This morning, I re-read Kevin Carey’s New York Times op-ed on what it will take for MOOCs to lead to real changes in higher education. At the end of the piece Carey says that we won’t feel the full impact of MOOCs “until students and learners of all kinds have access to digital credentials that are built for the modern world. Then they’ll be able to acquire skills and get jobs for a fraction of what colleges cost today.” 

biz specI totally agree with Kevin Carey, and I think that the new Coursera Business Foundations Specialization – along with the rest of Coursera’s Specializations and other so-called microcredentials (Udacity’s Nanodegrees, edX’s Xseries) - are a digital credential of the type that Carey describes. Whether they enable people to get jobs remains to be seen, but with the participation of Shazam and Snapdeal on the Business Foundations Specialization, this credential takes a giant step forward in that regard.

Coursera is my go-to MOOC platform . They have more business courses than anyone else, and the courses I’ve taken from them have all been excellent. In particular, the Wharton Business School courses (I’ve taken three so far) have been among my all-time favorites.

But I’m not planning on signing up for the Business Foundations Specialization. And here’s why not.

It’s not because of the price. 

Yes, $595 is a lot more than free, and yes, Coursera used to offer Verified Statements of Accomplishment for these same courses at about half of what they cost in this Specialization. But $595 is also a lot less than $25,000, which is what you would pay for the first semester of business school alone. I also appreciate that Coursera has kept the course material free, even while charging a fee to those who want the certificate, which covers not just the four courses but also a capstone project.

I don’t have any problem with paying for certificates or course content; the No-Pay MBA is not an ideological stance. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to take all of my courses for free thus far, but if I find I have to pay to get the content I need, I won’t think twice as long as the price is reasonable. As a business student, I also understand the need for the MOOC platforms to find a sustainable business model. 

It’s not because I can’t get credit for the Wharton courses I’ve already taken, though if you paid for a Verified Statement of Accomplishment you can.

Changes in the course length and content are disappointing.

I didn’t realize that there was anything different between these courses and previous versions of the Wharton Foundation Series courses, until a reader pointed out to me that all of the new courses are only four weeks long. The previous versions were up to ten weeks, just like regular university courses. The reader who alerted me of this change also pointed me to a discussion board where students lamented the changes to Wharton’s Introduction to Accounting.

The professor of Intro to Accounting, Brian Bushee had a different take on the changes. He told me by email:

“For many students, four weeks will be enough.  For the rest, the remaining six weeks of my old course will be available as an additional course.  A nice feature of splitting the course in half like this is that students can take the second six weeks at any future point.  They no longer have to commit to a ten-week block.  With this added flexibility, I expect that more students will now be able to take the full ten weeks of material.”

I understand Professor Bushee’s point, but as a student I appreciated the fact that in Introduction to Accounting – and the other Wharton courses – I got most if not all of the content of the regular, on-campus course. But even that wouldn’t necessarily stop me from registering for the Specialization, especially given that the additional content is still available.

For certain people the Business Foundations Specialization could be the right digital certification.

If you’re planning to apply to Wharton or another business school having this Specialization under your belt could be a leg up. Or maybe you just need an introductory understanding of business and want a certificate to demonstrate that you’ve attained it.

The credential I need goes beyond Business Foundations. 

I’d be happy to pay a few hundred dollars for a digital credential if I thought it could provide additional legitimacy to my studies or could materially advance my career. But given that my project is to do a whole MBA with MOOCs – on a very small budget – this particular certificate doesn’t offer enough value for the money, especially given that the content is not as robust as it once was.

Others who are studying business via MOOC, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the Business Foundations Specialization. Are you planning to register? Why or why not? Comments welcome.


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