At the AIGAC conference in June, I spoke to a couple of people on the HBS admissions staff and asked them how applicants with less than stellar records can show they are “new and improved” – focused, mature, and ready for business school. They responded that while HBX CORe doesn’t guarantee admission, completing it with high marks does show that you can perform in an HBS kind of environment. They clearly saw it as a credible credential.
I wanted to learn more about this innovative program and credential. So I invited HBX CORe’s director to join me. Fortunately he accepted the invitation. Today’s guest is Patrick Mullane, Executive Director of HBX CORe. Patrick served as a captain in the USA Air Force in the early 90s, earned his MBA from HBS, and then moved into the world of business. Today he is back at HBS as the director of HBS’ exciting new online learning program. Welcome!
Can you give us an overview of HBX CORe? [1:48]
It’s a 3-course program: economics, accounting, and business analytics. The courses were chosen by faculty as foundational areas people needed for business. The program was originally created to be directed at people late in undergrad, studying the liberal arts, or people preparing for b-school who needed to refresh their knowledge in these disciplines.
How do students learn in HBX CORe? [3:10]
It’s an asynchronous, online program. HBS built it from scratch rather than using existing online platforms. And we use case content, rather than having lectures and texts.
There’s no textbook – it’s fully self-contained. Students can download study sheets.
If there’s no textbook, how are fundamentals taught? [6:00]
Students get everything through the case. Fundamental concepts are given real world structure that makes them easier to grasp.
We also have a closed Facebook group connected to the experience.
How long does the course last, and how many hours? [7:15]
It’s 170 hours of on-platform time, and students report that they spend extensive time off-platform studying. We have courses that last varying lengths of time, as little as 8 weeks or as long as 18, but the number of hours required is the same.
We gate the material and we have quizzes so students work through the course in a cohort.
Do some people have more background in a particular area of business? [9:15]
We use people with background in disciplines for benchmarking: on final exams, those who had previous experience only outperform new students by a few points, which shows us that students are learning new material well.
Study groups are very important at HBS. Is there anything similar at HBX? [10:13]
On the platform, we try to approximate this through the “peer help” function. It’s very different from a bulletin board – it’s very contextual. And students interact through the Facebook group.
Students also coordinate getting together in the city they’re in – in person – to form a study group, just like on campus at HBS.
HBX CORe doesn’t require GMAT/GRE, but does have an application process: what are you looking for? Who do you want to admit? [12:40]
A big part of HBX has to do with the HBS mission: educating leaders that make a difference in the world. The advent of technology has helped us extend that mission. There are more than 900 people (the approximate size of the HBS class) who can excel in the content here and benefit from it.
The purpose of having an application is that we want to be selective but not exclusive.
In the application, we want to test people’s engagement and how excited they are. There’s light testing of analytical ability. We want to see their reasons for doing the program, and test language ability, since the program is only in English.
How do applicants show verbal abilities and analytical skills? [15:25]
The analytical test is chart reading; verbal abilities are shown through essays.
How else do you encourage engagement in an asynchronous course? [16:20]
Beyond the peer help and the Facebook group, it really goes back to building the platform from the ground up and focusing on making it student centered. We want the participant to be leaning forward in their seat.
We’ve created the course to include many short segments and activities – in 100 minutes of curriculum, we have many more activities than the standard MOOC. We spend a lot of time and effort on interactions and animations that explain things in ways you couldn’t in a classroom. It has the side benefit of helping faculty think through how to explain things in new ways.
The interactive platform also replicates the classroom experience of the “cold call.” As students proceed through the course, they can randomly get a notification that they’ve been selected for a “cold call.” Then a question pops up and they have 2 minutes to answer. Their answer is visible to their classmates, who can engage/comment.
CORe stands for “Credential of Readiness.” What is the credential and what does it prepare holders to do? [23:15]
We think of the credential as honoring the fact that you went through something rigorous. (Quizzes, an in-person final exam, cold call answers, shared reflections: all are included in your work.) So the program includes heavy assessment, which distinguishes it from many online programs, which often provide a certificate of completion.
The online learning community awards a lot of certificates. We believe ours is the highest value because of the level of assessment and engagement. We would like, over time, to determine the value more scientifically, beyond the anecdotal data we hear from students, which is positive.
Do you have entrepreneurs taking HBX in place of b-school? [28:00]
I met a church pastor who planned to start his own church (which you might not immediately think of as a business, but it’s a business enterprise), and the program was helpful to him.
We’ve had people use it as a way to get business fundamentals. People self-report their titles in their organizations, and we have a lot of chief executive titles, from people who have started their own organizations.
Can current college students get credit for the program? [29:55]
Yes, but we’re not the ones who give credit. We work through two partner schools to offer credit right now: Harvard Extension and Boise State.
Does anyone take the course but not aim for the credential? [31:00]
A small percentage take the course but don’t sit for the final.
Any students’ stories stand out to you? [31:44]
I’ve heard from people with learning disabilities or physical disabilities who found that the asynchronous program was a godsend.
It’s also a great way for people interested in b-school to test their interest.
We had a woman who was an art history major, and knew nothing about business and had always assumed she would hate it. She loved the accounting class and said she thought she’d missed her calling.
As an HBS alum, what do you think has stood the test of time from your experience? [33:50]
The power of the case method. I’ve found it a powerful way to think about problems in a holistic way.
And study groups are very valuable. They allowed us to divide the work and brief each other. As a manager, you’re never going to know everything yourself, and the ability to work with people that way is crucial.
The network you build when you’re there is essential.
Are you looking to incorporate an offline element in the CORe program? [37:50]
We’ve thought about it. The in-person interaction that is evolving organically is working well.
What percent of your students are US and international? [38:30]
40% of our students are international.
How does the credential affect MBA admission? [39:00]
It’s like any other academic pursuit – if it shows you’re interested, motivated, and did well, it’s a positive. It’s not a guarantee of admission.
I think it’s great for anyone applying to an MBA program.
• HBX CORe
• The Best Little Secret of the Harvard MBA, Patrick’s post on study groups
• HBX CORe/Introduction, a short video
• Harvard Business School Zone Page
• Harvard Business School 2016-17 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines