Explosion in Demand for Executive Courses on AI

Explosion in Demand for Executive Courses on AI

The AI boom in executive education signals an evolution of leadership and management practices

In business, staying ahead of the curve is paramount. With the advent of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI), a new wave of transformation is sweeping through industries, reshaping the way companies operate and leaders make decisions. 

As GenAI becomes increasingly integrated into business strategies, there’s a growing demand for executives to understand how it works, and leverage its potential. This surge in interest has led to an explosion of new executive education courses and programs aimed at helping managers and leaders harness the benefits of groundbreaking GenAI tools in business.

“One of the newer emerging trends that leaders need to learn how to navigate is AI, which is rapidly emerging as the most important and transformative technology of our time,” says Nathalie Nawrocki, Executive Director of Corporate Partnerships at INSEAD, a business school based in France. 

“As the technology advances, leaders will need to embrace and leverage it to drive innovation, as well as to consider its impact on the business and workforce, including addressing potential ethical concerns and managing human-machine collaboration effectively,” Nawrocki adds. 

INSEAD offers several programs focused on AI targeting executives, including Transforming Your Business with AI (delivered online over five weeks). Elsewhere, IESE Business School in Barcelona launched its Artificial Intelligence for Executives program in 2019. 

It has grown so popular that the school now offers two editions per year – one from Barcelona and one from IESE’s campus in Munich. The four-day course gives practical ways for how companies can think about implementing AI tools in their business, in a humane way.

Shifting focus in executive education

Executive education, long valued for its ability to provide seasoned professionals with cutting-edge knowledge and skills, is now undergoing a shift towards an AI-focused portfolio. Business schools are recognizing the urgent need to equip leaders with the expertise needed to navigate GenAI. 

Matthias Holweg, Director of the Oxford Artificial Intelligence Program, at Saïd Business School in the UK, draws a distinction between courses focused exclusively on AI, and programs in other subjects such as marketing and strategy that incorporate AI into them. 

“The overall demand for AI programs has remained quite stable, yet what we do see is that programs which have a different focus, say finance or operations, now increasingly have to build in AI-related components,” says Holweg. 

“So while the demand for general education on AI that explains what it is and how it works has been stable, we see a rise in application-based programs asking how can I make it work for me in a given context,” he adds. “To me this is a sign of growing maturity and ubiquitous application of AI.” 

Understanding the transformative power of AI

One of the primary drivers behind this surge in AI-focused executive education is the realization of the technology’s transformative power. GenAI tools, in particular, are revolutionizing various aspects of business operations, from streamlining processes to unlocking insights buried within data. 

“The pace of change in the world of machine learning and AI is head spinning, and many executives are at a loss to figure out how it will change their businesses,” says Gregory La Blanc, a Lecturer at the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley. 

“While they have understood that every function in the business has had to adapt to the massive increase in data but modifying its practices, its staffing and its IT investments, they now realize that AI is now forcing changes that are more fundamental.” 

The Artificial Intelligence: Business Strategies and Applications course at Berkeley Haas is delivered online over two months, part-time. Participants learn AI’s current capabilities and applications – and its future potential.

Beyond technical skills

However, the successful integration of AI into business practices requires more than just technological know-how. It demands a deep understanding of the ethical, legal and societal implications, as well as the ability to lead teams through organizational change. 

Hence, executive education programs are not merely focusing on teaching technical skills; they’re also emphasizing critical thinking, ethical decision-making and strategic planning. 

Moreover, the democratization of AI tools means that leaders no longer need to be data scientists to leverage AI effectively. Instead, they must develop a fluency in AI concepts and cultivate a collaborative mindset to work alongside data experts, say business schools.

“In my mind, senior decision-makers do not learn how to code or understand machine learning algorithms,” says Holweg at Oxford Saïd. “But they do need to become what I call ‘competent customers’ – like buying a new car, you may not know how the injection pump works, but you do know whether a hybrid or electric car is right, and how many seats you need.” 

This interdisciplinary approach is reflected in the curriculum of many executive education programs, which often feature a blend of technical training, case studies and interactive workshops.

Addressing the widening skills gap

Another driving force behind the AI boom in executive education is the urgency to address the widening skills gap. As AI continues to reshape job roles and requirements, there’s a pressing need for upskilling and reskilling the current workforce, including top leadership.

Executives who possess a deep understanding of AI’s capabilities and limitations are better equipped to drive innovation and mitigate risks. Executive education programs offer a way for seasoned professionals to stay relevant in their jobs.  

“It’s important for executives to understand how to bake AI into everything that their organization does,” says La Blanc, at the Haas School. “This might require building out expansive internal AI capabilities, or it might allow the outsourcing of big chunks of what the company does.” 

Ultimately, the AI boom in executive education signals an evolution of leadership and management practices. 

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Related Business Schools

INSEAD

IESE

Oxford - Saïd

UC Berkeley - Haas

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