Sunday, January 26, 2014

Experiments in online teaching: My Spring Classes and an Online Valuation Class

In my last two posts, I talked about the big picture, focusing on why I think MOOCs stumbled in the last year and the moat that gives universities their power to offer a "bundled product" at a premium price. In this one, I want to get back to the theme of experimentation and the future of online education.

Let me start by noting that there is far more that we are still learning about how to teach online. While MOOCs captured the public consciousness a few years ago, they did so more because of their numbers (of students) and less because of their effectiveness. A couple of years into this experiment, it is clear that there are problems: the drop out rates are astronomical, there are questions of effectiveness and even Sebastian Thrun, one of the earliest cheerleaders for the concept, seems to be having second thoughts.

This semester, I will be teaching my regular corporate finance and valuation MBA classes at the Stern School of Business at New York University, and like the last few semesters, I will be offering those classes on iTunes U and online for those of you who are interested.

Corporate Finance class: This is my big picture class in finance and sequentially comes ahead of the valuation class (though I don't think of it as a pre-requisite). It is  a business finance class that looks at the financial principles that should govern how we run businesses (small or large, private or public, developed or emerging). Here are your choices for taking it, if you are interested:
a. On my website: I will be posting all of the class webcasts, lecture notes and sundry material at the links below.
Link for the class:
Link for webcasts:
There will be no protective gates around the class and you should be able to download the webcasts and other material.
b. On iTunes U: If you want a smoother experience, the same material will be posted on the iTunes U site in a public course (that anyone should be able to watch on an Apple device, if they have the iTunes U app, which is free)
Link for class:
Classes start on February 3 and will go on until May 12, though the class will stay online for months afterwards.

Valuation class: This is a class about valuation, more valuation and still more valuation. As I describe, it is about valuing any type of asset or business, using any valuation technique and in any kind of setting. The choices for taking it are listed below:
a. On my website: All of the material for the class will be at the links below:
Link for the class:
Link for webcasts:
b. On iTunes U: If you want a smoother experience, the same material will be posted on the iTunes U site in a public course (that anyone should be able to watch on an Apple device, if they have the iTunes U app, which is free).
Link for class:
This class also starts on February 3 and lasts until May 12.

If you are interested in joining in, please do so. I would love to have you along for the ride. I know that many of you have tried to take these classes in the past and have had a difficult time making it past the first few sessions, and I entirely understand. Juggling family, friends, a full course schedule at your regular college and life's other challenges is difficult enough, without having to add two more 80-minute sessions each week, as well as all of the work that goes with these classes. If you can pull it off, I admire you, but if you don't have the time, I not only understand but I do have a offer for you that reflects four lessons that I have learned in my exposure to online learning.
  1. Online learning is different from in-class learning: A classroom lecture of 80 minutes is long enough, but it is doable. An online lecture of 80 minutes is torturous. In fact, studies during the last two years suggest that an online lecture that lasts for more than ten minutes may very quickly end up losing its audience. Online classes have to be shorter, punchier and accompanied by fewer distractions than regular classes.
  2. There is too little interaction: Online classes offer too little interaction, not only between faculty and students but also among students. Online classes need to find ways to increase interaction especially among students, not only to allow questions to be answered but to provoke discussion that can enhance learning.
  3. There is limited or no feedback: Much as students like to complain about exams in their classes, it turns out that they miss not having them (as is the case in many online classes), since they provide tangible feedback on whether you are absorbing the material in the class. Online classes need to find ways to let students confirm that they are assimilating the key concepts of the class.
  4. There is no hands-on experience: Ultimately, you learn by doing, not listening, and online classes seem to give short shrift to hands on experience. Online classes need to figure out ways of getting students to try what they learn in class on real world questions.
For the last few months, I have wrestled with how best to create an online class that tries (and perhaps fails) to overcome these problems. My first experiment was with my investment philosophies iTunes U class, tied to my book, that I posted on a few months ago. My second experiment is now ready to go and I would love to have your feedback on what parts of it work and which ones don't. It is my valuation class, restructured and redesigned for an online audience, with the following components. You can find it on iTunes U by going to the following link:
Online valuation class:
If you have an iPad, this should be easy to do. If you have an Android, you will need to download an app that allows you to access iTunes U courses.  If you do try this class, you will find the following changes.
  1. Less is more: I compressed each of my MBA classes (80 minutes) into a 10-15 minute session. Thus, this class is composed of 25 sessions, averaging around 15 minutes each. I tried to get the core of each class into the shorter session. You can be the judge!
  2. Easier on the eye? Stern was kind enough to provide me with a professional cameraman and editor for the sessions and I think they are much more watchable. My thanks go to Kristen Sosulski, Brian O'Hagan and David Schumacher for making these videos look great, though I retain responsibility for anything stupid that was said during any of them.
  3. Post class tests and solutions: Like the investment philosophy class, each session in this class comes with a post class test and solution to allow you to test your understanding of that session.
  4. Discussion boards: Kipin Hall is a business started by some very bright young people at NYU that offers a discussion board online. I have added a link to each session, with a discussion forum for that session. You can use it to ask questions about the material that someone else taking the class may be able to answer or which I may, from time to time, be able to provide input on.You can also use it to chat with others in the class, post links about the topic or in any other creative way that you want. You will need to register the first time you use the discussion board, and if you any questions or issues, you can contact Kipin Hall at
  5. In-practice webcasts: Since you learn valuation by doing, I have added number of in-practice webcasts on practical questions ranging from how you read a 10K to how you adjust earnings for leases or compute a cost of debt. You can use this to take the material from the class and value companies.
  6. Blog post valuations: In an ongoing part of the class, I plan to take the weekly company valuations that I do this semester in my regular class and do short blog posts on how I approached the valuation, accompanied by my spreadsheet containing the valuation.

I am not ready to give up on online learning yet. If they have not worked well so far, it is not because they can never work but because we have much to learn about how people learn online and what works and what does not. I plan to keep trying and with your help, I hope to get better over time.


Tom said...

being someone who from time to time tunes into your webcasts and looks at your presentation, I feel that I should add that there is a number of people out there that is already in the profession but would like to see or hear what your thoughts on certain topics are and where they think that the books don't give the full story.

That means that these people do not have the time, interest or need to follow the full clases, but are highly interested in "indirectly picking your brain" by scrolling through your online teaching and that often includes going back to the basics...

I feel that the newest approach might work ok, but don't forget that we are looking not necessarily for fast and high level but through and insightful and also for an update on what's newest thinking...

In short, we really appreciate your online clases, albeit perhaps not being the target audience?!

Anonymous said...

Prof, What you are doing is great.

Very few understand that education is not about going to the university and coming out of it; and then seek jobs. Today's education makes students only employable rather than knowledgeable. Add to that, most of the university or other professional courses force students to memorize rather than learn. That is not only silly, but also unfortunate.

It need not be so. Once the priorities are set, i.e. to learn, it is not difficult to make a life out of education.

Taking a specific example of your classes, corporate finance and business valuation - If anyone is interested in these topics and is keen to learn, he or she can just log into your course, hear you, ask questions now and then, and read your books or any other books as add on. It does not matter how long it takes, it does not matter whether exams are taken or not, the important thing is to learn. If done properly, one can make a career out of it; if not employable, that's good, one can be an independent analyst and surely make money for living.

This goes with other subjects too; I feel sorry for people who attend top universities, feel superior and end up in the rat-race where it would be difficult for their ego to come out of. They don't choose subjects and universities based on their interest, but based on what they think are capable of (their IQ) and to feed their societal status.

I advice students to identify their passion first, and then learn more about that subject; it is a good shot for success - not necessarily in terms of money only, but from other aspects of life too.

Online initiatives do a lot in this respect; who cares about exams and certificates if one is really focused on learning?

I want to give credit to you, for you did not need to come online for free, but still you do.

Now, since you have, I have one request. I have noticed that not all of the queries posted on your blog get answered. I understand that it is not easy but it would be great if you could do something on that if possible.


Anonymous said...

Have you considered offering your courses through Coursera?

What I like about a course platform vs just download it from your site is that they set deadlines every week, so it's more likely that I'll take the time to watch the videos and finish the course.

Cousera also has a discussion board, which addresses your point regarding knowledge exchange among students.

Finally, they offer certificates. While it should be about learning and not about certificates, a lot of people appreciate getting some kind of formal certificate, and like deadlines, it makes them work harder.

Tom said...

And I would want to add: nice videos and great quality! Appreciate the time invested (!) in this, as this clearly shows your determination to find a way to get this working!


Unknown said...

Online classes are just best for me it helps me a lot in studying at home and anywhere.

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MorePars said...

I am guilty of taking multiple classes including yours but not finishing them. I think your new approach (better camera work, more digestible video, hands-on activities) will be a big plus. What I would add to your list of possible enhancements is the ability to get 1:1 help (probably at a cost). Forums are good but sometimes personal coaching is more effective. Good luck. I am going to try taking both again this semester! :)

Nomarless said...

Professor Damodaran:

Just wanted to say I enjoy your lectures on finance and valuation through iTunes. I currently am at a mid-tier MBA school that I find some topics less appealing in lecture form, such as this area. I've gotten through about 10 lectures on Spr 2013 Finance course. I feel it takes many times hearing the same information to get a firmer grasp of the concepts. I just wish I got more real-world experience in the process of valuation. Maybe someday. Again, what you are doing is great - and insightful - and maybe somehow it translates into more Americans, more people of the world, understanding calculated expectations in business and economics better. Thus not making the same repeated mistakes that tore apart many people's lives.

Anonymous said...

Hello sir! Im a final year student at delhi university pursuing Bcom Honours. I'm extremely thankful to you for providing your lessons online in such an organised manner. Due to lack of proper courses here in delhi, your valuations classes are really helpful amd will help me in the future.

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Aswath Damodaran said...

You are right. If you are a valuation professional or feel pretty comfortable with valuation concepts already, this class is not meant for you. However, I o believe that my blog posts aim for this audience and I may start accompanying the posts with short presentations on timely topics. As for the newest thinking, I am comfortable posting my own thoughts but prefers others to post their own.

Aswath Damodaran said...

On the Coursera question, I am afraid that it is not my decision to make, since Coursera works with universities, not individuals. NYU does not have an arrangement with Coursera, Udacity or any other online course provider yet.

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Anonymous said...

Final exam and solution files for your fall 2013 valuation class cannot be downloaded. Could you please fix it? Thanks.

Unknown said...

Hi Professor Damodaran,

Hope this finds you well.

As a person that founded and ran a successful online educational company (DreamBox Learning), I agree with many of your points about the weakness of its model.

However, in my view, online education will not be the disruptor. Instead, I'm convinced that it will come from Corporate America. To this end, I wrote a piece entitled "The End of the Four-Year Degree" last Oct, which highlights this threat in detail:

Unknown said...

article on online teaching really useful nd i had brief view on what the flaws snd plus..hope for good.event management

Unknown said...

I think it is worth to let Prof. Damodaran know that his courses and lessons are among the most valuable things that Internet and "IPAD (I know prof is a huge fan of Apple products)" have provided so far, so please continue your effort of teaching and I am sure many people are grateful as I am.
Thank you again Prof. And have a great year.

Dan said...


I would just like to thank you for the effort you put into teaching. I am completing an MBA through a distance program and have not had access to as broad a range of electives as I would have liked. Your work is an incredible resource that motivates me to learn and expand my abilities in the subject area on my own, the true goal of education I believe.

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Anonymous said...

Professor, I've enjoyed going through many of your previous lectures, although I did often find it a struggle to go through a lecture without frequently stopping and taking breaks. I have to say your anecdotes and jokes provided much needed respite, also its funny but I seem to remember these far better than some of the material (perhaps the mind retains what it finds enjoyable to think about more easily?) I do realise however there is a trade off between having fun and getting through the rigour of the material.

On the specifics of the course I thought the way you lay it out structurally is very logical and the framework is fantastic. Obviously there are a lot of disparate concepts to tie up and I think you do a great job of this. One area which was problematic for me was the 'Cost of Equity' lectures as there are so many components to working out the final result I got lost as to understanding how it all came together, it would be even better if you spent a bit more time showing how these components fit together at the end.

Thanks for doing this, I see you as the robin hood of higher business education giving those of us who cant afford to attend a prestigious US college to learn valuation the opportunity to develop our skills in this area and therefore broaden our horizons.

Cheers, Anand

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Anonymous said...

Hi Aswath.

I read the chapter of your book several times and then I watch the class. This method works best for me, however, it slows the pace. That is why I watch your courses several times. You can say I'm a student of years and no of one semester.

In my opinion you are the best teacher of all time, ever. And NYU is the best university in the United States to have you. You are doing a wonderful job.

Best regards from Brasil.


Anonymous said...

The classes you offer online has helped me tremendously in life. I learn a lot of theories in my undergrad but largely lacked the practical application for the theories. I have learned a lot about valuation from your classes, Thank you.


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Ace said...

Professor Damodaran,

First off, thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, we all really appreciate it.

Your assessment of the success of online classes is spot on. Class length is a huge factor - for 2 years, I have tried with little success to finish your full webcast online, but it's just not possible to easily find a 90-minute chunk of time to do 1 class, so thanks for the short version on itunesU.

I'll share feedback as I do more classes, but one quick observation is that the 'popularity' rating of the classes trends downwards with later session with the exception of class 5, dropping to zero on class 9. Is this because of students not persevering or the later sessions were uploaded recently ?

thanks again !

Anonymous said...

I love you, professor. You are just amazing and your kindness is too.
Hope I could find some time to attend the class soon.

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Unknown said...

Respected sir,

Thanks for this new version adopted. If i remember correctly, you are sharing your valuable knowledge (free) over the past decade. My sincere thanks also, for the updation of historical data every year. If you provide/highlight the changes, you do in those data, will be still more useful. Also kindly provide an in-depth article about shareholding pattern. Thought to meet you @ chennai.


James said...

I would suggest you to create a youtube channel for posting videos. Thanx for sharing knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Could you post this in a non-apple dependent way - perhaps youtube videos or something that comes with rss. Thank you.

Anonymous said...


Best online learning experience I have found... and free. Would love to see you offering courses through this venue. I've taken computational finance courses, even calculus with a finance focus (sounds exciting right?) and I was able to get through both.

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Ashot Arzumanyan said...

Dear Professor Damodaran. First of all THANK YOU! I hardly can think of any academician I am so much fond of.

I wonder if you plan to run any short training (2-3 weeks) programs in 2015. If yes, please let us know details. Thanks.