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European B-Schools

European Business Schools Open Up Online

HEC's campus in Jouy-en-Josas, near Paris

Photograph by Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg

HEC's campus in Jouy-en-Josas, near Paris

This week, HEC Paris became the first business school in France to offer a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), drawing more than 30,000 students to its debut class, “Understanding Europe,” which is taught in English and available on Coursera.

The university plans to roll out six additional MOOCs in the coming year. The second, which will teach financial valuation, launches on March 4. That course has a few key differences from HEC’s initial online course. Sixty percent of the students registered for the six-week “Understanding Europe” class hail from outside Europe. They will be able to interact with students on HEC-Paris’s physical campus via videos, surveys, and online forums to discuss how the European Union and other European institutions work.

By contrast, HEC’s second MOOC, “Evaluation Financiere de l’Entreprise” will be taught in French; of its 12,000 registrants, about 30 percent are French. The majority of the rest are from African nations and the developing world.

Such high interest from learners in emerging nations demonstrates how free online courses can break into new markets, says Vanessa Klein, project director of MOOCs at HEC. And as the global demand for the “Understanding Europe” course shows, students will jump at the chance to learn about Europe from native teachers without having to foot the hefty travel costs, much less tuition. Such courses also provide HEC global opportunities to showcase its expertise and research.

“MOOCs, in many ways, are a university’s attempt to transcend their ties to a nation-state,” says Gianpiero Petriglieri, associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD. “The aspiration of online learning is that you can access a pool of potential students who don’t have access to your offerings, whether geographical or financial.”

Though business-focused MOOCs are not common in Europe, the continent has embraced online learning and the appetite for it is growing, says Petriglieri. His own university, though it doesn’t offer MOOCs, has a variety of initiatives on interactive and online courses. An increasing number of schools in Europe are entering online education, softening the ground for future MOOCs. According to QS Quacquarelli Symonds, a company that tracks trends in higher education, seven of the top 10onlineand distance MBA programs are offered by European schools.

HEC Paris is taking advantage of the surging interest. In addition to its Coursera classes, the school will also roll out MOOCs on France Universite Numerique, a platform launched by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research to promote digital learning in higher education.

“We’re still looking for the business model, but online courses are starting to catch on in Europe,” says Klein. “MOOCs are a good way to learn how to teach online and experiment with blended courses, as well as demonstrate our expertise all over the world.”

Choi is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering business schools and careers. Follow her on Twitter @awesomechoi.

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