded by professors, graduate students, or industry professionals? Additional assignments, for which students receive feedback from subject matter experts could be highly valuable.


  • Industry connections and job placement. Not everyone who takes a MOOC is looking for a new job. And that’s fine. In fact, that is what’s so wonderful about these courses. They allow people to explore. But for those who are not just tourists in the world of online education, the big value is in bridging the distance between where they are professionally and where they want to be. And that means making connections with industry. You’ve already started working on this with industry-designed capstone projects. Why not help some of the top MOOC performers get interviewed by top companies and then charge a recruiter’s fee if they end up getting a new job placement?


These are just a few ideas of how you could boost your revenues without alienating your current base. You won our gratitude and our admiration with free courses. You can keep it by building additional value on top of them, without taking away what made us love you in the first place.



Laurie Pickard

Founder, No-Pay MBA

Fill in the blank: What words do you use to talk about your education?



I’ve written lots of blog articles about business education, and I’ve spent lots of time trying to find the right words to describe the process of educating oneself using MOOCs and other new tools.

I must say, I am downright frustrated with the limitations of the English language when it comes to talking about education.

What do I mean?


I’m talking about the fact that the three most common verbs used in conjunction with education are the three least descriptive, most boring verbs in English.


Go. Do. Get.

A student  goes to a university.

She does an MBA.

She gets a degree.


These words completely hide the richness of the educational process. Not only that, these verbs are awkward when it comes to talking about an education that doesn’t result in a degree, or that isn’t administered by an institution.

Do, go, and get are bound up with the idea that education is a thing. You go to a place, do some tasks that are assigned to you, and you get a piece of paper that is commonly recognized to be a valuable signal of your preparation. That’s education in a nutshell, right?

Well, I’m here to challenge these verbs and the idea of education that is encapsulated within them. I would like to propose three new verbs (and some related synonyms) to talk about education not as a thing, but as a process in which the learner is an active participant, not a passive recipient.




Education isn’t about GOING to a university; it’s about  EXPERIENCING transformation.

The word GO fails to capture the richness of transformative education. You don’t just go, you BECOME someone you weren’t when you first showed up for your education. You ARRIVE at a destination, though not necessarily a physical one. GO misses the moments of inspiration and insight that occur, the relationships that form, the horizons that open up as a result of education. You don’t just GO to school, you LIVE through an educational experience. Education ACTIVATES you. You CHANGE, GROW, TRANSFORM, and EVOLVE.

GO is also inadequate given the fact that contemporary education doesn’t require you to go anywhere in particular. Going to Harvard sounds cool, but to my mind, EXPERIENCING Harvard sounds even cooler. And new technologies are making that possible.  Watch this video to see what I mean.

Rather than DO a degree, why not BUILD a body of knowledge?

Of course, when you undertake an education, you are DOING something. But what are you doing exactly? In Spanish, ‘to do’ and ‘to make’ are the same verb. In the case of education, I think the word MAKE is a much better translation. Education is something that the learner CONSTRUCTS inside his or her head. Education has to be FORMED, DEVELOPED, CULTIVATED.

Knowledge is BUILT not received. Therefore, I’m not just DOING an MBA or its equivalent. I am CONSTRUCTING a set of skills and knowledge, DESIGNING projects to solidify my learning, CRAFTING the education that is most valuable and relevant to me.


Instead of GETTING an education, how about ACHIEVING education, understanding, or even mastery?

GET is the worst. GET makes it sound like your education is simply handed to you. Or as if education is something you can buy, like a product in a store. But as any serious student knows, education can’t just be exchanged in a monetary transaction. By the same token, real learning can most certainly take place in the absence of a transactional relationship. Who’s to say that Josh Kaufman’s book-based education is any less valid than a business degree that another person paid $150,000 for? Is it the transaction that makes it count? I don’t think so. GET makes it sound like a sale or deal is the only path to learning.

Instead of GETTING an education (or TAKING a course), wouldn’t it be better to ATTAIN, ACCOMPLISH, EARN, REACH, or ARRIVE at an education?  


Which words do YOU use?

In my No-Pay MBA, I’m not just GOING online to take some courses and GET a few certificates. I’m not just DOING a replica of an MBA.

I’m actively BUILDING new skills and knowledge, EXPERIENCING a transformation in the way I think about business, and ACHIEVING mastery across a variety of business disciplines.

What about you? What verbs do you use to talk about your education?

Women, MOOCs, and a Career Boost

woman with ideas cropped


Where are the women?

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

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

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

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

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


Women, MOOCs, and a career boost

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

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

MOOCs build confidence

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

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

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

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


MOOCs allow you to try something new

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

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

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

MOOCs and work-life balance

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

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

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

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

How to get started

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

No Pay MBA_Accepting Applications

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.