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The No-Pay MBA project completes test run

SHARE The No-Pay MBA project completes test run

Why go into heavy debt and disrupt your life for a certification of business training that you can get essentially for free? That's the question Laurie Pickard asked when she launched her No-Pay MBA project in August of 2013, setting out to earn an MBA using Massive Online Courses, or MOOCs.

"If everything goes according to plan," Fortune reported last January, "Laurie Pickard will earn her MBA in three years for less than $1,000. She'll take classes from Harvard, Wharton, and Yale, among other top-tier schools. And she'll tackle it all while keeping her full-time job. She'll accomplish all of this from Kigali, Rwanda."

As the Fortune article notes, the "no pay" is a bit of a misnomer. The fees she paid went for books and for the nominal fees that MOOCs charge to verify that a student has completed the work.

Fortune reported at the time that Pickard would take 16 classes over three years, the equivalent of an MBA courseload. Instead, she completed 20 in half that time, Fortune reports in a new update.

Pickard now has a robust website, which includes updates on her progress and links to news coverage. She's also starting an online support system for online MBA-ers, designed to make up for some of the shortcomings of the approach, including networking.

“There’s such a wide variety in what a MOOC does, how good it is, and how much you learn that a single certificate doesn’t tell you that much. But that’s the same in college courses,” Pickard told Fortune. “Nobody’s hiring you because you have a single college course; they’re hiring you because you have a package that’s valuable. I think we are going to see a repackaging of [online] courses.”

Pickard is well aware, Fortune adds, that there are many things an online degree lacks, especially each conversation with professors and networking with other students. She hopes her online project will help mitigate those weaknesses.

Pickard's experience has made her a pioneer. When she began the project, most top business schools had very few offerings online. Now the field is richly populated. Wharton, one of the highest ranking schools, has put virtually its entire catalog online with Coursera.

In December, Pickard did a wide-ranging interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. Among other issues, the interview touched on the well-known problem of motivation problem. MOOC's have a very low completion rate.

"For most people," Pickard said, "motivation is the hardest part. For me, I have the whole blog architecture to keep me motivated. But I think for MOOCs to really be a force in the business school world or the university world, there needs to be a different incentive structure. The incentives just aren't there."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com