Research Reinforces Key Trends in Education

A quote from a participant in a recent study on lifelong and executive learning sets the stage to start thinking differently about the future:

“Rather than spending 50K sending two people to a Harvard program, we can now try to send 50 people to Harvard content for the same cost.”

For the Future of Lifelong and Executive Education study, CarringtonCrisp asked 2,500 employees and 500 employers for their views about shifts in the professional development marketplace. CarringtonCrisp, which offers research, consulting, and creative services to business schools, co-sponsored the study with LinkedIn.

Six trends that are changing business education

“The world that we’ve seen, the world of business education as it has evolved perhaps particularly over the last 50 years when it’s become very much a mainstream part of universities, is being shaken up like never before,” said Andrew Crisp, co-founder of CarringtonCrisp at the 2021 EMBAC Conference. “It’s not that some of these changes are completely new, but the speed of change is enormous.”

Crisp highlighted six major findings:

• COVID accelerates digital adoption.

• Flexibility and personalization will be at the heart of future learning. The learner journey “has to be flexible. It has to be personal if it’s to be effective and impactful and technology allows that to happen,” said Crisp.

• Death of geography. Technology makes it possible for learners throughout the world to access educational opportunities from anywhere in the world. The option of any time, anywhere learning increases competition for business schools.

• Brand will be ever more important for learning providers. Brand awareness helps learning providers stand out. “Given the speed that people want to pick up a new skill, that top-of-mind awareness of a provider will be incredibly important.”

• New business models are already emerging among alternative providers. In the second quarter of 2020, the online learning provider Coursera registered five million new learners.  “For one organization to have five million new learners register in just three months, it’s quite staggering.”

• Collaboration becomes the new normal, with business schools looking for external and internal partners.

The importance of flexibility and learning to employees

While 65 percent of surveyed employees expect to return to work in largely the same way as before the pandemic, 69 percent want to work flexibly in the future. They also want to learn on their own terms: 41 percent are not prepared to undertake learning outside of work hours, and 58 percent expect their employee to pay any costs associated with lifelong learning.

Increasingly, employees view education as a learning journey.

To that end, two-thirds of the surveyed employees expect to undertake more learning in the future, and two-thirds will increasingly use online to develop themselves and their careers. And they are interested in variety, with 23 percent preferring diploma and/or certificates, 21 percent choosing a traditional master’s degree, 19 percent seeking digital badges, 14 percent selecting an MBA or EBMA, 13 percent looking at a stackable degree, and 10 percent wanting microcredentials.

They want to learn leadership and communications skills as top priorities and also are interested in skills that reflect changing needs at work, such as digital transformation, strategy, marketing, innovation, entrepreneurship, business development, creativity and design thinking, data analytics, productivity, risk management, social impact, decision making in complex uncertain times, and responsible management.

All those trends mean that brand becomes increasingly important for business schools, said Crisp. In the survey, 62 percent of learners want a provider with an international brand reputation, which lends credibility to their resume, and 65 percent agree that provider location will be less important as online becomes more sophisticated.

“That brand was incredibly important for the learner and the employer and will increasingly become more important.”

The value of online learning to employers

Employers are seeing that online can be delivered well and much less expensively, with 79 percent of surveyed employers anticipating online learning will become the standard approach to developing people in their organizations and 74 percent will or already do recognize qualifications gained online in the same way as traditional face-to-face learnings.

Employers want learning focused on change management, resilience and mindfulness, global mindsets, ethics and ethical behavior, and diversity, as well as on new technology and improvements in productivity and efficiency. Most of the surveyed employers – 78 percent of them – agree that short bursts of learning delivered flexibly and providing microcredentials are valuable.

Business schools need to leverage their strengths in the new marketplace and build relationships with organizations: 81 percent of surveyed employers say they will seek to build long-term relationships with learning providers, and 79 percent are interested in co-creation of content.

With learners now from age 18 to 80, business schools should look beyond the traditional undergraduate market. “We absolutely believe there is this enormous opportunity for business schools to grow their learning and development offerings in this adult learning marketplace.”

Exciting time for business schools

Indeed, 52 percent of employees said previous study with a business school would be key to their future choice of provider. They also value the network that they find in business schools, with 68 percent pointing to that as a reason to attend a business school.

“Engaging alumni as future learners is one of the most important things that business schools can do today if they are looking to grow into this lifelong learning journey,” said Crisp. “Today, your alumni are your future learners.”

Crisp views this time as an exciting one of opportunity for business schools.

“The speed of change may be terrifying, but the opportunity is enormous, and those who are able to look at things differently, to think differently, to behave differently, there’s a great opportunity to build on the brands that they have established.”

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