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Understanding Executive Education

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Executive education refers to business management courses designed to aid the professional development of company leaders and managers and are considered part of an ongoing process of lifelong learning.

Executive education courses are very different from an executive MBA program – they are far shorter and do not result in a degree, for instance, but they are also much less of a time-commitment for those who wish to enhance their skills in certain areas. 

Many executive education courses focus on a specific area (such as improving leadership skills or gaining strategic awareness), however more comprehensive programs are also available that could see you do a stint on-campus at a business school for its duration.    

Gaining entry onto an executive education program of study is much more tied to work and life experience than to prior academic achievement, and the class atmosphere of seasoned professionals has been said to produce a level of debate that is quite different from that seen in an MBA program.

A few facts about executive education courses

•    Executive education courses may result in a certificate but are almost always non-degree programs.

•    Programs can be divided into two main types: Open enrollment and customized courses.

•    Open enrollment programs are set courses open to applications and often occurring at multiple dates within a year.

•    Customized programs are bespoke courses, most often formed by arrangement between an organization and executive education provider to meet specific needs.

•    The first examples of an executive education program can be traced to MIT Sloan’s ‘Course XV, Engineering Administration’ launched in 1914 to train managers of engineering-orientated companies. Harvard started offering five-week selections from its MBA curriculum in the 1920s.

•    Interest in executive education as a form of professional development really took off after WWII, when demand for general management training skyrocketed causing many schools to develop new programs, such as Harvard’s Advanced Management Program (AMP), established in 1945.

•    Globalization of business precipitated further expansion of executive education and lifelong learning options around the world over the course of the 1980s and 90s. Its appeal all the while enhanced by course offerings from business schools at the very top of international rankings.

Current trends in the executive education program

Today’s trends in executive education reflect those of the broader world of business management courses. Financial uncertainties and the growth of global complexity in business are playing a key role in the development of new course offerings. This has led to greater attention being paid to furthering professional development in the realms of self-awareness, innovation, inspiring others and responsiveness to change, for instance. On the whole though, a major trend has seen courses move away from focusing on a specific function and open up to multi-disciplinary approaches.

Almost every executive education program will now contain some element of online learning or interaction. The competition presented by MOOCs, meanwhile, is a challenge felt more keenly here than among degree-awarding programs – especially in attracting individual students to its open enrollment courses.

Here schools place emphasis on the need for in-person learning and interaction to truly impact upon professional development, not least in terms of reflecting on aspects of character and approach that could be improved. Plus, the customized course format will continue to be attractive to those organizations with the resources to tailor-make programs to their specific requirements.

Still, the MOOC challenge does mean that business schools and universities must continually strive to do better in areas highlighted as the most difficult components of executive education in the Financial Times’ executive education rankings, such as implementing teaching into the workplace and staying connected to a school’s lifelong learning process.            

How much does executive education cost?

Prices for open enrollment executive education courses will vary considerably from institution to institution and, naturally, are very much dependent on the length of programs, which can run from anywhere between a few days to over two months.

The following examples and figures are all taken from business schools’ websites at the time of writing:

A comprehensive Advanced Management Program (AMP) spanning over seven weeks would set you back US$75,000 for at Harvard, for instance. Meanwhile, the shorter one-month AMP offerings at INSEAD and MIT Sloan cost approximately US$50,000.

However, there are many alternatives at all these schools. For example, INSEAD, which runs a wide portfolio of courses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi in addition to France, has a five-day course on management skills needed for international business at a cost of roughly US$10,000.

Elsewhere, HKUST Business School offers a 10-day leadership program for c. US$7,700, Nyenrode Business Universiteit has a six-day ‘mini MBA’ in energy transition and innovation for about US$8,000, The American University in Cairo’s six-day program focusing on managing uncertainty is available at US$1,800, INCAE Business School has a three-week senior management course for about US$12,000 and UBC’s Sauder School of Business offers a five-day integrated management program at c. US$2,700.

Professional development as lifelong learning

So, the huge variety in what’s available and at what price is there for all to see. All the schools cited above are members of UNICON - a global body of executive education organizations, which serves to act as a global reference for this form of professional development.

UNICON is optimistic about the future of the executive education program. It senses growing interest in the format amid the challenging terrain of the modern business world in a 2012 best practices report: “There is increasing recognition that, today, lifelong learning is no longer a competitive elective but, rather, a business necessity.”

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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Thanks for providing really valuable information for future business and management graduates to get to know and understand well about executive education.