Why a MOOC cannot substitute an MBA program?

I had taken a competitive strategy MOOC on Coursera, which had started off with competitor dynamics using game theory. Given that I had no background in strategy, I thoroughly enjoyed the highly theoretical approach of explaining a concept, illustrating with an example and then allowing you to practice with an example. Unfortunately, since I didn’t complete the course like most other courses I’ve taken in the past on Coursera, I was looking forward to my competitive strategy class here at school assuming that it will be a quick review of what I had already seen and then merely a continuation of the Coursera course (Well ok, almost).

Funnily, this course seemed extremely different from what I was expecting and apart from learning the Porter’s five forces framework, we didn’t get any real fundaes from this class. It seemed like a sophisticated version of the Analysis of Business Problems course except we weren’t obsessing over the protagonist. The format is mostly case discussion sprinkled with a few lecture based classes. All cases are supported with technical notes eliminating the need to have separate textbooks. I hadn’t read any of them until today since I wanted some to be technically aware before working on a strategy assignment that’s due next week. Guess what I found? The exact same stuff that I’d seen in the first module of the MOOC. This is never going to be explained in class and this is the precise difference between a MOOC and an MBA and why one will never be a substitute of another except in more lecture based schools.

The case based MBA program is like a simulator but before you start flying, you must be well versed with the instruction manual. MOOCs are great instruction manuals – they explain the underlying concepts with practical examples, throw a few practice questions your way for you to re-confirm your understanding. The technical notes aren’t so much as manuals simply because the amount of case work you have, you will never find the time to go through the technical notes. Also, you realise that reading the technical notes doesn’t necessarily make you fly the highest/ farthest in class since you may or may not get a chance to really fly if you aren’t picked to make your point to validate your understanding.

MOOCs try to simulate through discussion forums etc, but it’s just not as dynamic as being an MBA classroom. The MBA program allows you to dabble with so many controls in the simulation – working on team projects, manoeuvring around people’s egos and accomplishing superior results, which is simply not imitable by a MOOC. MOOCs give you weapons but just don’t develop the presence of mind you need to be on a battle field. So, MOOCs and MBA programs are complimentary to each other and not competitors in most markets.


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