If you’re looking for an executive education program that places as much emphasis on participant interaction as it does on the course content that’s being delivered, Wharton is the place for you. This, according to Vice Dean for Wharton’s Aresty Institute of Executive Education Monica McGrath, is what makes Wharton’s exec ed offerings standout in the crowded market.
McGrath fully acknowledges that this isn’t new, by any means. It is, however, the focus that she and her team of administrators choose to hone in on as a critical part of the experience for the more than 9,000 exec ed participants the Wharton School attracts each year.
This year the school introduced several new offerings within its exec ed portfolio; most notably the debut of its first ever online-only program. Whereas a few short years ago the thought of online programming raised eyebrows at the world’s top business schools, today it seems like everyone’s doing it.
MARKET DEMAND & FLEXIBILITY LED WHARTON TO GO ONLINE
The first online exec ed offering, The Strategic Value of Customer Relationships (SVCR), launched this spring. “It’s an eight-week conversation in which we build relationships and engage with real-time content,” says marketing professor Peter Fader, who is also the program’s faculty director. “When a company makes headlines for some reason, we discuss how they might address their problems using customer centricity. So we’re building on our learning through the conversation.”
Shilpa Patwardhan, Wharton executive education’s director of connected learning, says the decision to move into the online space for executives was driven by a variety of reasons, particularly market demand and the flexibility that online learning provides.
Unlike a massive open online course (MOOC), which is free and open to the general public, SVCR comes with a $3,700 price tag and remains small with a limited enrollment. Through a selective application process, Wharton says it attracted a diverse group of participants; nearly 40% of which were from outside the United States – from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Latin America.
SURPRISED BY DIVERSITY OF ONLINE STUDENTS
But what surprised them the most wasn’t the areas from which participants originated, rather their diverse backgrounds. Fully expecting an online-only program to mostly appeal to those in middle management roles, Wharton officials report they were pleasantly surprised by the mix of start-up entrepreneurs, senior directors, and CMOs who completed the program.
Manuel Santiago, a learning and development professional from a Fortune 500 company, already has his MBA, but he signed up for SVCR to update his marketing knowledge. He said part of the appeal of the course was that it was offered online.
“Online learning is easier to fit into my schedule. It is cost effective, and you can get the knowledge you need more quickly. With the growth of learning technologies, it makes sense that we should avail ourselves of these opportunities,” he says. Santiago says he found SVCR to be as “rigorous as a classroom experience with the convenience of the online format.”
ONLINE PROGRAM DESIGNED TO PROMOTE ENGAGEMENT
In taking its first stab at online-only, SVCR was designed in a way that administrators hoped it would promote and maintain engagement. “We faced the challenge of how to best captivate and keep participants fully engaged for eight weeks online,” Patwardhan says. So, built into the program were required weekly activities, team projects and participation in discussion forums.
Also new this year to Wharton exec ed was Women’s Executive Leadership: Business Strategies for Success. The one-week $12,500 program was created in response to the recent “Lean In” movement and had 25 participants in the mid-40 age range.
More than just a week-long discussion about the challenges for women to reach the next level of leadership, “the program sets out to revise and deepen their understanding of core business concepts allowing them to use a refreshed perspective to make breakthroughs in the workplace,” McGrath says.
PARTNERING WITH DELOITTE & IBM
The program is best suited for female executives and high-potential women who are transitioning into senior management roles within a large corporation, or for women entrepreneurs who are taking on a broader leadership role as their company grows according to a press release distributed by the Wharton. Typically, participants should have 10 or more years of experience and might work in a wide range of industries.
McGrath tells Poets&Quants that Wharton is currently designing two new programs in partnership with Deloitte and IBM. The Deloitte program is geared toward corner office execs in healthcare; the IBM program toward chief marketers. Both will launch Spring 2015.
As far as online learning in concerned, the school says it plans to continue expanding, but with caution. “Just a few years ago, none of the top schools were doing it because it was perceived to be low quality.” Although the market is ready to accept online programs as a legitimate method of teaching, Patwardhan says the b-school community is still in experimentation mode.
Wharton is in the midst of building its second online-only program, but couldn’t reveal details other than it will be introduced some time during their current fiscal year. In the mean time, the second round of SVCR is currently underway.
If you’re interested in the Women’s Executive Leadership program, applications are being accepted for the March 2015 session.