Critics have also lampooned the MOOC MBA’s legitimacy, particularly when it comes to employers. Pickard plans to address this by allowing students to post profiles showcasing their courses and best work on the site. Plus, she points out, packaging individual MOOCs as an MBA lends validity to the program. “There’s such a wide variety in what a MOOC does, how good it is, and how much you learn that a single certificate doesn’t tell you that much — but that’s the same in college courses,” she observes. “Nobody’s hiring you because you have a single college course; they’re hiring you because you have a package that’s valuable. I think we are going to see a repackaging of [online] courses. The fundamental content will still be the same, but the way that it’s going to be packaged and the way that people are going to present that to future employers is different.”
‘THERE’S STILL A HANDS-ON ELEMENT THAT CAN’T BE REPLICATED’
As the first person to publicly pursue the equivalent of an elite online MBA for a mere fraction of the cost, Pickard says she gained a key advantage. “I’ve gone through this experience myself, so I know what I’ve missed as a student,” she says. “I’ve had to defend this again and again and again. People constantly bring up to the problems and the holes they see in it, which is amazing in a way because so many people are contributing their ideas, even if they’re only saying, ‘Well, you’re missing the network.’ So I’m thinking alright, how do I build the network?”
Still, she acknowledges that MOOCs aren’t perfect. There are plenty of things you can’t learn well online, including how to write and collaborate in a group, she points out. The one-on-one mentorship and the inspiration you get from a professor looking you in the eye are absent from online exchanges, she says. There’s also the inevitable problem of the building the right sequence of courses that build on the knowledge and skills a student gains in a class. Picking a bunch of unrelated MOOCs make that difficult, if not impossible.
Pickard believes there’s a place for immersive learning experiences, such as an undergraduate, on-campus education. “There’s a hands-on element that can’t be replicated,” she says. For this reason, she’s focused on the professional and graduate market, where most students have already passed through a four-year college and are simply looking to supplement their skills or to make a career change.
SHE’S DONE FIVE COURSES IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP ALONE
But Pickard remains a hearty support of MOOCs and can attest to their benefits firsthand. What started as an experiment to move into a business role in international development morphed into an entrepreneurial trajectory. She quite literally started a business out of online classes. Pickard’s completed five courses in entrepreneurship. In a traditional MBA program, that’s enough for a specialization. Her favorite courses included Steve Blank’s How to Build a Startup and Bill Aulet’s two MIT classes on the subject: Entrepreneurship 101: Who is your customer? and Entrepreneurship 102: What can you do for your customer?
How do you get an employer to recognize the school work you’ve done in a MOOC? Obviously, you can’t claim you have an MBA degree on your resume. So Pickard recommends that you express it this way: “Course work equivalent to an MBA” if you’ve taken enough courses for a full MBA curriculum or “Advanced course work in finance” if you’ve taken a series of classes in finance. She says you can also list your courses and grades on your resume as well as the specific skills you’ve learned in your MOOC courses, from market analysis and financial modeling to product branding.
For Pickard, it all boils down to presentation. “You can think about it this way,” she says, “a degree from a university with a good reputation is shorthand for all the course work you did, your leadership and extracurricular experiences during your studies, and importantly, the admissions process you went through to get into the program.” If you’ve done a group of MOOCs, “you’ll have to do a bit more to convince people of the legitimacy of your studies.”
Following the media fanfare and outside interest in The No-Pay MBA blog, Pickard sensed her own business opportunity. The courses pushed her to explore it further and eventually to consider launching the blog as a bona fide business. While the jury is still out on whether or not she’ll enjoy the same success with The No-Pay MBA 2.0, she’ll have an opportunity to put her business skills to the test and to help other MOOC MBAs along the same path. Either way, she’s confident it won’t be a loss. “Succeed or fail, it’s part of a learning experience,” Pickard says. “So whether this goes well or whether this doesn’t go at all, I will have learned something, and that’s a critical piece of my business education.”