Boss Lady

4 Reasons self-directed business education beats an MBA


Do you need an MBA? If you don’t have a business degree, you may wonder if you need to go back to school in order to be competitive in the business world. But as a working mom or a woman interested in having a family, you are probably also concerned that such a significant investment of time and money might not be the best choice for you and your family. Fortunately, the burgeoning world of online learning is good news for women seeking to balance career and family needs.

In 2013, I needed business skills and savvy to get ahead in my career, but I wasn’t interested in going into debt for a pricey MBA. Nor was I ready to leave the workforce for full time education or pile on the extra workload required by a part time degree program. Luckily, I found a way to get the business education I needed without going into debt, by using free massive open online courses (MOOCs) from top universities to replicate a traditional MBA. For a fraction of the cost of a traditional degree, I was able to get a career-advancing education. Now, as a working mother of infant twins, I am doubly grateful not to have any student loans to pay down!

There are a few reasons why working women should consider a self-directed business education through MOOCs and online courses.

Reason #1: Self-directed business education lets you prioritize family

Women who want to learn business skills without going deeply into debt – especially if they don’t plan to put their careers before other priorities – may find that a self-directed education makes more sense for them than a traditional degree program. Given the fact that MOOCs are so much more flexible than traditional educational programs, they are a huge boon to women seeking to preserve work-life balance while continuing to build skills.

Reason #2: Starting a business is easier without student debt

As Gallup has reported, student loan debt is a major impediment to starting a business. Rather than investing in an MBA, an entrepreneur can use her funds to further her startup business.  Free and low-cost online courses can provide the education she needs to get started, minus the debt to weigh her down.

Reason #3: Online courses help women build confidence

When I first started my project to get an MBA-equivalent using MOOCs, I remember feeling like I was playing catch-up. Part of the reason I wanted a business education was that it felt like everyone in the world know more about business than I did. I had the sense that everyone could read a balance sheet, that everyone know what acronyms like MVP and ROI stood for, that it was just me who didn’t have a solid grasp of business vocabulary. A few online courses later, I stopped feeling that I was lagging behind my colleagues in terms of my understanding of business. As I progressed in my coursework, I even began to see opportunities for my team to improve our operations based on the business concepts I was learning, and I became confident enough to propose new initiatives.

Reason #4: You can try out a new career path

The most popular online courses are in technical fields, such as computer science, programming, and data analysis. The low-stakes environment of an online course is the perfect place for women to try out something new.

Carolyn McIntyre now runs She found a passion for coding through MOOC coursework. “Back then I had zero coding knowledge, had no idea what lay behind a web page and had never heard of the acronym MOOC,” she said. “ Now I live and breathe MOOCs and coding.” For women who have wondered if they might benefit from building a tech-based skill set, online courses are the perfect place to start.

How to get started

For women interested in exploring self-directed business education, there are a lot of great resources to help you get started. Perhaps the best thing to do is to simply go to a MOOC search engine site like Class Central and start browsing the course listings. You’re almost guaranteed to find something piques your interest and has a direct application at work

About Laurie Pickard

Laurie Pickard is business and entrepreneurship development consultant, author of the new book Don’t Pay For Your MBA: The Faster, Cheaper, Better Way to Get the Business Education You Need and founded the No-Pay MBA website. You can follow her at

Recommended for you