Stanford Takes Leap Into Online Education

Stanford Graduate School of Business - GSB photo

Stanford Graduate School of Business – GSB photo

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business has seen the gigabytes on the wall. Still running the most selective residential MBA program in the country, GSB has nonetheless taken online education into a full embrace. It’s built cutting-edge digital production suites, hired a dozen ed-techies to work with professors to create and deliver content, and now announced its largest online offering to date: the executive education LEAD Certificate in Corporate Innovation.

LEAD – “Learn, Engage, Accelerate, Disrupt” – is no MOOC, school officials hasten to emphasize. Admission is highly selective, targeting a maximum of 100 students drawn from the cream of the working professional crop.

“This is aimed at people at any level within an organization who are wanting to challenge the status quo and really drive innovation in an established organization,”  says Audrey Witters, GSB’s managing director of online executive education.


“We’ve really taken what we’ve learned from on campus executive education and translated into the online experience. This is a really unique program as far as I know in business education.”

The program, intended to be finished within a year and requiring about five hours of work per week, may appeal to those who would consider it a “more attractive option” than an online MBA or an executive MBA, Witters says.

“Not everybody can come to Stanford for two years, or even a week,” Witters says. “We want to scale the impact of the faculty research and we want to help working professionals make use of this content in a meaningful way.”

Fittingly, as LEAD focuses on innovation within organizations, GSB spokesperson Barbara Buell says the offering is part of a drive by the school to become a leader in digital teaching.


Says Witters, “There’s a lot happening in the online education space. All of the major universities are trying to figure out what the right play is. What we’re doing at GSB is a multifaceted approach. We’re looking at all these different areas where we can invest heavily in online education.”

Though costing, at $16,000, more than 10 times what Harvard Business School charges for its $1,500 nine-week Credential of Readiness online undergraduate course unveiled this year, and more than four times the cost of Wharton’s new $3,700 eight-week online exec ed program, LEAD tuition is a relative bargain compared to the $62,500 GSB requires for its six-week residential exec ed program.

And the school is aggressively marketing the new online course, which debuts May 5, issuing a promotional video that shows a Linkedin profile being updated with a LEAD certificate from the Stanford GSB, and promising that participants upon completion will receive “a LEAD Certificate badge for public posting to LinkedIn profiles.”


Among other skills, participants can learn how to use neuroscience to persuade colleagues to adopt a new vision for a company.

Ten to 15 GSB professors will teach LEAD via a platform from Novoed, an online education company founded by former Stanford engineering professor Amin Saberi and Stanford doctoral student Farnaz Ronaghi, who is on leave from her Stanford PhD studies on incentives in social networks.

Integrating real-time class discussions, feedback from GSB faculty, instructional video, online exercises, team collaborations, and events live-streamed from the GSB, LEAD includes three foundational courses, Financing Innovation: The Creation of Value; Critical Analytical Thinking; and Strategic Leadership. Students will select five electives from 10 offered, including Design Thinking: Building Brands Inside Out; Startup Garage for Intrapraneurs (people taking an entrepreneurial approach within their organizations); Business Model Design; and Using Neuroscience to Influence Behavior.

The latter elective is intended to teach a person how to “get into the minds of the other people in the organization to help convince them and help them see your vision,” Witters says.


Because participants will be working on changing their organizations while taking the course, they’ll be able to apply their learning immediately, and get feedback from professors and peers about the actions they’re taking or planning to take at work as they attempt to innovate, Witters says.

Participants will each receive two 360-degree leadership assessments, with coaching in between. Silicon Valley business leaders will take part in live-streamed panels and lectures. LEAD involves about 200 hours of content and faculty engagement, according to GSB.

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