Professor Ed Hess is used to teaching within the walls of a classroom in Darden's School of Business, lecturing to a class of a few dozen. But this semester, his course "Growth to Greatness" will be taught to thousands of students around the world, through the University of Virginia's Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).
"The content is basically the same, it's all based on the same research, the challenges of growing a private business," Hess said. "The difference is that the delivery here is going to be through technology."
The course includes five video lectures and power point presentations. Students will be assigned readings and required to take online tests. There are also online forums for group discussions.
The course "Growth to Greatness has seen the largest enrollment numbers of any of the six MOOCs being offered through UVa this semester. So far, nearly 63,000 people are signed up. Hess says he thinks his class will resonate with people trying to grow their businesses.
"My class probably reaches entrepreneurs out there trying to grow a business," Hess said. "It reaches people who have degrees and are out in the workforce thinking about starting a business. It reaches people in private companies, who as employees, want to learn about growth challenges."
The latter is the case for Tyler Frankenburg. As one of three administrative employees at Albemarle Limousine in Charlottesville, Frankenburg signed up for the class hoping to learn how to transition the company from start up to an established small business.
"I think I can get a lot of lessons from companies that have been in the same situation we have been in and had similar problems and see how they learned from or failed to learn from them and take that back to work with me," Frankenberg said.
The classes are free, but are not for any school credit. Something that may change in the future.
"There are many conversations about how it's a disruptive time in education," said Kristin Palmer, the program director of online learning environments. "Between the advances in technologies, pressures on costs, and the tools and infrastructure for social networking, it's really a tipping point in education to figure out better solutions for less money and to provide a higher quality educational experience."
A dozen or more universities have partnered with the company, Coursera, in offering the online courses. UVa joins the ranks of Stanford, Duke, and Princeton, causing some to question the future of higher education. But Professor Hess says not so fast.
"Do I think it will transform higher ed learning, no," Hess said. "Will it have an impact on certain areas, yes. For us at Darden, our mission is to improve society and have a positive impact on the world. If you look at my class, we have people from all over the world. These people would never have this opportunity, except for Coursera, to come to Darden."