Laurie Pickard’s gamble to earn an MBA entirely out of MOOCs is paying off — and not just because she saved six figures by forgoing a traditional degree.
As the blogger behind The No-Pay MBA, which chronicles her journey and B-school curriculum, Pickard has become a household name in the MOOC world. Poets&Quants first profiled Pickard back in January 2014. Since then, the Kigali, Rwanda-based development worker for USAID has rated MOOCs for this website and appeared in TIME , Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, and Management Today, to name a few.
She’s also written a column for the Financial Times. Her popularity has no doubt surprised MOOC critics and MBA purists, but Pickard herself may be the most astonished one. She is, after all, getting a business education that will cost her, all told, less than $1,000.
“It’s really gone beyond my wildest dreams. When I started this project, my aspirations were really modest. I was just thinking maybe I’ll get some press coverage so people will take this project seriously, and I can convince an employer that I have a business education. That happened so quickly, within the first six months,” she says. “Over the past year, the weight of how seriously people are taking this has just grown and grown and grown. It has really been peaking in the last month when the Financial Times asked me to write a column for them — how much more serious can you get?”
IN LESS THAN TWO YEARS, SHE HAS ALREADY COMPLETED 20 BUSINESS COURSES, ESSENTIALLY FOR FREE
Pickard started her journey in August of 2013 and planned to complete 16 courses over two to three years. Since then, she has taken classes with some of the best professors at the most elite business schools in the world. She has completed a slew of business courses from Wharton, the University of Virginia’s Darden School, New York Unversity’s Stern School of Business, and Yale’s School of Management, among others.
She’s currently enrolled in two entrepreneurship courses at MIT as well as a Stanford University course on organizational analysis.
Now, a little more than halfway in, she’s completed 20 courses, exceeded the MBA curriculum, and can “graduate” at any time. However, she has no intention of stopping now. “I have to keep my finger on the pulse and keep my skills fresh,” she says. She also has no plans to leave her current job as a development and entrepreneurship specialist at USAID. “I just see this [MOOCs] as a totally new field, and I want to be in it,” she says. Pickard’s site has morphed alongside her journey. What started as a fairly straightforward WordPress blog now includes an MBA cost calculator; study tips; profiles of other MOOC MBAs; and recommendations for books, podcasts, articles, and blogs.
Riding that momentum, Pickard, who turns 34 in April, has embarked on a new adventure — one that will allow the fruits of her MBA journey to come full circle. She plans to use the business knowledge and skills she picked up through online business courses to start her own enterprise, which will support students pursuing No-Pay MBAs.
More specifically, Pickard plans to offer a No-Pay MBA community and support package, including a handbook, a regularly updated course guide, a course checklist, support networks, a digital credential, and a web presence where No-MBAs can present their work to potential employers. A registration page is live now, and Pickard plans to launch the program in June 2015 with a tiered pricing structure. The first level will include one-time digital downloads of the handbook, courses lists, and other materials. The second tier would give members continuous access to all program documents, supplemental information, coaching opportunities, and networking activities for a monthly fee. While the price hasn’t been set, Pickard maintains that she will keep it affordable. She plans to give at least partial access for less than the price of a verified MOOC certificate, which starts at $25. “This education is an incredibly good value by its very nature, and I don’t want to detract from that,” she says.
EXPECTS NO-PAY MBA RESOURCES TO BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN A MOOC-BASED MBA & THE REAL THING
So far the reception has been positive, according to Pickard. “I posted a little blurb on my site that just said, ‘Join me in The No-Pay MBA cohort.’ It didn’t really give any information about what that was … and within one week, 50 people had signed up,” she says.
Based on her own experiences, she’s positioned The No-Pay MBA to fill in gaps in the MOOC experience and hopefully, by extension, to ward off some of the criticism levied at online classes. Networking remains one of the most oft-cited MOOC shortfalls. In a class of tens of thousands, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to establish meaningful connections with the professor and fellow students. Pickard has experienced this personally, both in MOOCs and in her own communications with other No-Pay MBAs.
She notes that it’s tricky to maintain contact with all the students who email her about her program and to connect them with one another. Plus, she simply missed the classmate interaction that bricks-and-mortar experiences offer. “I didn’t have anyone to compare notes with as I was deciding what to do, or to commiserate or celebrate with,” Pickard observes. She hopes the new No-Pay MBA resources will bridge those gaps by creating a forum and networking opportunities for site members.