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. ■