Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has blazed a trail in online business education. They were the first business school to offer a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in 2013. To date, more than 2.7 million students from around the globe have enrolled in Wharton’s online classes.

Many Wharton students go on to develop influential careers in the financial industry. Alumni include Sara Catz, President and COF, Oracle Corporation; Rene Kern, Managing Director, General Atlantic; and Leonard Lauder, Founder, CEO, and Chairman, Estée Lauder.

Wharton’s online program started in 2012 with an Introduction to Marketing class. Professor Peter Fader was one of three of Wharton’s teachers asked to build an online class. He had no idea what he was getting into.

Fader was unsure about the type of student who would be interested in taking an online marketing class. He imagined he would be teaching a group of people with limited options for diversion. “My first impression was that the only people who would want this were senior citizens, housewives, or somebody in prison,” he said.

The demographics of Fader’s students came as a surprise. His marketing class attracted students from across the globe. Over 90% of them had previous college experience and had been awarded a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Many of the students worked full time jobs and ranged in age from 25 to 44. Fader received emails from professionals from around the world who had registered for his class. He was teaching engineers and managers as well as housewives and retirees.

Wharton’s online classes provide an important service to those students who might have missed this opportunity otherwise. “These people are every bit the caliber of our MBA students. I’d get an email from an engineer in Pakistan and lots of other people who would never have had the chance to come to Wharton,” he said.

This simple experiment in online education marked Wharton’s entry into the brave new world of digital learning. They now boast the largest number of certificates granted to online students, who verify and certify the completion of their course work. More than 32,000 students have been awarded these certificates.

The school’s digital education initiative continues to grow. Two new online specializations were added in 2016, one in entrepreneurship and one in business and financial modeling. Students learn from the unique talent that constitutes Wharton’s faculty. This program is an important resource for students and a vital example Wharton’s commitment to education and using their business school curriculum to express their highest principles.