In an important initiative conceived to define what digital transformation really stands for, late last year, 200 managers enrolled on ‘Take the Lead - Digital Disruption Sprint’, an innovative online executive program run by Vlerick Business School, in partnership with Mediafin the Belgian media group. Participants in the program, which completed last month, came from many business sectors, invited to enrol having won a place through a national contest promoted via radio and Mediafin channels.
The aim of the program, led by digital expert Professor Stijn Viaene was to give the participants a greater insight into their potential contribution and role in the digital economy. “It's high time to look beyond the hype,” said Viaene. “If you ask a manager exactly what digital transformation stands for, you will almost always get an extremely vague answer. We therefore need clear framing and we need to learn how to see the wood for the trees once again.”
Ultimately the purpose was to create ‘digital ambassadors’ who would take the lead in their companies in pressing for a business approach in which the digital aspect takes centre stage, and people are mobilised and resources committed to enable digital transformation to take place.
Mediafin, the publisher of business newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo, supported this initiative as a part of their social commitment to respond to the increasing need for digital knowledge in the business world and to help companies realise that the use of data will become essential in everything they plan to do.
The 200 participants needed to have at least 5 years of working experience, and selection was made by Vlerick staff, based on their digital world readiness.
‘Take the Lead’ offered a highly interactive blended learning experience, consisting of two live events and 12 weeks of online learning sessions. The core principle behind the program was to actively engage participants in the process of acquiring new knowledge as part of a transformational learning journey.
A learning journey, as mapped by Vlerick, should follow three distinct phases: i) Engagement; ii) Experimentation and Reflection; and iii) Ripple Effect – where the participant acts as a ‘change agent’ to make a significant impact back at his or her workplace. This epitomises Vlerick’s approach to executive education and how the School has shifted from ‘delivering training’ to ‘delivering impact’. Learning = Impact is their new mantra. This is about moving beyond content to a focus on co-creating with clients to deliver performance improvement.
Program structure and delivery
The learning journey design guide was used to create the program. Starting with the result in mind, the Vlerick team defined what they wanted the participants to do differently after completing the program – tricky, since the actual participants were not known at the design stage and the team had to tailor the program to fit different profiles across functions and sectors. They came up with these four action goals:
- To have a profound knowledge about digital transformation and thus become an expert
- To be ready to distribute this knowledge in the context of their organization and to be a digital transformation ambassador
- To have the ability to gather others around them, to create a team that could change mindsets. To be a role model, influencer and initiative taker
- To have the ability to set up projects on digital transformation and lead a team to take such initiatives forward
The team translated these action goals into specific behaviours, and then defined different insights the participants needed to be able to exhibit these behaviours.
Then, together with expert faculty, they defined different topics and co-created the elements of the online journey, linking to the Engage-Experiment-Reflect-Ripple methodology.
The result was a live kick-off event in February 2017, followed by a 12-week online journey and culminating in a live closing event in May.
Rather than tentatively holding back, Vlerick Business School has dared to do something new with this program. And, the fact that 200 participants stayed until the end is testament to the quality of the learning journey that was created.
However as expected there are things to learn and improve – and in the spirit of learning it is instructive to consider some of the comments from some of the program participants:
Discussing the content one participant said: “This course made me realize how to make sense out of digital innovation, search for opportunities and convince others to cooperate. I'm feeling very confident about what I can do in digital innovation.” Another had expected: “…to receive sometimes more context and theory, while in reality we need to provide a lot of info ourselves and apply it to our own context.”
Reacting to the distant learning aspect of the course one participant said: “It's really clear that e-learning means that you have to be disciplined and invest time. If you want you could limit the time you put into it and just do what's necessary to get ahead, but then you won't learn that much. And I think Vlerick has done a good job to find ways to really make sure you participate in order to get moving.”
On the online learning platform and materials one participant observed: “I like the materials and presentations on the platform where you see the professor(s), from top to toe which makes it more dynamic. I am amazed that webinars start right on time as announced and also end spot on time.” And another said: “The business cases and video presentations are truly excellent.”
Discussing online interaction and collaboration one participant said: “We have a great group with very enthusiastic participants.” But another thought: “I would like to have more interaction with the other participants. Maybe it would have been nice to have the groups split at the kick-off so we could meet the other team members in real life.”
As digital technology has transformed business models and the way products and services are created, distributed and consumed, it has also opened up many exciting new possibilities for education and learning. ‘Take the Lead’ was an innovative and dynamic initiative to help organizations prepare for their digital future, made possible by the creative use of digital technology.
This program epitomises one of Vlerick Business School’s strategic pillars - to go for online learning and learning innovation. A further step in this direction will be the December launch of the first Belgian 100% online MBA program. The Vlerick online MBA, which will be delivered in English, will be taught entirely remotely without any need for participants to attend any of the Vlerick campuses.
Marion Debruyne, Dean of Vlerick Business School, says: "We are excited to offer our MBA in a format that fits the life of busy professionals, wherever they may be in the world. At Vlerick, we make learning innovation a priority. And that means creating impactful learning journeys that transform people, whether they take place online or offline.”