A Postscript for The Wharton School’s An Introduction to Marketing Course on Coursera

In the wee hours of the morning, I finished my final exam in the An Introduction to Marketing Course from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business on Coursera. For several reasons, I did not ace the final. However I did pass the course. I will try to summarize my experience in this particular course along with my thoughts regarding MOOCs in general.

Thumbs up 🙂

  • MOOCs feature high quality lecturers and course content. Without a doubt, the professors (Drs. Barbara Kahn, David Bell and Peter Fader) are the crème de la crème of marketing professionals in academia. Their lectures were engaging and relevant; much more so than the marketing coursework in my own MBA program.
  • Smart, interesting MOOC peers. If there are a couple of thousand students in the course, there is a very good chance that you will have several brilliant classmates. They will be (and were) from a diverse set of backgrounds, live in every corner of the globe, and have a wide variety of ideas and insights. The opportunities for engagement are profound and is hard to match in any traditional degree program.
  • A flexible, realistic workload. My guess is that the assumption for MOOC course designers is that very few students will be devoted to their studies on a full-time basis. While there was a course schedule and due dates, they were very realistic goals. We had the ability to apply late days (3) if need be. The course staff did respond to feedback regarding grading and technical issues.

Thumbs down 🙁

  • No feedback or interaction from the professors. I realize that in a MOOC, I should not expect this. Even so, the course does give you an “empty” feeling when you can’t directly interact with your professors. It is almost like reading an interactive text book. You still have the opportunity to learn; but I do not believe that the learning is as comprehensive as what you receive in an actual MBA degree program
  • A sub par discussion board. While discussion board participation and content were not graded, they did add a lot to the course. However, I found Coursera’s discussion board interface to be overly simplistic, limiting and in some cases even useless. Threaded discussions do not go deeper than one level…so it could be hard to figure out the original post that a comment was responding to. Basic discussion board features such as being able to quote, insert a graphic, or even receive notification when someone responds to your comment/post (you could subscribe to an entire thread, but with hundreds of people active on some threads, that would get old pretty quick) were not available.
  • Ambiguous branding of the course. I will go out on a limb here (because I’ve never actually taken an on-campus course from the Wharton School of Business), but my guess is that the content of this marketing course on Coursera was not nearly has challenging, rigorous or comprehensive as its on-campus counterpart. I’ll even go as far to say that it did not even seem like a graduate-level course. This is not entirely bad; because it was a fantastic introduction/survey course for the subject of business marketing.  However most portrayals of the Wharton’s MBA Foundation Series presents these courses as “part of its core curriculum online”. What they do not fully explain, is that it is only a small part.


I really enjoyed the course. In spite of my early frustrations with the discussion board (to the point where I just gave up participating in the 6th week or so), and the lack of interaction with the course staff…I found the course to be very valuable. Traditional marketing subjects such as branding, proper marketing strategy development, and “the 4 Ps” where presented. But the course also explored new topic areas (new to me anyway) such as customer centricity and heterogenity, experiential marketing and omni-channel marketing strategy. I never had the feeling that what I was learning was not relevant and the course had just the right combination of depth and coherence.

But I challenge the claim that this course would be a good substitute for a foundation-level marketing course in an MBA program. Viewing video lectures and taking multiple-choice tests afterwards can demonstrate understanding…but not mastery. For that, you need to be engaged in the subject. Projects, research and presentations about the subject matter take the student from the familiarity level to the practitioner level. I mentioned previously that I fell off the boat early on in regards to the discussions boards. But challenges at my job, moving, and trying to adjust to a varying sleep schedule really put my involvement in this course to the back burner. So much so, I didn’t have time to watch the final week’s lectures (they were not on the 3rd quiz in the course…so they were pushed off my priority list).

Which brings me my conclusion about MOOCs in general; a “conclusion” that will most likely evolve as I potentially take more of them. It is no secret that the completion rate for MOOCs is very low. However this is easily explained away by the fact that the barriers to entry are low, and the majority of people who sign up for a MOOC never even log in to start the course. But what is not discussed as often (or maybe as publicly), is the effect of this “low personal investment” on the success of those who do opt engage in the course. I personally know that if my tuition dollars were on the line, I would be camped out at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, in spite of being without internet service in my home for 9 days, to catch up on my course lectures. But in this case, I didn’t do that. And I am sure that many people out there can understand my reasoning as to why. Also the social idealist in me still squints a critical eye at MOOCs; for even though I get some personal benefit from them, I still see a lot of irrelevancy in the course offerings when it comes the public at large. And I’m not the only one. The standard university core curriculum is largely absent in the MOOC world; making MOOCs to be relevant for a distinct segment of the population. For example, I searched for a list of the upcoming math courses on Coursera (in English) for the new future. Here’s a screenshot of some of the results:

Math on Coursera

This is only a portion of the 27 courses that were found. However, the remainder of the results were similar – specialized, high level subjects that ignore core curriculum subjects. The exception to this were the Calculus courses (I & II) and two courses from the University of California – Irvine (Pre-Calculus & Intermediate Algebra). No general statistics course, no college-level mathematics course tailored for business or social science students, etc. That doesn’t mean that these courses are not available elsewhere…or even on Coursera at varying times. But in my opinion, the MOOCs that are widely available are not really for those who are looking for a true alternative to a college education. Rather, they are geared towards degreed professionals who are just looking to expand their knowledge base.