Hon­ing skills the dig­i­tal way


Are on­line ex­ec­u­tive cour­ses the fu­ture of man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion? Dr Chengyi Lin, INSEAD, gives you the an­swer.

Lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment pro­grams, in a bid to keep up with the evolv­ing mar­ket dy­nam­ics have in­te­grated dig­i­tal plat­forms of im­part­ing knowl­edge and train­ing, in­stead of just re­ly­ing on in­per­son train­ing. DR CHENGYI LIN of INSEAD gives an anal­y­sis of the need and the scope of on­line train­ing pro­grams.

Since the in­tro­duc­tion of the first com­pany-spe­cific pro­gram by INSEAD in 1967, ex­ec­u­tive ed­u­ca­tion—also known as Man­age­ment De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram—has been play­ing a crit­i­cal role in help­ing lead­ers and man­agers meet in­creas­ing lead­er­ship chal­lenges. This chal­lenge has be­come even greater now. Glob­al­i­sa­tion has made the world much more in­ter­con­nected and in­ter­de­pen­dent; tech­nol­ogy has ac­cel­er­ated the speed and fre­quency of change; and dis­rup­tions, es­pe­cially new busi­ness mod­els, have shaped and re­shaped the busi­ness land­scape in var­i­ous in­dus­tries. The ques­tion re­mains for busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing in­dus­try—can we keep pace with and meet busi­ness needs?

The an­swer may be sim­ple, “We have to.” As these busi­ness chal­lenges arise, tal­ent and tal­ent de­vel­op­ment have be­come more es­sen­tial to busi­nesses than ever. From defin­ing a clear vi­sion to trans­lat­ing vi­sion to strat­egy to ex­e­cut­ing the strat­egy and manag­ing busi­ness op­er­a­tions, ev­ery step re­quires ex­ec­u­tives, man­agers, and work­ers to have a deep un­der­stand­ing of the busi­ness and be able to re­spond to the chal­lenges. This is the ex­act role of busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing—to pre­pare lead­ers and work­forces with the right busi­ness knowl­edge, skills, ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and mind­set.

How­ever, the mode of de­liv­ery and the cur­rent de­lin­eation of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing in­dus­try may not be the most ideal to de­liver the de­sired im­pact. His­tor­i­cally, ex­ec­u­tive train­ing is done face to face in the class­room with a lim­ited num­ber of par­tic­i­pants for each course.

Top busi­ness schools are pro­vid­ing ex­ec­u­tive train­ing to lead­ers, top ex­ec­u­tives, and high po­ten­tials, while the mid­dle man­age­ment and work­force are trained by con­sul­tan­cies, train­ing ven­dors, and so­lu­tion providers, many of which also rely on in-per­son de­liv­ery. How­ever, with the busi­ness land­scape con­stantly evolv­ing and with changes hap­pen­ing at an unan­tic­i­pated pace, there now ex­ists an un­prece­dented de­mand for those that need to rapidly trans­form their busi­ness on a large scale. In or­der to do so, they need to quickly ed­u­cate and trans­fer skills and knowl­edge to a large part of their work­force, lead­ing to an in­creas­ing de­mand for train­ing pro­grams of­fer­ing speed and scal­a­bil­ity.

MOOC (Mas­sive Open On­line Course) was in­tro­duced in 2011, promis­ing to re­solve the bot­tle­neck of scal­a­bil­ity in tra­di­tional class­room

train­ing and break­ing the bar­rier be­tween train­ing and learn­ing. How­ever, the re­cent data of low com­ple­tion rates for MOOC, leads to many other ques­tions on its im­pact, and ef­fec­tive­ness, how to in­crease the com­ple­tion rate or rather how to mo­ti­vate peo­ple to com­plete them, and how to go beyond sim­ple knowl­edge trans­fer and con­nect to the real world.

Here at INSEAD, we try to ap­proach this emerg­ing need from a dif­fer­ent an­gle—one that fo­cuses on the learn­ers and the busi­ness needs with tech­nol­ogy as an en­abler. What we have learnt from MOOCs has chal­lenged us to push our think­ing on tech­nol­ogy and the ped­a­gog­i­cal ap­proach. We have also de­vel­oped a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to de­sign these new pro­grams. We gather learner insights by di­rectly sur­vey­ing the par­tic­i­pants, and co-de­sign the con­tent and ped­a­gogy with our part­ners. We en­gage busi­ness lead­ers and take full ad­van­tage of the leaner data to mon­i­tor and im­prove.

And the re­sults and im­pacts are en­cour­ag­ing. Since its in­cep­tion at the end of 2014, the first Mi­crosoft­INSEAD on­line pro­gram has con­sis­tently main­tained a com­ple­tion rate of about 85%, even after the bar was raised for course com­ple­tion. In a sur­vey after the pi­lot course, 95% of par­tic­i­pants said it will help them im­prove their per­for­mance, and an as­tound­ing 99% ex­pressed over­all sat­is­fac­tion. In a sur­vey con­ducted by a third party on about 200 par­tic­i­pants in Europe, Microsoft sales ex­ec­u­tives self-re­ported a real busi­ness im­pact of over $50mn from the INSEAD on­line pro­gram in 2016, less than a year after it was launched.

By do­ing these, INSEAD con­tin­ues to take a cus­tomer-driven ap­proach rather than a tech­nol­o­gy­driven ap­proach to launch its on­line ex­ec­u­tive pro­grams.

trans­for­ma­tion at scale and speed: cus­tom­ized on­line pro­gram

In 2013, Microsoft—one of our big­gest clients—came to us with a chal­lenge. They had just adopted the ‘mo­bile first, cloud first’ strat­egy and this had pre­sented a ma­jor pro­fes­sional chal­lenge to its global sales force. With the ad­vent of the dig­i­tal age, world­wide cloud­com­put­ing sales were es­ti­mated to be grow­ing at 50% a year. This was def­i­nitely great news for Microsoft, prob­a­bly the big­gest player ‘in the cloud.’

But at the same time, they had to ex­e­cute a com­pany-wide trans­for­ma­tion with their ur­gent need to trans­fer knowl­edge to huge global sales teams who had to learn to sell in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent way to en­tirely dif­fer­ent cor­po­rate cus­tomers. Sales teams have now found them­selves ne­go­ti­at­ing on the ba­sis of com­plex busi­ness ar­gu­ments with se­nior ex­ec­u­tives—as op­posed to talk­ing tech­nol­ogy with IT man­agers. It was a whole new sales chal­lenge. As one man­ager ex­plained, “It’s not just about ‘what’ we sell. It’s to ‘whom’ we sell. And that means a rad­i­cal change in ‘how’ we sell.”

INSEAD and In­trepid Learn­ing, a US-based learn­ing tech­nol­ogy spe­cial­ist, was tasked with this seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble re­quest to cus­tom-de­sign a highly spe­cific busi­ness cur­ricu­lum and de­liver it to 500 sell­ers world­wide within five months via their user-friendly plat­form. The team had de­cided that the best ap­proach was to use the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar MOOC model, but they adapted in a highly tai­lored and tar­geted man­ner for the au­di­ence. Top-qual­ity lec­tures were filmed on cam­pus, com­plete with real Microsoft par­tic­i­pants, to cap­ture the dy­namism of a live class­room

The re­cent data of low com­ple­tion rates for MOOC, leads to many other ques­tions, such as their ef­fec­tive­ness, how to in­crease the com­ple­tion rate, or rather, how to mo­ti­vate peo­ple to com­plete them, and their im­pact.

ex­pe­ri­ence. Ses­sions were struc­tured for edit­ing into shorter clips. The idea was to de­liver learn­ing in bite-sized chunks of five to fif­teen min­utes that a Microsoft seller could di­gest while wait­ing for a plane or be­tween meet­ings. In to­tal, these seg­ments added up to three hours of learn­ing a week—a com­mit­ment that few busy sales man­agers would nor­mally have time for.

To pro­mote ac­tive and en­thu­si­as­tic learn­ing, our fac­ulty also cu­rated an en­gag­ing blend of lec­tures, quizzes, sim­u­lated ex­er­cises, on­line dis­cus­sions, per­sonal reflections, case stud­ies, and peer-to-peer feed­back. Most im­por­tantly, guided ‘real-world as­sign­ments’ en­cour­aged learn­ers to ap­ply their newly ac­quired skills within the con­text of their job— and then up­load a ‘field re­port’ to share with other learn­ers. “The pro­fes­sors’ en­thu­si­asm was in­fec­tious,” re­calls a mem­ber of Microsoft’s Sales Mar­ket­ing Ser­vices Group Readi­ness team.

In ad­di­tion to the pre­pared cur­ricu­lum, timely con­tent was rolled out reg­u­larly. Pro­fes­sors of­fered video re­sponses to ques­tions that had arisen in dis­cus­sion fo­rums, many based on par­tic­i­pants’ real-life ap­pli­ca­tions of the learn­ing.

The gam­i­fi­ca­tion parts of the de­sign—where the learn­ers could earn points and where the top point-earn­ers ap­peared on a leader board—was one way to draw par­tic­i­pants into the pro­gram. Ul­ti­mately, a flex­i­ble pace, var­ied con­tent, and an in­ter­ac­tive plat­form with el­e­ments such as peer-topeer in­ter­ac­tions were de­signed to keep the par­tic­i­pants en­gaged and mo­ti­vated, while the shared weekly sched­ule en­sured that they moved through the pro­gram as a sin­gle co­hort. As one Microsoft US ter­ri­tory man­ager later re­marked, “The bal­ance be­tween mak­ing sure the con­tent was en­gag­ing, rel­e­vant and de­tailed enough ver­sus the time in­vested while try­ing to do a day job was nailed!” Till date, over 8,000 learn­ers have par­tic­i­pated in this pro­gram. Microsoft and INSEAD are con­tin­u­ing the part­ner­ship to in­no­vate in this new and ex­cit­ing for­mat of ed­u­ca­tion.

a new set of skills for ed­u­ca­tors

On­line learn­ing pro­grams sig­nify that pro­fes­sors and lec­tur­ers now need to quickly ‘up­grade’ them­selves and their dig­i­tal know-how. Ed­u­ca­tors in mod­ern times have to not only think about how to de­liver a su­pe­rior ex­pe­ri­ence in a class­room, but also how they can de­liver a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence on­line and the dig­i­tal op­tions they can uti­lize.

On­line and in-class­room can and of­ten do re­in­force one an­other. De­liv­er­ing their lec­tures and knowl­edge on­line pushes the fac­ulty to use shorter ex­am­ples and mix var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties, which could also ben­e­fit the in-per­son teach­ing.

How­ever, the per­sonal con­nec­tion es­tab­lished in the class­room also chal­lenges the fac­ulty to ask, “How can I re-cre­ate that bond on­line?”

are on­line ex­ec­u­tive cour­ses the fu­ture?

The top lead­er­ship train­ing done in per­son and in a tra­di­tional class­room set­ting is here to stay. There is still value for busi­ness schools to bring the top man­age­ment and lead­ers on cam­pus, or to of­fer a hy­brid model for this man­age­ment train­ing. How­ever, to reach a big­ger scale at a much higher speed, and to quickly trans­fer skills and de­velop a mind­set with a con­sis­tent mes­sage, tech­nol­ogy can re­ally come handy.

On­line ed­u­ca­tion has opened up op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­ness schools to tackle the in­creas­ing de­mand for large-scale, multi­na­tional, re­gional, and global or com­pa­ny­wide trans­for­ma­tion mean­ing­fully and of­fer them ac­cess to thought lead­er­ship and ex­pe­ri­en­tial de­sign from top busi­ness schools. Al­though the field is still young and we are still ex­per­i­ment­ing and in­no­vat­ing in cer­tain ar­eas, such as lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment, we are rea­son­ably con­fi­dent we can push the lim­its of in­ter­ac­tive on­line learn­ing. ■

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