Wharton Offers Free Online Courses Copying First-Year MBA Study

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has expanded its offering of free online courses to duplicate much of what its first-year MBA students learn.

Newly added classes in financial accounting, marketing and corporate finance, and a fourth in operations management that has been offered since last year, make up Wharton’s “foundation series.” For a $49 fee, students can get a verified electronic certificate showing they’ve completed course requirements.

Along with five electives, including health care and sports business, the courses make it possible to learn much of what students in Wharton’s full-time MBA program learn, and aren’t watered-down versions, said Don Huesman, managing director of the innovation group at Wharton. All nine courses are massive open online courses, or MOOCs, offered through the Coursera platform.

“This is the first time that a business school has bundled a collection of MOOCs together in this fashion,” Huesman said of the foundation series. “We’re taking our core required classes in the MBA program, with the same instructors, to provide those same core concepts.”

While students won’t get the full Wharton on-campus experience -- including an internship, career services or alumni network, the foundation courses provide a combination of pre-recorded lectures and interactive features such as discussion boards that allow students to ask questions and get answers from the professor or an assistant. All are six to 10 weeks long, with the first, financial accounting, starting Sept. 16.

No Credit

Some Wharton professors are using the MOOC content in their own classes, asking students to watch the lessons beforehand so that class time can be used for discussion -- a practice known as “flipping” a class.

Wharton has no plans to accept the certificates for course credit should students subsequently enroll, Huesman said. The cost to attend the two-year MBA program is about $100,000 a year, including tuition, room and board, books and other expenses.

“There’s a very different experience that happens in a two-year immersion in a community of scholars that culminates in a degree,” he said.

Still, what students learn in the online classes can be used to “test out” of required courses just as those with knowledge of the subject matter can do now.

About 700,000 students in 173 countries have enrolled in Wharton MOOCs, more than the combined enrollment in the school’s traditional MBA and undergraduate programs since its founding in 1881, Huesman said. Additional courses are in the pipeline, he said.