Wharton professor Christian Terwiesch teaches one of the most popular online courses — An Introduction to Operations Management — with over 200,000 students enrolled to date. The course is part of Wharton’s Foundation Series, an initiative to bring the school’s first year core MBA curriculum online. Professor Terwiesch is a favorite among students at Wharton (I was a teaching assistant for his Operations Management on campus) and has won numerous teaching awards, including my favorite — the “Tough, but I’ll thank you in 5 years” award. The next session of An Introduction to Operations Management on Coursera starts on March 3rd.

We chatted with Christian about his popular course, the future of MOOCs, and the possibility of a MOOC-based degree.

Tell us a little more about An Introduction to Operations Management. What are the course objectives and who is the target audience? 

My objective for this course is to teach students how to analyze and improve the processes that determine how we work. These could be the processes in a restaurant, a hospital, a bank, or a factory. The academic discipline that studies such business processes is called Operations Management. Depending on who you are and what you want to take out of the course, there are three ways you can take it, which correspond to three different market segments. (a) if you are just curious about Operations, you can just watch the videos (b) if you are a student or you want to learn what a student in an academic course learns, you can watch the videos and take a set of practice problems; and (c) if you work in operations and want to discuss the challenges that you face at work, I have created a project-focused way you can take the course.

How many students in total have taken An Introduction to Operations Management to date?

Over the last 3 sessions, I’ve had over 200k students enroll in the course. You know, of course, that such numbers are misleading. Enrollment is free and so it is no surprise that not everybody finishes the course. In fact, many students that enroll don’t even come to the first lecture. Like most MOOCs, my completion rate is around 5%.

You teach the same course to full-time MBA students at Wharton. In what ways is the MOOC different from the on-campus version?

The MOOC is built on my Wharton MBA course and my book “Matching Supply with Demand”. It is the same science, just delivered differently. In the classroom, I do lots of exercises and games, we have case discussions and I yell at students who have not done the homework (well, not really…). There are certain things that are hard to translate into an online course. Just like an email exchange is different from a face-to-face discussion.

What do you enjoy most about teaching An Introduction to Operations Management on Coursera?

I enjoy teaching this course because for me teaching is my way of changing this world to a better place. Through this course, I can help doctors to see more patients and see them faster, factories to stay competitive, and service businesses to delight their customers. At Wharton, I have been privileged to teach these concepts to current and future business leaders in our executive education programs and our MBA program. But, given the tuition, time investment, and other constraints, not everybody can come to Wharton. The MOOC has allowed me to connect with many more students.

Wharton is offering a lot of its courses for free on Coursera. How will this affect the value of the Wharton MBA?

I hope that the MOOCs will serve as a gateway to Wharton. Students can check us out for free and at no risk. I hope they like what they see and then want to come to Philadelphia or San Francisco to get “the real thing”. In the long run, the MOOCs will also force us to improve our game. They make you think about pedagogy at a much more detailed level. They also help to spread best practices across teachers. So the MOOC will bring us even more interested and motivated students and they will force us to further improve our program. So our value of the MBA should go up.

Do you think a MOOC-based degree is possible in the future?

Yes, it will come. But a degree is only a piece of paper; now, it will be a digital badge.

What’s a fun fact about you that most people don’t know?

My friend, colleague, and co-author Karl Ulrich and I started a company selling catapults. Catapults are great ways to teach scientific principles, especially the six sigma methodology. By now, we have sold 1000s of catapults, among others to the military (how about that – catapults instead of missiles?), but mostly to kids preparing for science fairs.

Introduction to Operations Management -- Christian Terwiesch -- Coursera

Image Courtesy: Coursera

Intrigued by Introduction to Operations Management? Read students’ reviews of Christian’s course.