Not All Good Things Are Free

A SPOC online course teaches execs how to live long and prosper through marketing.

Online college educations

Art credit: Peter and Maria Hoey

Peter Fader has shared his revelatory research with many students, alumni and readers of his book, Customer Centricity: Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage.

Are practitioners listening though? If so, are they understanding what they’re hearing?

Or as Shilpa Patwardhan, connected learning director for Wharton Executive Education, puts it: “Customer centricity is fine as a concept, but if I were a CFO or CMO in a company, the question for me would be, ‘How do I actually implement this?’”

Customer centricity involves identifying a business’ best customers, the tendencies that those customer segments share and what they might have in common with potential customers. It can help calculate “customer lifetime value,” a prized marketing metric—but in practice or just in theory?

From March 3 through April 27, Fader, the Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia Professor and co-director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative, answered that question for a group of nearly 50 executives participating in Wharton’s very first online-only Executive Education program, Strategic Value of Customer Relationships.

The online platform developed by the Executive Education team may sound similar to MOOCs, the massive online open courses offered by such sites as Coursera, but Fader emphasizes that the Exec Ed program is more accurately characterized as a SPOC—a small private online course.

Unlike a MOOC, a SPOC offers a tailored educational experience to a highly specialized audience. In addition to the rigorous course content appropriate only for experienced executives with decision-making responsibilities, Exec Ed has put special care into building the learning environment, particularly the community aspect.

“We facilitate interaction among [the global participants] to make sure that the learning can be shared across study groups, just as we would if these executives were coming here to Philadelphia,” explains Maria Pitone, C’88, GED’98, Wharton Executive Education practice leader and director.

Fader is particularly enthusiastic about this. He offered virtual office hours each week “to facilitate face-to-face—or at least camera-to-camera—interactions”— which is a notable deviation from the Coursera setup.

“When I did my MOOC, I was actually talking to the camera as if it was my class,” recalls Fader. “That’s the beauty of a SPOC. I have this outlet to put things out there that are more provocative, and I can inquire a bit more and offer clarification.”

Along with the intimate delivery methods, the small number of participants and careful program design allowed for the overall experience to embody the qualities for which Wharton Executive Education has become renowned.

“Everything we say about our campus programs—high touch, active learning experiences—that’s exactly what they’ll have here,” Patwardhan notes.

Here’s another important distinction from MOOCs: Course participants have gone through a screening process before they were allowed to enroll, ensuring that all students have the experience and decision-making responsibilities to guarantee a rich learning environment and peer dialogue. SPOC attendees spanned myriad professional sectors. Pharmaceutical executives and CEO s learned alongside seasoned marketing professionals. Fader often found himself working with participants from Bahrain, Australia,Switzerland, China and Mauritius, all at the same time.

“It’s just amazing. It really is more than who they are—it’s where they are,what they do,” says Fader, who agrees that the course was enhanced by the select group of participants.

Perhaps viewed as an experiment at first, a SPOC for paying customers has proved to be a delivery model with legs.Applications for Fader’s next Strategic

Value of Customer Relationships cohort are being accepted on a rolling basis through Wharton Executive Education’s website. The eight-week course will run from September 29 through November 23.

—Karen A. Boedecker

Wharton Magazine - Background

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