Our Latest Report | Flexible, fast, personal, digital and so much more – the new normal for executive education

30 July 2021

Our Director of Business School Services Ian Hawkings, reflects on how flexibility and personalization are at the heart of future learning.  


According to Unicon, the global Executive Education market was worth almost $2bn in 2019. But the impact of COVID-19 has been dramatic – with many providers reporting a sizeable decline in revenues. As an immediate response to the lockdowns following COVID-19, many Executive Education providers made swift changes by starting up or expanding existing digital offerings and launching entirely new programs.

If Executive Education was changing pre-pandemic (and it was), it’s probably fair to say that the market is currently developing at a pace previously unseen.

Our latest study, looking at the Future of Lifelong and Executive Education, was published last week and some of the most interesting findings came in the sections looking at how employees will learn, and particularly what they want to gain from the experience.

Two-thirds of respondents to the survey are clear that they will increasingly use online to develop themselves and their careers. And 68% believe that a blended model combining face-to-face and online learning is an ideal skills development path. Given the events of the last year and a half these results are perhaps predictable. But while blended may be seen as ideal in current circumstances, not all learners buy into the online elements of learning; 63% believe face-to-face learning provides a richer and more effective experience.

However learning is provided, 71% agreed that it needs to be delivered flexibly. Employees clearly want a development approach that ensures any study is suited specifically to their lifestyle, career and commitments.

Until fairly recently, getting a degree was often the end for many learners, but today it may be just the beginning. Executive education has always offered short-course non-degree studies with the provider’s brand being key for many learners. Looking ahead, it seems individuals want employers to embrace a wider notion of learning; 69% of our respondents believe employers need to recognise informal learning as well as formal qualifications when making hiring decisions.

With individuals able to acquire skills through short online courses without formal qualifications, companies need to consider how to recognise such development in their recruitment and promotion activities. As a minimum employers should recognise qualifications gained online in the same way as those completed in a traditional face-to-face setting according to 70% of the study participants.

Businesses are likely to develop a more motivated and effective workforce if they build learning ecosystems to value on-the job skills development, experiential learning and peer-to-peer learning.

And as the nature of learning changes, so will the qualifications that employees seek. In a further hint as to how learning might change, individuals in the survey expressed interest in a wide range of qualification types beyond traditional degrees. Asked what qualifications they might seek in the next five years:

  • 23% selected diplomas/certificates, the most popular choice, which might be a stepping stone to a degree
  • 13% said they are interested in a stackable degree
  • 21% choose a traditional Masters programme
  • 14% selected an MBA or Executive MBA

When it came to more innovative qualification options, 19% chose digital badges, and 10% said they were most interested in microcredentials.

Whatever you surmise from these findings, it is clear that flexibility and personalization will be at the heart of future learning. Employers will look for on-demand solutions that can quickly add new skills to their workforce or update existing knowledge, and employees will want to study in a way that suits their lifestyle and commitments while allowing them to continue to grow their careers.

As the market evolves, and the world continues to deal with the pandemic’s fall-out, the next year should make interesting viewing.

To find out more, you can download a free copy of ‘The future of lifelong and executive education’ report on our website.

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