In a vast auditorium in Shanghai, rows of students ranging from recent university graduates to silver-haired senior executives sit listening through headphones to an impressive bilingual lecture while filing reflections on their iPads. Two translators assist the presenter by writing simultaneous notes in English and Chinese as the lecture progresses.
The event? One of Harvard Business School’s open executive education programs, many of which are now being presented around the world. “We are increasingly offering programs globally,” says David Yoffie, senior associate dean of Executive Education at Harvard Business School, which has purpose-built teaching facilities in Mumbai and Shanghai, with another soon to open in Europe. Harvard’s global reach was among the reasons it ranked second this year to Switzerland’s first-placed IMD business school in the Financial Times’ executive education rankings (open programs).
Duke Corporate Education, which is part of Duke University in America’s North Carolina, topped the Financial Times customised programs list for the 10th time this year. It, too, has a strong international focus with three offices in the US, bases in London, India and South Africa. But this year’s Financial Times rankings have six of the top 10 schools for customised programs coming from Europe or South America.
“Nowadays, you need to be good at everything to be good at anything,” says Rosemary Howard, director of executive education at the University of New South Wales’ Australian Graduate School of Management, whose faculty members teach in cities as far flung as Hong Kong, Bangalore and Dubai. “Once upon a time people would come and do a slightly theoretical executive program with no one properly managing their re-entry into the workforce — now things are far more scientific,” says Howard.
Life-long learning and global goals have long been the mantra of many executive educators but the arrival of tighter times, new technology and social media has transformed the way we live, work and learn. General management and leadership courses are as well attended as ever but other trends have emerged. “Since the GFC, a lot of people want to improve their productivity in an organisation,” says Howard.
As managers now have less time and money at their disposal and more choice on their doorsteps, they are looking at a broader spectrum of educational providers to meet their needs. These include in-house training, management consultancies, coaching companies and publishing houses. The Financial Times launched its two-and-a-half-day Non-Executive Director Certificate last year and the Economist magazine has begun a series of four-hour online courses about emerging markets using editorial content with input from professors and consultants.
These shorter, more immediate courses are catering for today’s ‘just-in-time’ mentality, where busy, travelling professionals can learn on the go. Interestingly, HBP’s innovations contributed US$135 million to Harvard Business School in the last financial year.
But will this type of remote teaching eventually take over from traditional classroom methods? Paul Dainty, deputy dean at Melbourne Business School’s Mount Eliza Executive Education campus remains sceptical, as do business people worldwide. “New technology is changing the way executive education is delivered but it will never take over completely from face-to-face,” says Dainty.
“One of the biggest drivers in creating Thread was to offer a very continuous learning experience,” says Matt Williams, director of Digital Learning at Melbourne Business School. “When students go back to work, they can continue to contact people from their cohort as well as a pool of 800 to 900 faculty members and coaches. We also partner with Harvard and use content from their blog. Leaders talk about their experiences in the workplace and there is a private messaging platform for coaching and learning group conversations,” explains Williams.
The executive education arm of Curtin Graduate School of Business in Western Australia has carved a niche for itself in customised programs for the public sector, resources and construction industries. Its Maureen Bickley Centre for Women In Leadership runs a course for aspiring female leaders. “Our most popular courses are around communication, leadership and decision-making,” says Dorothy Wardale, director of Curtin’s executive education department.
“Working in a customised environment, you have to be flexible and nimble, we are always reviewing things and exploring other ways things can be done,” says Jenny Rickard, associate director of MGSM’s executive education. With many schools allowing their corporate courses to count towards a prestigious Master Of Business Administration degree, the message of life-long learning is coming through loud and clear – and in many different languages. “We have become very global in almost everything we do,” says Harvard’s David Yoffie. “You can’t expect everyone to go to Cambridge University — in some cases you just have to go to the world,” he says.