It’s broadly accepted that COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation efforts for most organizations by approximately two to three years. From client-facing activities to administrative functions, a range of platforms and tools have quickly been assembled to help workers collaborate, communicate, innovate and actively maintain their levels of performance at every turn.
Such efforts have –– perhaps somewhat surprisingly –– had the overall effect of expanding rather than limiting workforce potential. Case in point: The first research out of Harvard on productivity during the pandemic indicates that, on average, the American workday has been extended by nearly 49 minutes (essentially an hour of extra work time).
For the executive education industry, these developments have significant implications. In a world where in-person strategy sessions, weekend retreats and immersive seminars have long been the status quo, alternatives for distance learning suddenly became necessary overnight. Yet where traditional education models might be suffering, executive education is looking at a brand new era that has some unexpected advantages.
As executive education deals with the onslaught of COVID-19, experts suggest benefits can actually be enhanced by online learning (as opposed to merely being reproduced in a socially distanced format). “Executive education previously provided a number of different values for participants, including the learning, networking and credentials from top schools,” says Robert Hsiung, China CEO of executive education tech company ERUDITUS, adding, “As exec ed moves to virtual-distance models, the focus has been magnified on the learning.” The COVID-19 era, Hsiung notes, appears to have placed more emphasis on solution-driven techniques than ever before. This amounts to a major win for individuals looking to develop their executive skill set.
But beyond this obvious victory for learners, the shift in executive learning development seems to offer advantages for organizations as well. Indeed, Shaun Rozyn, managing director of Darden Executive Education at the University of Virginia, insists the benefits of virtual executive education models will be twofold: “Learners will benefit from more options, opportunity and personalization as learning is better curated to truly empower organizational outcomes. Similarly, organizations will benefit from more impactful and packaged content and deployment options.”
With this in mind, we’ve provided a brief overview of the potential benefits of post-coronavirus executive education curricula for a) executives in search of new tools and b) educational organizations hoping to impart their knowledge and improve business processes. Note: Many of these advantages, though they’ve emerged during COVID-19, will also apply once the crisis subsides. (That is, there’s no set timeline for reaping some of these unanticipated rewards.)
COVID-19 reality benefits for executive learners
Virtual executive education prepares learners to meet the moment. Online collaboration in the age of COVID has exposed a wide variety of organizational vulnerabilities. Executives whose long list of daily to-dos isolated them from activities further down the pyramid, for example, may now be suddenly aware of serious labor distribution problems, thanks to virtual task management tools such as Slack or Trello.
But the immediacy of online executive education can help alert learners to these types of problems and provide them with the tools they’ll need to react in near-real time. This responsiveness will prove invaluable in an environment where constant change is the only norm. “Many individuals must reskill to meet the demands of today and succeed,” Mary Carey, regional director for the Americas at INSEAD Education, observes, adding, “Virtual executive education future-proofs executives against becoming obsolete in a time when business is changing so rapidly.”
Distanced education means more options. In an instant, COVID leveled the playing field for all exec ed programs, no matter their reputation. With no exclusive getaways or exciting retreats to offer, programmers were obliged to focus even more intently on content and accessibility if they had any hope of standing out.
And, just like that, executive education became mostly a buyer’s market.
As Ashwin Damera, co-founder & CEO of ERUDITUS, notes, this shift means individuals in search of supplementary executive education have a lot to gain. In fact, Damera predicts three positive post-COVID outcomes for learners: “More online courses will be offered in open enrollment. This will make executive education more accessible to participants who cannot come to campus. [In addition] more online content will be blended into custom offerings. This will provide for better design, more flexibility and scalable learning solutions. [Finally,] more global participants can be reached by business schools, especially by offering courses in different languages. Again, this will dramatically improve access.”
Executive education online helps close the “skills transfer gap.” A 2019 Harvard Business Review article titled “The Future of Leadership Development” cited the “skills transfer gap” (i.e., the phenomenon whereby a thing that is learned is rarely implemented in real life) as one of the biggest complaints in the exec ed sphere. The explanation? As the article observes, research performed by cognitive, educational and applied psychologists suggests the answer lies in “the distance between where a skill is learned … and where it is applied.”
Here again, the immediacy of online learning can help. In addition to improving response times so executives can remain adaptable while the world is in flux, virtual executive education can bridge the skills transfer gap by offering easily accessible and highly scalable “learning solutions” on demand. Learners can effectively take on a new skill and then get busy applying it from the comfort of their home office, all with virtually no turnaround time. This means the likelihood that they’ll retain the information they’ve learned (and be able to use it in the future) will increase.
Post-COVID-19 benefits for executive education organizations
Executive education organizations now have an added competitive edge. In an environment characterized by uncertainty, extensive knowledge and careful preparation can be powerful weapons. Exec ed is now in the unique position of being able to offer both –– all while adhering to social distancing rules.
“Some organizations and businesses will use the current crisis to come out ahead of the competition [and] executive education is an effective lever to do so,” Carey notes. In other words: Executive learners will need every tool in their arsenal to take on the COVID-19 challenge and succeed –– and executive education can help them add to their weapons stockpile. More education means more options in the face of adversity, so it follows that more learners will want to invest in executive education solutions as the market absorbs the blow of COVID-19 and slowly moves toward recovery. This means executive education occupies a space many will be desperate to fill, which paves the way for a potential boom. And since exec solutions will be offered digitally, learners may be even more inclined to sign on, as the logistic demands will be low and the return on investment high.
Virtual executive education will attract even more learners. As your executive education solution adapts to our new reality, it simultaneously has the ability to broaden its scope. Just as virtual executive education models mean more accessibility for learners, digital transformation means a larger pool of potential participants for executive education organizations. As Damera mentioned above, COVID-19 has effectively brought executive education directly into our homes across the globe –– expanding executive learner horizons and extending executive education’s reach. If your organization wants its curriculum to attract more eyes and ears, COVID-19 just made that possible.
COVID-19 restrictions force a refocus on quality. With the bells and whistles of executive education removed, organizations have an opportunity to restructure their lesson plans and place even more emphasis on leadership development. Hsiung notes that, post-COVID-19, the ultimate deciding factor in choosing an executive education organization will be whether or not its curriculum can provide value. Organizations will therefore be obliged to streamline lessons into an online format and ensure workshops and seminars pack as much punch as possible. Translation? If you’ve always wanted to do a deep dive on a subject like game theory but found one-off events too restrictive, now’s your chance. Thanks to virtual transformation, every minute of your time can now be used for education. This can lead to more comprehensive learning models, which can enhance overall value and generate more interest.
Obviously, exec ed’s transitional phase will be ongoing, and much of the end result will be shaped by participants, so time will tell us more about where executive education can go in a post-pandemic era.
In the meantime, stay safe and keep learning.