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Online Business Courses: An Embarrassment of Riches?

Posted By Page Schindler Buchanan, Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2012

I wanted to share with you tGuy Pfeffermannhis exchange on online training programs I had with GBSN board member Alan Gelb and advisory board member Frank Lysy:

Guy Pfeffermann (Global Business School Network):

Tons of online business education/training programs, many free of charge, are available and the number is increasing all the time. Now, while potential users in advanced countries can be expected to figure out which of these meet their needs (+ caveat emptor, in the case of programs requiring payment), I think that one cannot assume this in Africa and other developing regions. How is the small business owner there supposed to find out what meets their needs?

If this is correct, then there is need for some form of intermediation between individual would-be users and the proliferation of programs offered on the Internet or in the form of DVDs. I am thinking of some agency (company, organization, whatever) that would ask potential users what their needs are. This requires a VERY smart questionnaire, highly attuned to context that can then narrow down the range of courses that would "fit the bill." Presumably, creating such a "match-maker" would initially require face-to-face interviews, focus groups and such.

Once such "match-makers" exit, they might also be supplemented with some optional mentoring.

In a nutshell, I suspect that most business education programs offered in developing countries are either designed for advanced countries and/or supply-driven. The lady who is trying to grow her beads business in Mali won't easily find out whether any of these programs can help her.

Alan GelbAlan Gelb (Center for Global Development):

I can imagine two approaches. One is labor intensive, with individual counseling based on interaction with the firms and a good knowledge of what is out there, which would require an information base for specialist intermediation. The other could be to create a simple directory, or keyword classification for programs- language, intended audience, mode of instruction, areas of business covered, etc. Then make this available, either to on-site training organizations or to firms themselves, together with a simple search mechanism. This would require updating, but permit retail level searches.


Frank Lysy

Frank Lysy (

Perhaps a way to approach this (at least to begin with) would be a model that works through Business Schools in countries like Kenya, Nigeria, and so on. That is, instead of trying to get some small business owner to sign up directly and on their own to one of the on-line courses being given at MIT, Harvard, or Stanford, one would use these on-line offerings as the core part of a course in an MBA program at an existing school. For example, instead of the school in Kenya or wherever trying to come up a course in Finance on its own, it would instead basically choose a Finance course from one of the on-line offerings, and teach to that in its class. Instead of the instructor trying to come up with original material, they would use the on-line course. The students would view the material first on their own, do the readings, and then attend a class where the instructor would go through the material to make sure it was understood, answer any questions, and give their own short quizzes. This would be along the lines of the "flipped" models now being used with success in some schools in the US (where students view the lectures on-line at home, and then do their traditional "homework" while in the classroom with the help of the instructor on points that were not clear to them).

In such a model, the instructor at the school in Kenya essentially would cover area #3 in Alan's comment. And this could all be done on the initiative of the school in Kenya, as the on-line material is available to anyone. They would be making good use of the intellectual capital of schools like MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, but they would not depend on faculty from such schools also to deliver it (which would be impossible in anything more than a few isolated cases).

The main difficulty, I suspect, would be addressing the egos of those now teaching the courses in Kenya and elsewhere, who like to develop and deliver their own original material, and view material from elsewhere as not relevant to their own conditions. Teachers everywhere think they do a great job, and believe they can do it better than in a course which by nature will not be customized to local conditions.

One probably had the same problem the first time a textbook was printed. And indeed, the problem probably goes back to the time of the Gutenberg bible, when preachers began to be expected to teach to the book, rather their own, original, moral lessons.

Guy Pfeffermann (Global Business School Network):

Thanks, Frank. I think what you say is correct and useful. I was thinking, however, of courses designed for very small businesses, more "training" than "education" if you will, pitched somewhere between university courses and teaching financial literacy.

All local business schools might position themselves to act as intermediaries between suppliers of on-line courses and users.

Roland Michelitsch:

How about having just a website with links to the different courses, giving the users an opportunity to "rate" the courses according to a few criteria, plus "comments". Might work even better than "expert" judgement, since it's the users who might be best positioned to judge usefulness.

Guy Pfeffermann is the CEO and founder of the Global Business School Network.

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