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Mooc Platform Partners Top Business Schools To Close Big Data Skills Gap

Silicon Valley edtech company helps business managers deal with big data deluge.

Tue Sep 1 2015

Silicon Valley Mooc developer Coursera has launched a series of online courses with top business schools focused on big data — underscoring the need for analytics training, as business faces a dire shortage of managers who can deal with a deluge of data.

The 30+ new courses — called Specializations — are centred on business, computer science and data science.

Demand for business analytics skills is at an all-time high across all industries and is outstripping supply. By 2018, the US will face shortages of 190,000 data science experts and 1.5 million data-literate managers, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the consultancy.

“The world economy is changing fast, and skills in business, computer science, and data science have never been more valuable,” Coursera will say in a blog post seen by BusinessBecause.

The new programs have been developed by top business schools, including a business analytics course by Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, a program on business analytics techniques from Duke University, and a course on big data by UC San Diego.

Anne Trumbore, director of Wharton Online, told BB that there is a missing link between having data and creating business strategy with data. “As more companies use data they will need more need people to help make decisions with that data,” she said. 

Michael Goul, professor of information systems at W.P Carey School of Business, highlighted the pressure companies are under to utilize their data.

“If you are competing with a successful analytics-driven business, then their analytics capability will start to show because they beat you to the punch, they manage their resources better, and they know where ROI [return on investment] and value comes from,” he said.

Online platforms like Coursera say they can help plug the analytics talent gap. On edX, a rival platform, around 900,000 users have signed up for data analytics courses. For ALISON, its most popular program is a diploma in statistics.

Wharton's Anne said that online education is critical in closing the analytics skills gap, particularly as the data science field is so rapidly changing. 

“People are changing jobs more than ever. A BA is not a terminal degree and it doesn’t guarantee employment anymore, or a high level job,” she added. “People need to become free agents with their training. And that’s where online learning really comes in.”

The proliferation of Moocs, or massive open online courses, has been billed as a direct threat to the university model. Online programs are attractive because they offer students the chance to learn from leading universities and at a fraction of the cost of going back to school.

Half of Coursera’s learners are looking specifically to build practical career skills, particularly in the high-demand business and technology fields.

William Lamb, dean of the Graduate School at Babson College, said that any format that addresses students’ need for flexibility will be crucial in the future. Babson is one of a growing number of schools to offer “blended” online and classroom learning, among them IE Business School, Imperial College and AGSM.

“Blended is an important approach because it allows us to provide flexibility, but to still have an intimate, high-touch environment where people get to know each other,” William said.

Coursera and other online providers will compete with the specialist master’s programs on analytics launched by myriad schools over the past few years. Schools including NYU Stern, Melbourne Business School, and Texas’ McCombs School have all launched such programs.

But Susan Cates, executive director of MBA@UNC at Kenan–Flagler Business School, suggested online learning could be an advantage.

Using technology to become virtual leaders is “critical in today’s business world as globalization has pushed professionals into new spaces where working with colleagues in multiple locations is the new norm”. 

Coursera also announced a set of new business specific programs. These include a hospitality management program from ESSEC Business School, a leadership course with University of Michigan, and a business strategy offering by University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.