So you think you have what it takes to get into the B-School of your choice and you’ve narrowed your options to three. The schools you would like to attend are running neck and neck, so now you’re stuck without a tiebreaker. Good news. MOOCs offer the opportunity to sample a class, or even an entire program, without a serious time or financial commitment. Yes, MOOCs are free and you can participate at your convenience.

MOOC (mu:k) is an acronym for massive open online course. Though MOOCs are not exactly new (the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) claims the first, offered 2006-2007) the format has been increasing in popularity since 2011 when Stanford University offered a course on artificial intelligence that attracted some 160,000 students. Since then, hundreds of colleges around the world have followed suit, offering anywhere from one to more than 100 MOOCs. Stanford still leads the pack, with an estimated 141 course offerings.

Some other prestigious schools that offer MOOCs include MIT (estimated 136 courses), University of Pennsylvania (estimated 116), Harvard University (estimated 108), Rice University (70), Duke University (57), Emory University (21) Vanderbilt (28), Princeton University (27), Northwestern (27), Yale University (19), Cornell University (12), Georgetown University (12), University of Chicago (10), Dartmouth (6), Carnegie Mellon (2), and Columbia Business School (1).

While students can sample one or more courses at these schools and others, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took things a step further—a big step. The school now offers its entire MBA curriculum via MOOCs. Students may complete the entire program at no charge. Verified course certificates are available for a fee and indicate successful completion of a class. Students in the Illinois MOOC MBA (known as iMBA), may apply to the school at any point, if they would like to walk away with a degree. At a cost of around $22,000 per academic year, the Illinois MBA program is still one of the most affordable online MBA programs in the U.S.

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So how do MOOCs work? Per Class Central, a curated catalog of MOOCs across different online course providers, the short answer is “MOOCs are designed for an online audience, teaching primarily through short (5–20 min.) pre-recorded video lectures. You watch these videos on a weekly schedule when it is convenient for you. MOOCs also have student discussion forums, homework and assignments, and online quizzes or exams.” Note that this may vary by school. For example, Georgia Tech has this to say about its MOOC offerings:

“Georgia Tech’s faculty members plan and design the content of each MOOC, which is then delivered online through learning platforms like Coursera, Udacity, and edX. These MOOC courses make it possible for us to extend a high-quality education to more people from all over the world, which is in line with our mission as a public university.”

Students should plan “to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete a MOOC course. Most courses can be taken at your own pace and on your own time. Each MOOC comes with access to a complete curriculum including instructor videos, class exercises, and, in some cases, a final project. To successfully complete a course, be sure to watch all the videos, do all of the exercises, and turn in your final project, if applicable. You can stay motivated, ask questions, and discuss ideas in the online forums, where you can connect with thousands of other learners who are taking the course at the same time.”

As mentioned, hundreds of schools offer MOOCs. Class Central lists 705. To find out if a business school on your short list offers access to MBA courses via MOOCs, you can browse available classes on platforms such as Coursera or edX, visit the school’s website, or contact the admissions office or program director.

Sources

Coursera. Coursera, Inc., 2017. Web. 31 Apr. 2017.

Davidson, Cathy. "What Was the First MOOC?" HASTAC. Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC), 27 Sept. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

EdX. EdX, Inc., 2012-2017. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

"Frequently Asked Questions." Class Central. Class Central, 2011-2017. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

Friedman, Jordan. "5 Reasons to Consider Paying for a MOOC Verified Certificate." U.S. News & World Report Education. U.S. News & World Report L.P., 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

Geno, Christopher. "Colleges with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)." Campus Explorer. Campus Explorer, 2017. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

"How MOOCs Work." Georgia Tech Professional Education. Georgia Tech, 18 Oct. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

Lambert, Lance. "Best Business Schools 2016." Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg L.P., 16 Nov. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

"List of 705 Universities Offering MOOCs/free Online Courses." Class Central. Class Central, 2011-2017. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.

"MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses)." Online.Illinois.edu. University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign, 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

Pickard, Laurie. "The MOOC-Based MBA." BizEd Magazine. AACSB International, 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 31 Apr. 2017.

Udacity. Udacity, Inc., 2011–2017. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.