Building Skills with Microcourses

More institutions are offering wholly virtual educational experiences to help students hone their digital skills for the workplace.

With students living and learning so effortlessly in digital domains, more institutions are offering wholly virtual educational experiences to help them hone their digital skills for the workplace. For instance, the Center for Global Enterprise, a nonprofit in New York City, has recently launched online learning opportunities it calls microcourses, each lasting between four and six weeks. For students seeking a less time-intensive option, the organization also offers shorter versions of these courses, called microlessons, which last only two weeks.

Each microcourse has three educational components. First, it features a series of pre-recorded videos that are typically three minutes long, each delivered by a different academic or practitioner. All of this content is designed to be “mobile first” to reflect the prevalence of smartphone use around the world, especially in emerging markets. Second, it includes weekly one-hour live sessions, which are conducted using the Zoom video conferencing platform and led by experienced academics or practitioners.

Finally, each course has an experiential component. Participants form teams of up to seven individuals—who are students, academics, and business professionals from all over the world—to collaborate to solve problems related to team members’ real-world workplaces or projects.

So far, the CGE has run four microcourses, three of which accepted students through an application process. These include “Africa Platform Management, Strategy & Innovation,” which enrolled 52 students; “Building Government Trust,” which enrolled 85; and “Global Versus Local Branding and Marketing,” which enrolled 98. Shelly Lazarus, former CEO of Ogilvy and a CGE board member, was among the practitioners who delivered a session for the branding microcourse. Enrollment in these courses was kept small to make sure the live sessions were highly interactive.

The CGE has offered one open-enrollment course, as a way to test the concept for future offerings. “Digital Africa: Platform Management Innovation & Strategy” enrolled 432 students. Nearly half, 48 percent, completed the course.

The two courses focused on African markets were funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, and the “Global Versus Local Branding and Marketing” course was developed with Babson College and funded through a grant from the Goldman Foundation, as part of its 10,000 Women Initiative.

Interactions between instructors and participants are emphasized both during and after class sessions. Glory Enyinnaya, a student who completed “African Platform Management Strategy and Innovation,” says that she found it life-changing to be mentored by her course leader, Olayinka David-West, a professor at Lagos Business School in Nigeria.

“Her knowledge of Nigerian markets and background in African business were critical to the session she taught and my own development during the course,” she says. Enyinnaya and more than a dozen other alumni of these courses have gone on to start their own companies.

These courses are intended to complement current business curricula, by providing a global online experience accessible to a wide range of business students and faculty, says Ira Sager, a vice president at CGE. Over the next year, CGE plans to increase its number of microcourse offerings—the organization already is developing new content related to transforming company supply chains through digitization.

For more information about past CGE’s microcourses, visit