Now Even Harvard Business School Is Working On Free Online Courses

Max Nisen

The effort is known as "HBX," and follows in the footsteps of HarvardX, the university's existing set of 17 courses on the free EdX platform, none of which have a business focus.

Relatively few details are available about the content of the courses, but according to HBS marketing head Brian Kenny, they will likely be available in the spring or summer of next year. 

A job posting found by Businessweek's Louis Lavelle and Erin Zlomek for a director of academic content development provides a bit more detail. They'll be expected to create interactive elements, "mini-simulations," and develop a testing model to measure accomplishment and engagement.

So expect more than just a series of taped lectures. 

One of the school's most prominent professors, Clay Christensen, has been predicting this for some time. He's the father of the concept of disruption innovation, and sees it coming for higher education in general and business schools in particular. 

"At Harvard Business School, we’re getting disrupted by online learning," Christensen said recently at the World Business Forum in New York City. "It truly isn’t as good, but does this technology, over time, get good enough to meet the needs of our customers? The answer is yes."

The threat to universities comes on multiple fronts: Online education is dramatically less expensive; it gives the best professors the ability to reach hundreds of thousands of people, instead of a couple hundred a semester; and the actual student experience is getting better all the time.

The traditional MBA is particularly vulnerable. Places like Harvard charge so much and graduates expect such high salaries that the number of companies that can hire MBAs is dwindling. If they can find cheaper ways to teach those skills, they're going to use them. 

Whether it wants to offer its best professors a wider platform to convince them to stay, or prepare for an online future, HBS is acknowledging what has been the standard can't last forever. 

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