Individualized Learning in Executive Education Accommodating the Modern Learner

Studies show that the vast majority of knowledge workers feel they do not have enough time to do their actual jobs, let alone step away from their desk for formal training. Over 40% of employees’ time is reportedly spent on tasks that do not tangibly help them achieve their professional responsibilities. Their workflow is frequently disrupted – often, ironically, by a notification on one of their multiple collaboration tools. As a result, 1% of the working week is all they feel they can devote to professional development.i Meanwhile, digital disruption and increased automation has created an unprecedented skills gap in the global jobs market.ii
In these changing times, engaging in career-long learning has never been more vital.

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Consequently, ambitious young managers are increasingly taking their professional development into their own hands, eschewing the rigid syllabus of traditional executive education in favour of micro-learning platforms such as LinkedIn Learning. These online platforms offer flexible, mobile learning – with the individual in the driving seat.

Indeed, the heyday of off-the-shelf, syllabus-led executive education is over. The return on investment (ROI) of these often expensive leadership development programs has been called into question. Companies rightly demand ways of measuring change, in performance or behaviours, in the years following their purchased program. Executive education providers must search for those answers.

Companies rightly demand ways of measuring change, in performance or behaviours, in the years following their purchased program.
The problem is not a lack of expertise at top business schools, but the way some of their business has been conducted. Clients, after communicating their transformational agenda, often let teaching faculty decide the content and design of training programs – while the executive participant remains more or less anonymous until that very first coffee and icebreaker session. Highly motivated participants may proactively try to relate the learning objectives to their own (very personal) career roadblocks and team dynamics. Others may switch off when they perceive topics to be unrelated to their own needs. Either way, the content is often in danger of being processed on an intellectual level only – however engaging the topic or the trainer.

Clearly, as executive educators, we need to maximize the impact of our offerings. We cannot afford to brush off accusations of irrelevant content and academic bombast. Instead, we must set the bar for a new standard of leadership development, upending the top-down nature of certain business models and shifting the focus on to individual participants.

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