HBX CORe: When online education surpasses the traditional one

For me, the 2015 has been the year of the MOOC, I got really hooked on this way of promoting knowledge and education. In less than 15 months, I took 23 courses. It has been an indigestion, I had better be more selective since some courses were a life-changing experience while others were totally useless.
Since I am used to introducing one or two MOOCs in my daily routine, it was a natural step to apply to HBX CORe, when the Harvard Business School opened the course not only to Harvard alumni but also to everyone.
HBX CORe is the first experiment of the HBS in order to enter in the online education. The school is trying to repeat what it did with the introduction of the MBA in the 1908: changing the rules of the sector and creating a new gold standard. Indeed, the HBX CORe isn’t just another MOOC.

Why is not a MOOC?

In my experience, a MOOC is usually one or more courses where some undergraduate or graduate subjects are taught at an introductory level. MOOCs are really informative and they could be an adequate first step in order to approach a new field of study.
In general, the tests and quizzes inside the MOOCs aren’t challenging at all, and the individual homework require little effort. Indeed, I was usually able to complete the weekly assignment the night before the deadline. Al least, this was my experience with two MOOCs of the Wharton Business Foundations Specialization, and I did the previous 9 weeks version. Nowadays, they last only 4 weeks, and the previous syllabus was largely reduced.
HBX CORe is a completely different beast.
The effort, the commitment and difficulty is equal to a traditional curricular course. Completing the HBX CORe program requires the same amount of study of two university courses. 
On one hand, HBX CORe is something that should be taken seriously.
On the other hand, you can learn really valuable skills that will last a lifetime since it tries to nurture a business mind to the participants.
According to the HBX website, CORe requires 10 hours per week of individual work, for the 12 week cohorts. My personal advice is to take into consideration from 15 hours to 20 hours per week. I enrolled in the only 8 week cohort offered, a huge mistake. I heard through the grapevine that the participants in that cohort, studied on average 35 hours per week, in line with my personal experience. It was really far from the 20 hours suggested by HBX website. 
The reason why HBX CORe is harder than other online business courses is rooted in its original purpose: “to provide the adequate business skills to Harvard undergraduates in other fields of study”.
Indeed, HBX CORe was designed as a service only for Harvard alumni. It had remained in this state of exclusivity for more than a year and its opening to the public came as a surprise.
In conclusion, HBX CORe was realized in order to give business skills that could be spent on the job market, and it accomplished perfectly this objective.

The Educational Experience

Professor Anand of HBX CORe faculty, declared that with HBX CORe didactic approach, they wanted to be as innovative as they had been with the introduction of the case method. 
For what I have seen they are near to achieving it. The methodology used in HBX CORe is impressive. I identify three pillars of HBX CORe didactic model:

  1. The Videos
  2. The Community
  3. The Quizzes

1. The Videos

In MOOCs, most videos last from 10 to 50 minutes and they are a simple recording of a traditional lesson. The quality of the recordings could be cinematographic, like in the famous MOOC CS50x, or really simple; but they are always straight reports of real life lessons. That’s not the case with HBX CORe
Firstly, the videos are really short; seldom they are longer than 5 minutes.The have little in common with traditional lessons. Indeed, they are really dense. There are sentences, written on the screen in capital letters, that summarize essential and complex concepts mixed with graphics and short speeches that explain what is on the screen. The reason for this kind of videos is that they are a piece of a more elaborate puzzle; they are the keys of solving it. Each topic in HBX CORe is included and explained in a single webpage which usually includes no more than 3 of these tiny videos.
At the beginning, I was really naive. Giving a quick look at the webpages in front of me, I was sure to complete each page in no more than 20 minutes. Subsequently, I discovered that I had to take into account at least 45 minutes for each page; because each page was full of activities such as surveys, open discussions, questions, little essays, Excel exercises and the “notorious” cold calls. Nearly 90% of HBX CORe people enrolled are not full time students, so the main constraint is time. Most of us made a great effort to find a free slot in their diary in order to complete the weekly homework; even 5 minutes were essential. During those 8 weeks, everything had to be planned; but the cold calls could not be planned or predicted. You were just as likely to be selected 5 times in an hour or be totally ignored by the system. Moreover, the cold calls incorporate a countdown and they include a question which usually refers to a topic analyzed 5 minutes before. A nice strategic tool from the faculty in order to prevent people from going through the content without the adequate attention. In conclusion, the videos have a role similar to the one of notes and cases during the MBA. They give the framework for a wide range of activities.

2. Community

Harvard Business School confirms its amazing community also online.I can not figure out what the secret recipe is, but the community grown around the course in the cohort has been a key component in the overall experience. I often found myself studying through Skype with the other mates; also spending all the night together and supporting each other. My iPhone was buzzing non-stop during the day due to the Facebook messages from my mates. Besides, it was astonishing that every question posted in HBX platform forums, was instantaneously answered by one or more people. The high intensive social activity didn’t remain confined to the online dimension. Although I was the only one from Italy, I have already met up 3 times with some course mates. I worked on a project with one mate, and I am planning a collaboration with an other one. The community is at least half of the value of HBX CORe program.

3. Quizzes

In the majority of MOOCs, the quizzes are short and simple. A quick and concentrated study of the material is enough to complete them with a high score. Instead, the HBX CORe quizzes are tricky. Every week there are 3 open book quizzes, one for each module. They usually have 20 questions. They are not really long, but they are similar in style to the GMAT questions.
Indeed, it is not enough to memorize or take notes to obtain a high score. The questions test your reasoning skills. In order to ace them, what really matters is how your way of thinking has changed due to what you have learned. The quizzes verify your business mind or business forma mentis.

Some Final Advice

  1. Choose your cohort wisely
    Since HBX CORe is time-consuming and requires a lot of commitment, it is important to enroll when you may not have an overly busy diary due to work or family duties. HBX CORe is a unique experience and it would be a sin not to savour the experience as much as you can.
  2. Being proficient in English
    Although there aren’t any English prerequisites, in order to access to the program, I would strongly recommend using the same threshold of the MBA program: 109 at TOEFL or 7.5 IELTS. Indeed, the effort is strongly reduced if your reading and writing skills are outstanding.
    In my opinion, it is possible to save up to half of the time dedicated to study. At least, it is what I noticed as not native English speaker. Due to the obstacles faced with English during the HBX CORe; I started a preparation course for the Cambridge Proficiency Exam. I become conscious that I needed to improve my English.