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Post-pandemic Executive Education

In a recent letter to the deans of its business school members, Lise Hammergren, UNICON Board Chair, offers her observations on the current state of university-based executive education and a view of the future


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Once the pandemic recedes, and as businesses reset to seek a trajectory from recovery to growth, the demand for upskilling and reskilling at all levels―from the C-suite to the frontline―is bound to grow.

Some of this demand will come as companies re-evaluate their future strategies and their position in a much-changed landscape, while other themes and driving factors will have been present prior to the last traumatic twelve months, resurfacing now with greater urgency than ever. Themes such as digital transformation, embracing AI and machine learning, leading through uncertainty, fostering diversity, and a focus on social and environmental sustainability.

University-based business school executive education will have a great deal to offer in meeting the demand for the new skillsets―and indeed mindsets―required to build the post-pandemic world. As Nikolay Ivanov, Manager at the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Management Education Initiative (PRME) and speaker at UNICON’s Team Development Conference in November, stated: “Executive education has the potential to enable current and future business leaders to rethink the way they are operating and conducting their business—and executive education is really the place where these things can be accelerated.”

As with so many organizations many of the world’s leading business schools suffered a significant fall in expected turnover in 2020. As UNICON 2020-2021 Board Chair, Lise Hammergren, puts it in a letter to the deans of UNICON’s member business schools, “The global Covid-19 pandemic turned 2020 into an extremely challenging year for our member schools. At the same time, we were presented with an unprecedented opportunity to create real impact…. A new demand for online education and training emerged, and many programs were successfully transformed to online delivery. This transition has enabled a much wider reach for executive education initiatives.”

Practising what they had been preaching, many exec-ed teams were able, through innovation and agile leadership, to rapidly reconfigure their learning offerings to deliver programs and executive education initiatives digitally―with a high degree of success and satisfaction for clients and participants.

Online learning isn’t new of course. “The world’s leading university-based executive education providers have long been in the forefront of exploring new technologies to improve learning and growth for individuals and organizations,” notes Hammergren, who is also Executive Vice President of Executive Education at BI Norwegian Business School. The lessons learnt through the crucible-like experience of 2020/21 has massively accelerated the technical development of online executive education, and the skills of the faculty and educators involved. Allied to this a widespread familiarity with Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms has greatly increased people’s confidence in working and interacting remotely. Perceptions of what can be achieved in a digital space have shifted.

In building the post-pandemic world, lifelong learning will become more important than ever. 

The wider reach of executive education that Hammergren has observed is very timely, as it comes at a time when organizations are increasingly moving toward distributed forms of leadership, and flatter management structures, all of which calls for learning to be spread wider and deeper through organizations, to develop leadership skills at all levels. Wider reach can also mean offering world-class executive learning to start-ups and smaller organizations, and non-traditional audiences.

Post-pandemic, the pressure on the average executive learner’s time is likely to be greater than ever. Online programs, whether fully remote or blended with experiential and face-to-face elements, can address this pressure in two ways. First, the need not to travel saves cost and time, and second, as some parts of a course can be delivered asynchronously, there is far greater time flexibility than when attending a campus-based program.

“The realities of the post-pandemic world are still to be seen and experienced, but the underlying trends leading up to 2020 will undoubtedly define the structure of what is to come,” asserts Hammergren. “In building the post-pandemic world, lifelong learning will become more important than ever. As university-based executive education is all about using the power of knowledge to create new opportunities, I am nothing but hopeful for our future.”

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