Top Trends In Online Business Education

In 2012, the MOOC emerged as a new mode of learning that disrupted the “sage on stage” model that had flourished in academic institutions for centuries. The year of the MOOC, as it came to be known, marked a new era in business education.

Since then, online learning has revolutionized the traditional top-down, university-driven degree approach to business education. “We are all working and learning together in ways we could not have imagined five or even three years ago,” said Anne Trumbore, Senior Director of Wharton Online.

That’s why Wharton’s Vice Dean of Executive Education Jagmohan Raju wanted to bring together academic leaders in business and senior leaders in industry from around the world to begin a true interinstitutional discourse around the transformation of business education.

 “Our ambition was to bring together the people who are transforming online business education — business schools as content producers, online companies that are both technology platforms and distribution systems, and companies that want to invest in continuous professional development for their people,” said Geoff Garrett, Dean of the Wharton School.

Through a mix of facilitated conversations and plenary sessions, panelists and attendees discussed emerging opportunities for on-campus and on-the-job education, how online learning is proliferating historically significant shifts in traditional business education, and the relevance of business schools in this new credentialing economy.


Online learning has allowed institutions to increase their reach and have a greater social impact by democratizing access to business education. Coursera CEO Rick Levin considers online learning an audience extender rather than a disrupter. Nearly 80 percent of Coursera learners are over college age, and a significant number have never set foot in a college classroom. Online learning will no doubt play a crucial role in delivering higher education to the millions of new students who will come from emerging economies over the next decade.

“Online education provides a truly unique opportunity for business schools to have a greater impact on the world, to stem the weakening demand for on-site MBA programs, and to reach audiences that they don’t currently reach,” Levin said.

Initially, many universities were concerned about potential dilution of brand with online learning. But employing methods like virtual proctoring, hand-grading integrated with peer assessment, and randomized problem banks has enabled them to ensure the quality and integrity of the education they’re providing online is up to par with their on-campus offerings.


Power is shifting from institutions that provide bundled degrees to consumers who assemble their own portfolio of credentials and skills to get the jobs they want.
“One fascinating byproduct of online learning is the range of hybrid credentials that are bubbling up — not degrees, but credentials valued in the marketplace,” Dean Garrett said. “At our conference, the edX CEO Anant Agarwal announced one interesting example: a major expansion of “micromasters” in topics ranging from artificial intelligence to project management to computer science.”

The new micromaster credential, a series of online classes that translate to one-quarter to one-half of a master’s degree, creates a pathway to credit on campus. It also offers institutions a novel way to identify promising graduate degree candidates.


The MBA degree isn’t going away anytime soon. Alternative credentials have not been able to establish the same currency as the MBA in the job market yet.

Today’s consumer base in higher education is much more skeptical. They’re looking for specific outcomes and metrics to communicate the value and back up the price of education.

Rather than making a significant investment of time and money in advanced degrees, more consumers are starting to combine their bachelor’s degree with non-degree credentials and professional certifications.

The future of business education is a hybrid of technology-enabled learning and face-to-face instruction. Many institutions are using online learning to raise the bar on campus. In terms of professional development, it’s given many faculty members a chance to innovate their approach to teaching. The online forum allows them to try new pedagogies and technologies to determine how they might work best for students, and they don’t have to wait months for course evaluations to see what works and what doesn’t.