Executive education providers are forging ahead with online courses, even as the impact of coronavirus was reduced last year. The pandemic normalized digital corporate training, after forcing large parts of many business school’s courses online. Now, institutions are offering courses in a variety of formats -- some online, some offline and some a blend of the two.
“Delivery methods have evolved since the pandemic struck in a myriad of ways. We have seen the move to online delivery – both synchronous and asynchronous – as well as non-traditional experiential learning,” says Matthew Walkley, Head of B2B Marketing in the Executive Education division of Cambridge Judge Business School, in the UK.
“Now that the restrictions are relaxing, we are seeing more and more of our participants and clients expecting a blended approach to executive education, so they can benefit from the best of all the delivery methods,” he adds.
Blended learning: the best of both worlds
A blended learning model allows organizations to combine face-to-face and online learning modules to scale learning to a wider number of participants, while still immersing them in the business school environment.
“The pandemic forced us to accelerate the development of full online modules, and to develop digital synchronous teaching capacities,” says Cecile Arragon, Executive Director of Business Development at HEC Paris Executive Education. “But for the past year, we have noticed that our participants look forward to coming back to the classroom. Now we are working on blended programs that offer more flexibility and human contact at the same time.”
She says the blended approach yields huge benefits for participants and the HEC Paris school. “This combination enables us to really have very diverse and international cohorts and to leverage face-to-face time for value-added networking, experiential and vision-building sessions.”
Investments in sophisticated teaching technologies
It is also clear that online delivery methods have become much more sophisticated. Many business schools are running “live online” programs in which participants interact in real-time with each other through a videoconferencing platform such as Zoom, going far beyond pre-recorded video lectures and discussion boards. “Participants learn how to apply key principles into day-to-day business processes,” says Cambridge’s Walkley of traditional online courses.
“Other methods of delivery, including delivery through the metaverse, have been accelerated as the market begins to shift towards personalized, impactful learning,” he says of the immersive, 3D virtual world being developed by technology companies including Facebook parent Meta.
Schools’ own outlays on more interactive learning technologies have been quickened by coronavirus. With participants prevented from attending campus, a voracious appetite for online courses swelled digital enrolments. Even as pandemic restrictions were loosened, online methods of delivery have become a more permanent fixture of executive education than ever before.
But Walkley is clear that the desire for high quality learning options has not changed, regardless of delivery method. “I see a movement towards blended long-term delivery marrying bitesize learning to enable participants to gain the skills they need, have the intense learning experiences they desire and fit around the schedule they need,” he predicts.
“This will mean that innovative and experiential program design, enhanced by technology, will become the key to reaching target user segments, and the marriage of this with applicable research insights will create a genuine market differentiator [for business schools].”
Digital adoption driven by shift to remote work
Laura Sivula, Business Area Director of Aalto University Lifewide Learning in Finland, also expects big changes ahead for delivery methods in the corporate training market. “Lifewide learning” is learning through multiple formats, mirroring shifts in working practices driven by the pandemic.
“We are now in a transition phase of defining what the new normal means for executive education,” says Sivula. “Even without the Covid pandemic, it would have been inevitable to revisit learning models and formats sooner than later as the world becomes more digital. People are used to working collaboratively on platforms and mobile devices. Why would education differ so radically from what is normal in the workplace?”
That shift is also being driven by intensifying levels of competition among an expanding array of executive education providers. “Our biggest competitors in digital learning are not other business schools, but social media and subscription-based services,” Sivula says.
Because of that, she believes that online learning in some form is here to stay. “Now after the pandemic we have a better understanding of what works well online and what does not; multichannel learning in varying modalities and formats is becoming mainstream in higher education,” she adds. “People have varied learning styles and preferences and, for many, flexibility in studies is valued.”