Bharat N. Anand, HBX Faculty Chair and the Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School in Boston, MA, USA.
Bharat Anand, HBX faculty chair © Bryce Vickmark

Harvard Business School has introduced HBX, an online learning platform that gives it a foothold in the world of massive open online courses (Moocs).

From June, HBX will offer financial accounting, business analytics and economics for managers. The courses known as “credential of readiness”, or CORe, are targeted at undergraduates and are initially available only to students in Massachusetts universities. The inaugural class will have 500-1,000 students and require 60-90 hours. Bharat Anand, a professor in the strategy unit at HBS and faculty chair of HBX, outlines the courses.

Who is HBX aimed at?
These courses are for the pre-MBA market. Before students arrive we try to level the playing field. But some students have four years of banking and some do not know the difference between revenue and profit. We’ve always had fill-in measures. But [with HBX] we said, let’s take those programmes and offer them online.

We are saying, follow your passions. Major in classics or art history. And then at some point do these core courses on HBX, to give you a business vocabulary and help you feel confident going into the workforce.

What are the origins of HBX?
Our teaching pedagogy is the case method, which has two principles: one is active learning, meaning that you can’t just listen to the lecture. You are part of the conversation. And two, every case starts with a problem a manager faces.

How does HBX work?
At the start of every lesson, you see a manager. Say the lesson is on conjoint analysis – how organisations learn about customer demand. If you were reading a textbook, you might say, I’ll skip these pages.

[Our platform] has Denise Warren, head of the New York Times’ digital division, describing how the company’s paywall project used conjoint analysis. Then we help you learn about the concept. We also have executives from Disney and FC Barcelona.

Where does the professor come in?
In constructing the courses, we chose moments where it’s useful to provide a faculty video.

How do the students participate?
After the manager talks, there is some text. You’re prompted to answer a question and then asked why you answered that way. Occasionally, you’ll be cold-called and have a minute to respond. Other students will then comment on and rate your answer.

It sounds a little stressful.
We want serious learners. Students understand they are being assessed on their mastery of content and on their participation. Students can ask questions of each other and form virtual study groups.

How much does it cost students?
$1,500. We also have a need-based financial aid programme.

We have a 32-person team here. We need this model to be sustainable. If we do something great for a year and we can’t do anything in year two or three, that’s a disservice to everyone. Against that objective is access. I grew up in India. I think deeply about access. We think the price point is reasonable, coupled with financial aid.

What happens once the course ends?
Once a student passes the course, they take a standardised exam in a testing centre. Then they earn a core credential. But we are less concerned about the piece of paper than we are that having passed [the programme] means something to the market – that employers have confidence in the students’ learning.

How much money has Harvard invested in HBX?
A lot.

Any worries?
I wake up four times a night. At one level I feel fabulous about what we’ve created. The imagination that’s gone into this, the collective wisdom and seeing so many of our colleagues energised by this venture – it’s exciting. But who will come? How will it play out? What kind of interactions will we see? We can never engineer that. That’s the danger and that’s the fun.

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