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Go to Harvard.

* Harvard Business School Interactive, online, 2000, Harvard Business School Publishing (800-795-5200, fax 617-783-7658,, $165 per user per module (volume discounts available). Other materials: for facilitator version, leader guide, participant assignments, overheads/handouts.

When we're up to our multi-tasking, hyper-connected eyeballs with work, it's hard for any computer-centered training to make an impact -- beeping emails, ringing phones, and demanding people tend to overwhelm the humble training program. Products that push through the background noise and make a lasting impact do so through a combination of showmanship, substance, and real world usefulness.

Of those three, the surest to make an impression is showmanship. Our expectations have been formed by the flash and sparkle of TV and films and by our experience with designing classroom training... make it fun, make it a game, show a video, pick up the pacel We may be dealing with adult learners, but our training programs can have more in common with "Seaame Street" than with "Masterpiece Theater."

At the same time, we know that within our organizations live serious learners, people who are not afraid of complexity, whose intellectual curiosity and genuine appetite for fresh insights make them less glitz-dependent For them, Harvard Business School Interactive's online learning resources are a perfect match.

Given the shifting sands of the e-learning world, it's reassuring to spend time with a provider whose history and affiliations stretch back well before last week. And few organizations have a brand identity so strong you could almost write a product review sight unseen.

A Harvard Business Interactive product--let's see... a recognized scholar, density of content, solid but not ground-breaking interactivity, all slanted toward a more sophisticated learner. Even if reality turns out to be different, it helps to make preconceptions explicit.

The window to HBSI's courses is the Launch Pad, essentially a home page that gives access to a program catalog, course status, and history. In addition, it contains links to other learning resources, including news and a daily ideas@work audio broadcast.

Two features are worth singling out. ManageMentor is a product (available for a separate fee) that gives insight and practical advice for some two dozen topics. For each, you get a topic overview plus core concepts, steps, tips, tools, a self-test, and resource links. Working Knowledge is a regularly updated e-publication that explores 13 business topics and provides articles, links, book reviews, etc. Topics include e-commerce, innovation and change, globalization, and operations and technology.

Together, these resources provide continuing access to thoughtful, relevant, and well-written information. That's the icing, not the cake, though, so let's look at the courses themselves.

When I previewed the Interactive Series, there were several programs, organized into two suites:

Essential Skills for Managers: Financial Accounting, Finance for Managers, and Yes! The Online Negotiator

Building E-Businesses: Crafting E-business Models, Creating

E-business Value, and Developing 2-business Capabilities

I looked at courses from both suites, but I spent most of my time with the E-Business modules. They have the same basic look and framework, and all feature Lynda Applegate, a professor at Harvard Business School. In addition to the self-paced modules, a class participant version is available with some screens replaced by facilitator-led discussions. (Developing eBusiness Capabilities is available in class participant and facilitator versions.)

A technical requirements screen helps ensure the learner has the right software: programs (Excel, MSIE/Netscape) and plug-ins (Quicktime, Adobe Acrobat, Flash). Then, it's on to the course home page. Note: if you're considering these courses for company purchase, first see if your IT department is allergic to plug-ins.

The core content of Crafting E-business Models is a comprehensive look at 17 emerging models. They are thoughtfully described, but they do illustrate what happens when complex content and web learning collide: window weariness! To explore fully the 17 models, there are some 30 screens or pop-ups. It's not overwhelming, but it does make you wish for a more user-friendly structure.

Click and drag exercises, forms, etc., help prevent this from being a passive experience, but you really have to rely on content relevance and on the learner's inherent interest in the subject.

The content of the second module, Creating E-business Value, is more manageable, It's a look at a three-phase e-business value framework: the business concept, capabilities & communities, and shareholder value. That program also explores vicious and virtuous business cycles.

While it would be understandable if both modules treated their subject from strictly an academic viewpoint, the producer has made a real effort to ensure concepts translate to the real world. Two weeks after they'd completed the course, participants might not be able to recite from memory the 17 models, but they would have used tools to apply them to their businesses. To further give real world meaning, both programs are peppered with examples and cases from both the bright lights and dim bulbs of the e-commerce world.

The e-business courses have seven sections, including core content and executive insights, a comprehensive, real world case study, chances to apply learning, and assessments. Each page or screen is visually interesting, and content is delivered through a combination of text pop-ups and audio or video. Since all the video is of a talking head, if you don't want to watch someone's lips move, you can click a box and see a picture of the speaker while you read the text.

The programs are easy to navigate and keep track of where you were in the last session. True to expectations, the interactivity is adequate but hardly cutting-edge.

I also couldn't resist looking at Yes! The Online Negotiator, which provides three negotiation simulations. [See the separate review by Garry Cosnett.] The expert is Roger Fisher, professor emeritus of Harvard Law School, and the program includes an overview of key elements of principled negotiation. There's enough background so someone who hadn't read Getting to Yes, Fisher and Ury's seminal work on negotiation, would still be able to proceed with the simulations.

Essentially, you review background information, then listen to an audio statement from the other side and choose from a series of potential responses. If you choose an appropriate option, great. If you make a minor misstep, you get immediate feedback, plus stories and examples, and another chance to even make a second wrong choice. An FYI button links you to more detailed negotiation advice. If, on the other hand, you're headed down a seriously wrong road, you learn the consequences of your choice -- what you did, why the other party reacted that way, and what a better approach might be.

After the negotiation has been concluded, a reflection section provides feedback in the seven elements and identifies any missteps. Essentially, it's a How-did-I-do? exercise that highlights how you did in both the preparation and negotiation phases.


HBS Interactive courses are highly useful learning tools, especially for those motivated to learn more about the topics and about business management. The added appeal is the connection to Harvard Business School. Few institutions can equal Harvard's reputation and credibility, and whether entirely justified or not, there's an assumed excellence that may have learners name dropping.

I've known more than a few "Harvard ties" in my time, and they're a fiercely loyal bunch. Perhaps that's why Harvard has the largest private endowment of any university in the world. The cost of the courses is low enough that you too might soon be writing them a check, or you may recommend that your company join the crowd. Either way, learners will undoubtedly be grateful for the chance to tap into Harvard Business School's resources and find a few fresh, reliable insights and strategies.

Contributing writer Tom Abraham ( is president of Chartwell Partners, a consulting practice in the Midwest specializing in leadership and the implementation of change.

Harvard Business Interactive Series

Pro: Rich, relevant content Credibility

Resources and tools

Real world cases

Con: Limited multimedia

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 Harvard Business Interactive Series
Holds user interest ***1/2
Production quality ***1/2
Ease of navigation ***
Interactivity **
Value of content ****
Instructional value ****
Value for the money ***
Overall rating ***1/2

Outstanding ****

Very good ***1/2

Good ***

Above average **1/2

Average **

Below Average *1/2

Poor *

NA Not applicable

NR Not rated (usually not enough information)
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Abraham, Tom
Publication:Training Media Review
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
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