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The Journey of Digital Executive Education

Erin Maher and Jason Pileggi

Many schools are moving full steam ahead by incorporating some form of digital learning into their educational portfolios. We thought it would be a great time to reflect on where everything digital started, how we got to where we are today, and look into our crystal ball to get a glimpse at what lies ahead.

In the early 2010s, MOOCs (Massive Online Course) exploded onto the digital learning scene as fast internet connections, new education technology firms (Coursera, Udacity, and edX), new technical courses (programming), and Ivy League programs all collided to bring tremendous energy and high hopes to the new and exciting digital learning landscape. Even the vaulted New York Times got in on the action, reporting that 2012 was “the year of the  ”. Hopes were high that MOOC's would level the educational playing field and provide a diverse range of learners access to a broad assortment of courses that were in high demand, while in turn, enhancing the overall quality of employment opportunities.  

After some time however, low completion rates led to diminished expectations for MOOCs and expectations were downgraded towards the skeptical. Within the world of executive education, most leaders had taken note of the new platform, but given the low-touch nature of MOOC programs, they were perceived to not align with the values of executive education and were regarded with limited enthusiasm.

While MOOCs didn't meet the initially lofty expectations, they did provide a foundation for schools to build from. Crucially, business executives were able to see online learning as a more efficient and potentially scalable way to train their employees, which translated to increased buyer interest.

Today's digital learning world has been a product of partner experimentation; essentially ongoing “best of breed” solutions orchestrated by key stakeholders working across providers. In this new reality, it’s been critical for these teams to understand how to best adjust sales and marketing efforts to take advantage of the new market place.

"The challenge for executive education leaders is to decide: What are we optimizing to? Impact on organizations, on the field of learning, on leaders? Service to customers, to faculty, to other university stakeholders, to partners? Revenues? Data and learning about learning? Brand equity, brand monetization, brand impact? Being clear about these priorities is critical to building a successful overall strategy, choosing when to build and when to buy, and being able to experiment with a plan in mind." (UNICON)

Online Program Management (OPMs) providers have been a significant force in accelerating program digitization. OPMs are helping certain institutions scale with limited risk and investment, enabling schools to benefit from their investments in digital marketing. As a result, firms can become better at acquiring students through online marketing which has traditionally not been their sweet spot.

Newer models, such as subscriptions, allow schools to experiment with how to leverage digitization while developing solutions that have not been available previously.  Schools can leverage their IP while also defending themselves from emerging threats like online-only solutions such as LinkedIn Learning.

Looking forward, it will be critical to more effectively meet the needs of future leaders with emerging technologies like scalable, collaborative learning solutions that can deliver even better learning outcomes. With the digital cat out of the bag, digital learning will be increasingly more accepted, more frequently requested, and easily integrated into learning plans. The near future will showcase even more digital partners with highly developed solutions, such as VR/AR, AI, etc. that will continue to surface with highly specialized technical solutions that will need to be incorporated into the learning plans of competitive schools.

The potential for the major players such as 2U and Pearson to acquire these types of niche firms to better offer integrated solution benefits will also give them even more influence over the developing market.

Schools will increasingly need to adapt to incorporate new partners that allow their programs to leverage the latest technology to ensure their offering is not only competitive but also seen as having the most benefit for their learners. Individual learners have come to expect these types of digitally driven, high-value interactions due to the way they learn in their everyday lives. Corporations will also require this environment to keep learners engaged and ultimately, to develop and retain top talent in a competitive job market.

Ultimately, the best way to prepare for tomorrow is to start working with partners who have open, flexible platforms that will allow schools to experiment with new technology.  There will always be initial work on the front end before the fruits are seen, but this diligence will enable forward-thinking schools to become more adaptable to the future demands of its digitally-capable new customers. Additionally, it will allow schools to not just keep up with competition, or stay ahead, but will enable them to be well s ahead, driving both revenue growth, and behavior transformation.

 

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