Increasingly, the consumers of non-degree executive education want the learning experience to align more closely with their working lives. In order to minimize disruption, they want it to be a blend of in-person and online learning. They want it to be immediately applicable to their daily work, allowing them to demonstrate short term gain from the experience. They want it to be project-based so that they can practice new methodologies and behaviors in a relatively risk-free way. And, given the realities of an interconnected world, they want teachers and facilitators to be able to draw on rich international experience.

In recent years, university-based executive education (UBEE) providers have responded to these demands with significant overhauls of their programming. Gone are the days of tweed-clad professors with no practical experience dryly presenting their latest research to a class of restless executives. These days, classroom time is likely to be spent working through business simulations in teams, leveraging new approaches to leadership and problem solving, followed by one-on-one coaching to create individual development plans.

And almost everything has an international flavor.

Going Global

UBEE departments in the United States have offices or representatives in an average of two or three other countries so that they can move participants, professors and programs to the location that’s most appropriate. In Europe, that number increases to more than four. And the biggest of these providers (think Harvard, LBS, Duke, IMD, etc.) do business in as many as eight international locations. In fact, UNICON, the leading membership organization for the world’s top UBEE providers, has more than half of its membership located outside North America, with Asia being the fastest growing region.

The increasing adoption of online learning is leading to a much more international “classroom.”

In addition to operating across borders, UBEE institutions embrace the opportunity to partner with each other. “We can bring in instructors from all over the world if necessary,” says Heather Christensen from Alberta School of Business. Li Zhou from Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business adds that, “We are always open to collaborating with both business schools and non-business schools, as long as they add value to help develop the leaders we envision — those who would have global vision, a humanistic or social caring spirit, and innovative mindsets.”

New perspectives

The challenges associated with conducting UBEE for an international classroom go far beyond language issues. Kumeshnee West from the University of Cape Town identified other equally important cultural nuances. “About half of our open enrollment participants come from outside South Africa,” she said. “That brings a wonderful diversity of perspectives to our classrooms, but it can also surface some subtle challenges. For instance, our Nigerian participants like to manage their day a little differently than our South African guests. They prefer to start a little later in the morning, and end at 4:30 pm. And they have specific luncheon preferences. So, we have hired a chef who can prepare lunch the way the delegates from Nigeria would like it.”

The increasing adoption of online learning is leading to a much more international “classroom.”  Mike Malefakis from Columbia Business School talks about the power of the digital learning experience. “It allows participants to collaborate with learners from across the globe,” he says.  “For some it may be an even more impactful learning environment than the traditional face-to-face. Good executive education is learner centric regardless of whether it is face-to-face or online.”

University-based executive education: a global learning environment driving business in a hyper-connected world.