Digitalisation and Executive Education: Pandemic responses and post-pandemic opportunities

Student on laptop leaning against sofa

The idea that people can gain a knowledge stock in their early adulthood that will see them through their full careers has been eroding for a long time. Alongside this, there are many questions about the best ways to give people the new skills and knowledge they need as their careers shift and change focus. Moreover, employers are finding it hard to pin down absolute job specifications because the landscapes in which they operate are rapidly reconfiguring.

How can education become more in step with altering career trajectories? The experiences of a number of innovative and digitally ambitious Executive Education teams may provide the answer to creating a truly vitalised and resourceful workforce. 

At insendi, we have worked with a wide range of partners during these unprecedented times, including Executive Education teams at Imperial College Business School, UBC Sauder, Ivey Academy, BI, Blavatnik School of Government and Public Policy, University of Oxford, ETH Zürich and Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Over 18 months we contributed to the build of 6 programmes in Executive Education, built 25 individual executive education courses across those programmes which accounted for a total of 650 hours of learning. Courses included: Leadership and Management, Design Thinking, Presentations, Organisational Change, Giving Feedback, Healthcare Management, Finance, Financial Statement Analysis, Negotiations, Capital Budgeting, Strategy and Accounting. 

We learnt a great deal. Development timelines are always tight and never more so than now. We needed to be able to create quality education quickly. It was important to think about learning efficiency, particularly for time-strapped working professionals. The key was finding a recipe for concentrated, impactful learning which has an intensity about it. This involved rethinking conventional design practises to allow for rapid building and prototyping of content. Holly Clothier, Head of Learning Design at insendi reflects: 

‘Faculty were initially tempted to retain the structure of their intensive face-to-face workshops, simply swapping the physical classroom for an online conferencing platform. At a time when Zoom-fatigue was becoming all too common, we tried to help faculty think strategically about the most effective use of participants’ time, encouraging a thoughtful blend of both synchronous and asynchronous activities. This enabled us to avoid all-day Zoom marathons, and also enrich participants’ experiences, introducing more time for private reflection and personal application while retaining wider discussion and networking opportunities.’

Getting the balance between asynchronous and synchronous learning was hard but essential. Encouraging SMEs to think beyond Zoom teaching involved a mindset shift and creative collaboration with edtech trainers and specialists. Participants and SMEs alike wanted to be able to get the most out of the contact time: both needed to be open-minded and inventive to maximise time they had together. It was helpful to ask the simple question: where can synchronous time add the most value?  

Networking is such a key part of Executive Education, but it is also a fundamental tenet of great learning. To maintain engagement levels, we balanced group work and discussions with other social learning tools such as surveys and polls. The key was to promote varied forms of interaction to maintain participant interest and motivation.

Finally, encouraging participants to bring their expertise to the table was a conscious strategy reimagined for the digital world. And showing what they can take away from their learning and apply directly to their professional contexts helped enrich the experience. As Holly further notes: “Opportunities for sharing experiences and building connections with both peers and faculty were integrated throughout.”

Dr Charlotte von Essen

About the author

Dr Charlotte von Essen is Director of Academic Engagement at insendi. She previously worked at Imperial Business School’s Edtech Lab and has a background in university teaching and learning design. She has designed and delivered numerous online and blended programmes and helped faculty across the world develop hundreds of courses for a range of audiences - undergraduates, postgraduates, executive education clients, and corporate learners.

At insendi, Charlotte leads the Academic Engagement team, which is devoted to supporting and nurturing the company’s relationships with current partners. She also supports insendi’s user communities, including the award-winning FOME alliance. Charlotte is fascinated by the ever-evolving models and practices of Edtech. The innovations and insights of this rich and dynamic sector excite her work. She loves learning about new projects and initiatives insendi partners are planning, all of which offer fresh, exciting ways to enrich and deepen learning.