Renu Menon


Diploma in Strategy and Innovation


United Kingdom





By Renu Menon

The Moocs are taking over… or are they?

After a hiatus of around 5 years I decided to study again. My last certification was CIA (not the investigative kind, the audit kind). I breezed through it if I may say so myself. It was in essence the kind of certification that in today’s world would be considered redundant. It reinforced skills that I had gathered over the past 6-7 years – it didn’t teach me anything new.

So this time around I jumped into a bunch of unknowns – strategy, innovation, digital and marketing. The first one has been around for ages and still no one has got it. The next two are fluid but if not equipped to deal with either, I could be rendered unemployed or worse still useless very soon. The last one was just for the heck of it. It is as far away from my normal work as possible without having me learn rocket science. So I went along and registered for a post graduate Diploma in Strategy and Innovation at the Saïd Business School at University of Oxford. And just because I had lots of free time in between being a full time employee, a full time mom and a part time student, I also enrolled for a digital marketing specialization on Coursera through the University of Illinois.

Now not only are the two universities as far apart as possible in terms of history, geography, specialization etc.; the two modes of education are also as different as one could expect. The main reasons why I chose both these courses apart from the content was primarily the need for flexibility.

SBS offered one of the rarest forms of delivery in terms of executive education – it is neither an MBA (in all its forms – full time, part time, online etc.) nor is it a 4 day certification which costs a ton of money. Don’t get me wrong, the diploma does cost a ton of money. But the pattern of education which is 6-8 weeks of self study with 4 days of classroom education and actual exams and projects is reasonably daunting and gives someone leading a full professional life an opportunity to experience college life, meet with interesting people, forge what could be long term professional or personal relationships without totally disrupting work. On the other hand the UoI course offered what I call comfort learning. You can learn at your pace, the assessments are light touch, the peer graded assessments are a breeze and you will get a certificate at the end of it. And it costs around £15/week which is generally coffee allowance.

When one considers further education as that being something that one receives after the mandatory 15 or 16 years of formal education, there were always many choices. Most were traditional – you went into science to become a doctor or engineer normally, you went into commerce to become an accountant or you went into arts to become a teacher or lawyer. There are obviously many many other traditional choices that I have left out here, but you get the idea…. Now a days, there are a lot of new things to learn. I don’t even think that 16 years of formal education is required to learn many of these new things and these are things which could possibly land you a job or help you with your start up and make that first million before you graduate. The minimum age for enrolling on courses on Coursera is 13. So it’s not just the accessibility to these courses that is changing the face of education, it is also what one is expected to do with that education that is having a big impact. There could very soon be a time when MOOCs could replace traditional means of learning for many subjects.

However my experience provides me first hand experience of the pros and cons of the two modes of education.



What I love about my course at Oxford is that the quality of reading material that is mandatory as well as that which one has access to, is incredible. These are HBR case studies which are top notch or recommended books (printed or otherwise) with access granted. The reading material is insightful. Then there is the added benefit of having access to the university’s resources – can you imagine having access to the Bodleian library with around 12 million books. Not that you would ever read 12 million books but the fact that you have access to them is incredible. This is almost non-existent for Coursera courses. Some of the prescribed reading material needs to be purchased by the students. Most of the reading is magazine articles which are around a page long. There could be two reasons for the difference. What I am learning from Oxford is a topic which has been the subject of intense study and research and hence the availability of tons of books and material. A lot of what I am studying at UoI is emerging trends and hence there may not be too much to read. The second reason is the cost. The coursera specialization cost me 1.5% of what I paid to Oxford. So it is to be expected that the quality of paid research or material that they have access to will be restricted.

I call the teaching style at Oxford shifting because it is person dependent and it depends on how the person is feeling on that specific day. Compared to that videos that one sees on Coursera are well rehearsed and edited and hence more succinct. There is also the advantage that the entire course material is covered which is difficult in a classroom environment with multiple digressions and classroom debates.

I don’t think any of the other aspects either from an architectural or value aspects are big differentiators, except the cohort. I am part of a fantastic cohort at Oxford. I have faces to most names. I know more about some than the others in terms of what they do, their attitudes, their personalities, their views etc. The interaction in class and between modules is one of the most enriching experiences that I have had either professionally or educationally. There is a lot of collaboration that the Oxford cohort does in between modules even when there is no need to, but people are happy to share and learn from one another. This aspect adds as much or sometimes more to my learning than what I read in books or from professors.

Not to short change the professors or the ambience of the college – these also add to the experience. Where organizations like Oxford trump anything on MOOC is marketing their history and transcending their offering beyond mere education to an experience worth cherishing – dinners at centuries old colleges, meeting management theory heroes like Jay Barney.  This in my view is the one thing where Oxford trumps coursera. These “perks” sure don’t add to the actual value of  what one learns but the experience cannot be written off completely as great things happen over a cup of coffee and a spot of dinner.

So yes, the moocs are here to stay but I don’t think they are taking over any time in the near future.


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