How MOOCs Can Help Prepare You for an MBA

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Thursday, March 10, 2016
Although MOOCs cannot replace the unique experience of an MBA, they can help you be better prepared and get more out of the experience once you enter your program.

If you have been doing research on business degrees, you’re likely to have come across MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. These short courses, which last between a few weeks and a few months, cover a wide range of business, and non-business topics taught by leading faculty around the world. Although they haven’t been around for very long, these courses, the platforms that host them, and the faculty who create them are all growing rapidly.

The reason for their popularity is simple: MOOCs are free, open to anyone with access to a computer, and can be completed at an individual’s own pace.

What Do MOOCs Have to Do With Applying for an MBA?

Although MOOCs cannot replace the unique experience you will have once you begin your business degree, they can help you be better prepared and get more out of the experience once you enter, and can even help you when you’re applying to the MBA program in the first place.

Unlike when you start your business program and need to choose your courses carefully, you can use free MOOCs as a way to explore different topics and see what might be of interest to you in terms of courses and career options after earning your MBA. You can then use this knowledge to help find the MBA that might best suit you and your plans.

Additionally, let’s say you want to learn more about a particular program without committing. Find out if the schools you’re interested in applying to offer any MOOCs, as a way to better acquaint yourself with the school and its faculty, culture, and teaching. Since many top-ranked business schools, including Harvard, IE, HEC, and Stanford, all offer MOOCs, enrolling in these courses is also an opportunity to experience leading MBA programs—at least virtually.

Further, because thousands of people participate in MOOCs, and many of the courses include platforms to discuss a given topic and even work on assignments together, enrolling in the courses will give open up lots of opportunities to meet new people from around the world with similar interests.

Will MOOCs Help Me Get Into an MBA Program?

MOOCs are not required to apply for an MBA, and listing all the MOOCs you have taken on your application will not get you very far. It all depends on your approach. Taking MOOCs from a school you are applying to can give you a peek at the faculty, teaching styles, and specialty topics at your school of choice and demonstrate to admissions officers that you have been doing your research.

Exploring MOOCs focused on areas you are interested in can reinforce your application, or taking MOOCs to work on some skills that you may be weak at or missing can show initiative.

But think carefully about how you mention these courses—whether in your CV, essays, or interviews, or not at all. After all, anyone can take a MOOC, and just enrolling doesn’t mean you completed the course (even though with some courses you can submit assignments and receive a certificate of completion for a small fee). A strong MBA application is one that tells the story of an applicant—who they are, where they want to go, and why that particular school will help them get there. If MOOCs help with that story, then include them.

So How Can MOOCs Help Me?

AACSB-accredited schools are actively providing unique MOOCs that can help you in a variety of ways:

Get a head start on your core courses. This is particularly useful if you are coming into the MBA without a lot of business experience. There are quite a few options for introductory courses on Marketing (University of British Columbia), HR (University of Minnesota), Finance (University of California, Irvine), Operations (Indian Institute of Management), Strategy (University of Virginia), and Economics (Columbia University). Or you can complete the whole set through the Wharton Foundation Series.

Explore different approaches to leadership. Since the MBA aims to prepare you to become a leader of tomorrow, you can use MOOCs to start reflecting on leadership and the kind of leader you might want to be. For example, there are courses on Influencing People (University of Michigan), Leadership in 21st Century Organizations (Copenhagen Business School), Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence (Case Western Reserve University), Building Your Leadership Skills (HEC), Critical Perspectives on Management (IE Business School), and Managing the Company of the Future (London Business School).

Improve your communication skills. Much of the MBA is about teamwork, so already starting to think about developing your communication skills will help make you a more effective team member. This could be a course on Public Speaking (University of Washington), Giving Helpful Feedback (University of Colorado Boulders), Developing Conflict Resolution Skills (University of California, Irvine), Successful Negotiation (University of Michigan), Communicating Strategically (Purdue University), Effective Problem-Solving and Decision-Making (University of California, Irvine), or simply Working in Teams (The University of Queensland). Even a basic English Grammar and Essay Writing Course (University of California, Berkeley) could provide a good refresher to get you ready to write papers again if you are out of practice.

Explore very specific sectors and topics that may be of interest. This could be Food and Beverage (Bocconi University), Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum (University of Leicester), Hospitality (Cornell University), Health Care (Harvard University), or the Fashion Industry (Bocconi University).

Explore entrepreneurship as a post-MBA option. There are courses to help guide you through every step of the process, including Becoming an Entrepreneur (MIT) to start, and then you can learn how to get money for your new business with Introduction to Venture Capital (RWTH Aachen University) and finally How to Scale up your Venture Without Screwing Up (Stanford Graduate School of Business).

Prepare for your post-MBA career. Courses such as Unlocking Your Employability (University of Queensland), Personal Branding (University of Virginia), How to Write a Resume (The State University of New York), How to Succeed at Interviews (University of Sheffield), or Career Brand Development and Self-Coaching (The State University of New York) can all help you land not only your dream job but potentially a spot in your MBA of choice!

Exploring the world of MOOCs can help you learn more about the schools you are looking at, identify the topics you are interested in, and develop the skills that will help you not only succeed throughout and after your MBA but potentially get admitted in the first place.

Giselle Weybrecht Giselle Weybrecht is an author, advisor, and speaker in the areas of sustainability and business. Her bestselling book, The Sustainable MBA: A Business Guide to Sustainability, brings together all the pieces of the business and sustainability puzzle in an easy-to-understand format. Weybrecht presented a TEDx Talk, "How to Make Anything More Sustainable." She is on Twitter @gweybrecht.

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