Editorial: Changing the Face of Executive Management Education
Using Web-Based Learning Resources via Knowledgesourcing
While enrollments in executive management education have faced some severe headwinds over the past few years, those trends seem to be fading quickly. The good news is that demand is once again on the rise. These trends might be somewhat surprising given that tuition for some of the premium EMBA programs is projected to surpass $200,000 within in the next few years and that fewer organizations are now providing significant tuition reimbursement. These financial developments, however, are more than offset by the growing demand from China and India to significantly grow their manager corps as a result of continued economic growth.
Many prospective international students and sponsoring organizations are turning to the United States to help fill this need. To this end, a number of domestic business schools have formed strategic partnerships with like-minded international institutions to deliver world-class executive management education. Strategic alliances are the future of executive management education. This paradigm focuses on taking the learning experience to the working student on a global basis and is being made possible by the increased use of educational technology throughout the academic community of practice.
Typically, the working manager is interested in a practical and flexible curriculum that is focused on results. To meet these demands, many executive programs are turning increasingly to web-based learning systems, which includes the revolutionary new process of knowledgesourcing. The traditional EMBA pedagogy is being replaced by a combination of time-honored experiential processes and web-based customized learning systems. These so-called blended learning nets (BLN) are designed to enhance learning opportunities and outcomes. Equally important, BLNs improve course integration and delivery consistency and offer the executive extensive opportunities for collaborative and cooperative learning on a global basis. In this regard, BLNs can deliver specific content based on the background and performance of individual students and student teams. Some characteristics of this new learning zeitgeist include:
- Substitutes a dynamic learning environment for the traditional lecture format
- Focuses on developing enhanced problem solving skills
- Caters to increasing executive work demands and travel schedules
- Permits students to use actual work projects in courses
- Features more learning from other students (Andragogical)
One of the classic challenges in delivering executive management education involves finding the right balance between so-called soft skills (e.g., leadership) and quantitative skills (e.g., analytics). Ongoing critiques suggest that the focus of executive education must be on the art, rather than the science, of management since management and leadership are fundamentally qualitative. This is a very compelling argument. However, the business universe is now transforming into a new era: one that is data driven.
Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. – Stephen Covey
Bearing these developments in mind, how can a CEO make the “right” call without some technical insights into the use of Big Data in the overall decision-making process? Recently, we have witnessed a spate of database breaches throughout business and government. In most instances the senior leadership did not have a clue regarding the technical dimensions associated with safeguarding the public’s trust. How can a manager be pro-active with little or no training or experience utilizing Big Data? Leaving it to the so-called technical experts can be a recipe for disaster as we have seen.
Fortunately, there is a solution at hand—namely, the cloud. Web-based learning resources via knowledgesourcing offers considerable promise especially when integrating into the decision-making process. Knowledgesourcing in executive business education is the process of connecting students and faculty with a broad-based group of both internal and external resources for the general purpose of problem-solving and developing new skill sets. Specifically, this access portal can open up multiple learning and knowledge acquisition options by allowing students to connect in both formal and informal settings via the World Wide Web. The concept behind knowledgesourcing is closely aligned to crowdsourcing, which is used extensively throughout the business community.
“Analytics” is now the new buzzword permeating the corporate world and yes, you even hear it being uttered by the play-by-play man calling a professional sports game—The Angels are now redeploying the infield based on their analytics model—the so-called analytics shift. Analytics is the science of discovering and communicating meaningful patterns in data and developing actionable plans. Visual analytics empowers the user to not only characterize data graphically, but also to interact with a variety of diagrammatic representations. Teaching analytics to executive students via a visual context not only bypasses some of the technical challenges, but also reduces the anxiety level associated with most quantitative-based processes. This same analytics paradigm can also be used for developing global-based study groups based on student requirements and backgrounds (i.e., Learning Analytics).
When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts! – Larry Ellison
Many EMBA programs also recognize the need for integrated learning, which involves moving away from course silos and toward content and theme assimilation. The focus of an integrated business learning environment is on how the basic management functions—operations, finance, and marketing—are linked via information technology. To meet these challenges, the EMBA curriculum needs to serve as a gateway connecting the various business disciplines to the specific learning theme constructs, which include innovation and change management. The idea behind innovation is to foster an appreciation of the growing reliance on technology and how it can be used to enhance competitive advantage. The goal of change management is to improve critical thinking and decision-making skills. Interactive case studies provide one vehicle for inducing content and theme integration throughout the EMBA curriculum.
Another challenge associated with executive education is providing sufficient contact hours to meet the U.S. Department of Education and appropriate accrediting bodies’ new standards for directed instruction. Again, the use of the cloud can provide a learning force multiplier to achieve the desired contact requirements and also open up new learning opportunities. Specific examples include online business simulations, interactive learning tutorials, and business plan prize competitions for both individuals and teams.
Many current EMBA programs tend to be lockstep in design with limited potential for specialization. However, the power of the Internet opens up endless specialty options. Furthermore, imagine a context wherein an executive graduate student is interested in taking an elective or specialty course (e.g., analytics), but that course is not being offered at his or her home institution at a convenient time or place. The student could instead register with one of their home institution’s global strategic partner schools where the course is being offered. This scheduling format also supports jointly offered courses between partner schools. The key to implementing this quantum leap in learning opportunities is to establish a web-centric perspective. This learning orientation also enables the andragogical paradigm to be utilized throughout the EMBA curriculum, which enhances both learning possibilities and outcomes for the working manager. Some key attributes of this paradigm include the following tenets:
- Learning is problem-centered,
- Learners are internally motivated and self-directed, and
- Learners bring life experiences and knowledge to the learning process.
Looking forward, the fundamental challenge for executive management education is to better align its product line with the business community. In this new learning zeitgeist, faculty members become designers, coordinators, moderators, mediators, and mentors rather than traditional instructors. Flexibility and pro-active learning are the key characteristics of this new learning age. The research data show that a student-centered approach can achieve enhanced learning outcomes through active engagement. This, in turn, will better equip EMBA graduates to meet the challenges of the ever-expanding and challenging global marketplace. The same cloud-based data-analytics learning strategy can also be used to enhance the effectiveness of the EMBA student recruiting process by matching the “best” recruiter with the specific characteristics and interests of the prospective student. Furthermore, imagine providing a prospective student with the opportunity to “sit-in” on a typical class via the web or to join a study team engaged in a global assignment. It can’t get much better!
Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon. ― E.M. Forster
About the Author(s)
Owen P. Hall, Jr., PE, PhD, holds the Julian Virtue Professorship and is a Rothschild Applied Research Fellow. He is a Professor of Decision Sciences at Pepperdine University’s Graziado School of Business and Management. He has more than 35 years of academic and industry experience in mobile learning technologies and business analytics.