HBX was developed by HBS faculty as a way to bring the renowned HBS case study method to a digital platform. As one would expect, not everything can be easily translated into the digital world, but the online space does have its advantages.

As Professor Bharat Anand said, “What the case method and online education have in common is that they are both centered on each individual student.”

From that perspective, HBX found itself in familiar waters when trying to translate the HBS learning model into an online platform. Just like in an HBS classroom, there are no long faculty-led lectures or passive learning time - the courses rely heavily on peer interaction and experiential learning to help students master the topics that are discussed. 

But, because of the asynchronous nature of HBX programs and the larger, more global scale, the intimate atmosphere and close connections you'd make in a more traditional HBS MBA classroom were more difficult to recreate.

Nonetheless, HBX was able to harness many of the central elements of the case method within their course structure and platform design, ensuring an active, social, and case-based learning experience.

Some of these hallmarks of the case method include:

1. Expert Insights

First, instead of reading a dossier about a company, HBX courses incorporate short, well-produced videos with actual managers and business owners from a variety of industries within nearly every lesson. These leaders provide background on their companies, discuss real business challenges that tie into the course concepts, and share valuable insights. Then, the student is asked to put themselves in the manager's shoes and explain what choices they would make in a given situation and why. 

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2. Interactive, Experiential Learning

Just like at HBS, students at HBX have to pay careful attention because their skills and knowledge can be put to the test at any moment. Throughout the courses, students encounter interactive learning exercises, polls, and “cold calls” which help them remain alert and focused on the material.

3. Social Learning and Peer-Based Discussions

Last, but not least, HBX makes sure the critical peer-learning element of the case method is still present. This is not an easy feat for an online course, especially one with students working on courses at all times of day from all over the world.

The course platform features a global map that shows where other people are currently learning from, offers a “peer help” function, allowing you to debate and ask or answer questions about the content, gives you the opportunity to read and comment on classmates’ responses to in-course exercises, and encourages you to contribute to the community. 

Beyond that, HBX also offers private Facebook groups for each cohort to encourage additional conversations—many students take it upon themselves to organize study groups or social meet ups in cities around the world. 

These social learning aspects of the case method allow students to engage, learn from each other, debate, and, through this process, deepen their knowledge of course concepts and broaden their viewpoints. 

Yannis Normand

About the Author

Yannis Normand interned on HBX’s marketing team in January of 2017 and is pursuing a degree in goverment with a focus on economics and finance. He has worked for various institutions in the U.S. and Europe, and has entrepreneurial experience in both Boston and China. He hopes to pursue a career combining law and education and is always on the look out to learn and experience other cultures and places.