Higher Education

HBX Becomes Harvard Business School Online

By Cait Etherington
January 11, 2019

A few years ago, X–as in edX and MITx MicroMasters–appeared to be becoming synonymous with online learning. In the end, X’s transition from letter to online learning symbol was never fully realized. But this is only one of the reasons why Harvard’s HBX announced that it is rebranding as “Harvard Business School Online.”

History of HBX

In 2014, Harvard Business School, originally founded in 1908, launched HBX. The school’s inaugural online course was a pre-MBA course focused on business vocabulary. Over the past five years, the school has augmented its online offerings.

In a press release announcing the launch of its rebranded online program, Dean Nitin Nohria emphasized that their online school had certainly helped them extend their reach and bring a Harvard education to many people who would otherwise never be able to access one. 

Patrick Mullane of the Harvard Business School Online agrees. Going online, the school has exponentially expanded its reach. “Nearly 40,000 students from around the world have completed a course with us,” says Mullane.

The Decision to Rebrand

The School says that it is rebranding to raise greater awareness of its online courses and to ensure their program isn’t confused with any other online programs that rely on the X, especially edX.

In an interview with Inside Higher Education, Mullane admitted, that while X once made sense, the name was no longer working because it “doesn’t really make clear that it’s part of Harvard Business School.”

Mullane also notes that the X seems to confuse a few students who naturally assumed that HBX was linked to edX. In fact, the two programs are unrelated. HBX relies on its own proprietary technology and while edX is a nonprofit, HBX was the online wing of a private institution. As recently reported on eLearning Inside, edX has also started to charge for its courses but only if participants wish to complete graded assignments and receive a certificate for completion.

The Impact of Harvard Business School’s Online Experiment

Whatever you call it, so far, the impact of the Harvard Business School’s online experiment has been overwhelming positive. A recent survey of nearly 1,000 past participants found that earning an online business certificate from Harvard Business School supports career advancement. In fact, 96% of participants say competing an online certificate at the Harvard Business School led to “personal betterment,” 91% believe it improved their professional life, and 90% said it made them a more confident leader. More than 90% of participants surveyed also felt their online program had increased their knowledge of business terminology and bolstered their resume. One in four of those surveyed said that, since completing an online program at the Harvard Business School, they had received a promotion or title change at work.

HBX never offered online degrees, and as Mullane recently told Inside Higher Education, there are also no immediate plans for the rebranded school to offer online degrees. Harvard University does offer an online M.B.A. alternative through the Harvard Extension School, but this program is a management degree and not directly affiliated with the Harvard Business School. Harvard Business School’s enthusiasm for online learning but reluctance to offer online degrees may seem to be a contradiction, but it may simply reflect the lingering stigma attached to online degrees. While considerable progress has been made over the past five years, some established institutions remain reluctant to offer online degrees.

Photo by Ye Linn Wai on Unsplash.