On February 24th, Financial Analysis, the first MOOC taught by a Harvard Business School professor, will officially begin. Marc Bertoneche, a Visiting Professor of Business Administration and three-time recipient of the prestigious HBS Faculty Award, will lead this exciting new course. Offered by First Business MOOC, the four-week class will enable students to master a clear, simple and effective methodology, enabling them to successfully complete financial analyses independently and make important company decisions.

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Professor Bertoneche took the time to speak with CourseTalk about professional development through MOOCs, his thoughts on the future of online learning, and what he hopes students will take away from his course.

Q: You’re the first Harvard Business School professor to teach a MOOC. What inspired you to join the MOOC movement and online learning community?

I’ve always been very much interested by education and new technology. I’ve been teaching at Harvard Business School for several years, but I’m from France, which you can tell by my accent. Very early in my career I did some videos with a company called Video Management in Europe and I’ve been involved in e-learning with a company called CrossKnowledge. So I’ve always been interested by the new way of communication and communicating knowledge. So the MOOC for me is a normal complement to that and what I’ve been doing in the past.

Q: So why “Financial Analysis”? Why is this topic important today?

I think today, whatever business you’re in, you have to understand a little bit the basis of financial diagnosis or analysis. You have to be able to understand why a company is doing well, why a company is performing well. Even if you’re not a specialist of management, understanding the basics of finance is something important in my mind. What I’ve tried to do in this MOOC is to really give the basis and more than some kind of ratio or just some kind of cooking recipe. I’ve tried to give a methodology, how to approach a company and understand how it is doing. It’s more the approach and the methodology than a technical course.

Q: A large portion of the CourseTalk user base is interested in professional development. How do you see your course and other First Business MOOC courses playing into this?

For people in management, in economics, in loans, or in a lot of professions, I think that the basis of financial analysis and the basis of understanding capital markets are really something essential. There is also another MOOC developed by Stephen Weiss on capital markets, [the Wall Street MOOC]. What are we going to do next? We have some plans to do one on the valuation of companies, some plans to do one on maybe international finance and understanding a little bit the exchange market.

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Q: First Business MOOC has delved into new hire training programs for companies. Would you want to be a part of this?

Oh yes, I think it’s one of the missions of that type of MOOC is to help people develop skills which will help them to get better profiles for being hired by companies or by banks or by a financial institution. So I see it as a nice way for people to develop and improve their skills and their profiles and their CV and their resume for hiring.

Q: Why would you encourage students to obtain the certificate at the end? Why do you see it as a career development tool?

We are still a society which believes in pieces of papers…certificates…diploma. If you have done 4/5 of the program and need to do the last bit to get piece of paper showing you have done a successful program, it’s worth doing the last part. If I do it because I want to change jobs or improve my position at the company, a certificate is, whether we like it or not, something which in our society is important. At the same time, if you do it just for your own better understanding of the financial world, maybe you don’t need to get the certificate. It depends on the objectives of everybody.

Q: What advice do you have for other professors considering developing and teaching a MOOC?

I would say go for it; do one. A lot of teachers are afraid that by doing so they are going to destroy their franchise or destroy their job. I don’t think so at all.

It’s like people who say that if they write a book, they’re going to have less opportunity to teach. The proof is that it is the reverse. It creates a lot of attraction and people call you and ask you for more speeches or conferences, so I would say to my colleagues “do it”. And then change the style of your teaching in class because your teaching in class has to adapt to what you have done with the MOOC.

Q: Should MOOCs be used for university credit?

It’s raising a lot of issues, but I think yes, on the principle I don’t see why not. I think the whole issue is to make sure we evaluate people based on their work on the MOOC if it has to be recognized as a credit. But on the principle yes – why should somebody who has followed the MOOC not be credited if there’s control over what they have learned and there’s a strict understanding of the level he has reached with the MOOC? I don’t see why it shouldn’t be accepted as a credit.

Q: At HBS you’ve won several awards for your teaching including HBS’ Faculty Award three times. How have you translated your teaching style to the MOOC setting?

I think there is no opposition between the two, no conflict. On the contrary, the MOOC gives the basis of what the students have to know. Therefore it’s good news for the teacher because he doesn’t have to repeat the basics which is sometimes boring and good news for the students because when you’re in class what you do is something more interesting. In fact at Harvard we discuss cases. So you can use the knowledge and the understanding that the students got through the MOOC to do something more interesting which is discussing a situation, discussing a real situation, discussing a case, discussing a real company and so on.

Q: So what about flipped classrooms then?

I think today we are lucky enough to have plenty of ways to communicate: simulations, videos, quizzes – a lot of potential – and I think we should use that as much as possible. I think the classical way of a teacher coming to class and giving a lecture is in my mind over. This can be done in other ways. What isn’t over is the face-to-face discussion and application of what the students have learned before. I think this is a tremendous improvement.

Q: Can we incorporate the face-to-face in a MOOC?

We are having live sessions every week [in Financial Analysis] where the teacher will be in contact with the participants of the MOOC who can ask questions, make comments, disagree on some points, and so on. There will be one live session every Wednesday, every week of the MOOC. So we’ll be meeting “face-to-face”.

Q: Your course is taught with the help of a new case study every week. Why did you choose to focus on the practical rather than the theoretical?

One of the important things in my field is to build the bridge between “theory” and “practice” and therefore, it’s not satisfactory just to give the tools and say to people, now apply them yourselves. Teaching at Harvard, we teach cases. We really strongly believe that learning through cases and application is essential.

Finance is like golf and tennis. The only way to improve is not just to read books on how to play tennis and how to play golf but by practicing. Practice is essential. You practice, you practice, you practice and after that you become better. I think in the MOOC that I present, people have to really see how you apply that to companies and their own company or one they are interested in. The practical part is essential.

Q: People talk a lot about MOOC completion rates. What are your internal measures of success for the course?

I think the quantitative measure is an important one. If you have 10,000 people starting and at the end you have 300 left, it’s not a good performance. Now of course, the qualitative things, the content and the fact that people after the first MOOC are going to follow some other one. The comments that organizations will make about the people they recruited and how they feel about their training – that is very important too.

Maybe when the program is older, showing some examples of people who have been successful by doing the program in terms of finding a job or improving their status of their job in a company would be good.

Q: What do you want students to come away from your course with?

The best reward would be that people would discover the field and say, “Oh my God, it’s interesting, it’s much more interesting than I thought.” And they go deeper into the field, they find another MOOC or read books. I think that’s the best reward and the best proof of success, so I hope that the people will find that.

In a more practical way, I hope that it will help people in organizations to improve what they are doing, or people starting in some profession in finance to improve their skills. It was very nice to do it, I enjoyed doing it and I hope people who follow the course will enjoy it as much.

 

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Q: CourseTalk is hosting a panel in March at the South by Southwest EDU conference around the question “Global Development: Is Online Learning the Answer?” Do you think online education will impact global development?

Oh, yes, surely, I believe so. If we look at the first MOOC we did in French (Le MOOC Analyse Financière), people came from many different French-speaking countries. So we can expect for the one in English, people will be coming from very different countries. I think it’s a way to really get a global approach to education. No doubt about that.

Q: What do you hope to get out of your experience teaching a MOOC?

I would say that given my age and where I am with my career, this is something that I wanted to do before leaving the teaching business. And for having some kind of heritage or some kind of thing that you leave. Like when you write a book, you leave something – and then the MOOC is something in a more modern way.

My hope is that it’s going to be one among other MOOCs and that this is going to be a successful way of communicating and teaching in the future. I hope very modestly to contribute with my little, small input.

Q: Do you see yourself teaching more MOOCs in the future?

Maybe, maybe. I will draw the conclusion after this experience based on how things have gone. I’ll look at a few statistics, talk with a few participants. But yes I remain open to the idea, of course.

Financial Analysis, offered by First Business MOOC, will begin on February 24th. The Wall Street MOOC, taught by hedge fund vet and CNBC contributor Stephen Weiss, will also begin February 24th.

Sign up for either course to build your knowledge base and learn to make informed financial decisions!