by Laurie Pickard

How to make a MOOC “MBA” using free courses from Top 10 business schools

Back when massive open online courses (MOOCs) were new, I started a project to complete the equivalent of an MBA, using free courses. Platforms such as Coursera and edX were making headlines, and when I learned that leading universities (including business schools) were distributing online courses for free, I was inspired to construct a business education rather than pay an exorbitant amount for a degree.

I called the project the “No-Pay MBA” and I blogged about it at www.NoPayMBA.com. I finished my business education in 2016, and wrote a book to guide others interested in doing a self-made MBA (Don’t Pay For Your MBA, HarperCollins, 2017).

Now that I’m working for the MOOC review site Class Central, I’ve been wondering, how would I approach this project today, given the wealth of new courses and tools that are now available?

When I was doing my No-Pay MBA, there were only a few business MOOCs available, so I basically signed up for all of them. Fortunately or unfortunately, so many respected business schools have released free courses — 1,867 business courses are currently listed on Class Central — that it would be impossible to do that today.

Through my studies, I also came to believe that putting together an MBA-level education requires much more than simply ticking through a checklist of course topics. That’s partly because MOOCs differ from on-campus courses in scope, length, and rigor; and partly because creating your own MBA offers a tremendous opportunity to tailor the curriculum to your needs.

My advice: start by learning some foundational business concepts in introductory-level courses, then develop some general business skills, and finally, dive deep in an area of concentration.

Below is a sample course list that follows this advice, drawn entirely from business schools in U.S. News & World Report’s top ten. I cross referenced the U.S. News list with Class Central’s database to find around 90 courses from top ten schools, including the University of Pennsylvania (#3), MIT (#5), Northwestern (#6), the University of California Berkeley (#7), the University of Michigan (tied for #7), Columbia University (#9), and Dartmouth (#10).

I used only courses from these schools not because there aren’t great MOOCs from business schools lower down in U.S. News’ ranking (the full course catalog of the University of Illinois’s iMBA, for example), but simply because A) I had to cut down the number of courses somehow, and B) I wanted to demonstrate that the content for a top-tier MBA is there for the taking.

Note: The curriculum below is a pretty solid MBA program. However, it doesn’t include every topic that might be included in an MBA. Some notable gaps: project management, micro- and macroeconomics, and business ethics. It’s also rather light on operations management.

Another Note: While many of these courses do involve fees, all of them can be audited for free, either in full or in part. If you’re new to MOOCs, you can learn more about them in Class Central’s Beginners’ Guide to Massive Open Online Courses.

Foundational Business Concepts (4 courses)

The four courses in the Business Foundations Specialization from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business are a popular starting place for those new to the world of business. I suggest taking all four.

Introduction to Marketing, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Introduction to Financial Accounting, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Introduction to Operations Management, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Introduction to Corporate Finance, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

General Business and Management Skills (4–6 courses)

Quantitative modeling, negotiation, project and people management, decision-making, leadership, and communication are important skills regardless of industry. I recommend taking at least one course that covers each of the aforementioned topics, for a total of between four and six courses.

Fundamentals of Quantitative Modeling, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Decision-Making and Scenarios, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Managing Talent, University of Michigan via Coursera

Leading Teams, University of Michigan via Coursera

Scaling Operations: Linking Strategy and Execution, Northwestern University via Coursera

High Performance Collaboration: Leadership, Teamwork, and Negotiation, Northwestern University via Coursera

Leadership Communication for Maximum Impact: Storytelling, Northwestern University via Coursera

Inspiring and Motivating Individuals, University of Michigan via Coursera

Making Successful Decisions through the Strategy, Law & Ethics Model, University of Michigan via Coursera

Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills, University of Michigan via Coursera

Concentration (8–10 courses)

I advise anyone pursuing self-directed education to develop deep knowledge and skills in an area of concentration. This is where you can reap the real value of a self-directed education. Focus on a discrete area, take courses that are rigorous, and put what you learn into practice in real world scenarios.

I’ve listed three possible MBA concentrations that could be constructed from courses offered by the top ten B-schools, excluding pre-packaged options such as the MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management from MIT.

Option 1 — Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is the obvious choice for someone interested in starting a business. Added bonus: if you’re planning on being your own boss you won’t have to defend the value of your self-directed education in a job interview.

Entrepreneurship 1: Developing the Opportunity, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Entrepreneurship 2: Launching your Start-Up, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Entrepreneurship 3: Growth Strategies, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Entrepreneurship 4: Financing and Profitability, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies, Harvard University via edX

Becoming an Entrepreneur, Massachusetts Institute of Technology via edX

The Iterative Innovation Process, Massachusetts Institute of Technology via edX

CS50’s Computer Science for Business Professionals, Harvard University via edX

Option 2 — Digital Strategy

With plenty of courses and many opportunities to use your skills in the real world, digital strategy makes for an excellent area of concentration. Being a relatively new field, it may also be easier to get a job in this area without a traditional degree.

What is Social?, Northwestern University via Coursera

The Importance of Listening, Northwestern University via Coursera

Engagement & Nurture Marketing Strategies, Northwestern University via Coursera

Content, Advertising & Social IMC, Northwestern University via Coursera

The Business of Social, Northwestern University via Coursera

Marketing Analytics: Price and Promotion Analytics, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Marketing Analytics: Competitive Analysis and Market Segmentation, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Marketing Analytics: Products, Distribution and Sales, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Marketing Analytics: Marketing Measurement Strategy, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Marketing Analytics, Columbia University via edX

Writing for Social Media, University of California, Berkeley via edX

Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences, Northwestern University via Coursera

Content Strategy for Professionals: Managing Content, Northwestern University via Coursera

Content Strategy for Professionals: Expanding Your Content’s Reach, Northwestern University via Coursera

Content Strategy for Professionals: Ensuring Your Content’s Impact, Northwestern University via Coursera

Omnichannel Strategy and Management, Dartmouth via edX

Option 3 — Finance

Finance is a more risky area of concentration, since it can be hard to break into the industry without the right credentials. However, if you already have a foot in the door, there are plenty of finance courses at the MBA level.

Valuation: Alternative Methods, University of Michigan via Coursera

Financial Engineering and Risk Management Part I, Columbia University via Coursera

Financial Engineering and Risk Management Part II, Columbia University via Coursera

Modeling Risk and Realities, University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Corporate Financial Policy, University of Michigan via edX

Principles of Valuation: Risk and Return, University of Michigan via Coursera

Financial Institutions and Markets, University of Michigan via edX

Financial Decision Rules for Project Evaluation, University of Michigan via edX

Principles of Valuation: Time Value of Money, University of Michigan via Coursera

Valuing Companies, University of Michigan via Coursera

Project Risk Assessment, University of Michigan via edX

The Free Cash Flow Method for Firm Valuation, Columbia University via edX

Thank you for reading!