The Boom In Online Executive Education


The response from participants in Harvard’s online programming has been overwhelming positive, according to the schools’ executive education and online teams. More than 53,000 people have completed one of Harvard Business School’s online programs in the last 5 years, and completion rates are high – around 84%– demonstrating “substantial engagement,” according to the schools’ executive education and HBS Online teams.  One in four participants said that taking an online course has contributed significantly to a promotion or pay raise, while one in three said that the online course helped them transition to a new career. Half said that they received increased attention from recruiters, the school said. 

At Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business, the number of courses authored by B-school faculty through eCornell has grown “exponentially” over the last three years, said Nancy Weislogel, executive director of Cornell Executive Education. 

“The response has been extremely positive with tens of thousands of online courses purchased annually,” Weislogel said. 

Johnson offers 150 courses, most of which take an average of eight to ten hours to complete over a period of two weeks.  Students can bundle five to six courses together to earn a certificate in an area like marketing or data science, Weislogel said. The cost of earning an online certificate is about the same price as a three-day on-campus open enrollment course, she said.


One innovative approach to online executive education is being undertaken by the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ LEAD program, a year-long certificate program which helps executives learn how to foster innovation and implement positive change within their organization. The program, in its fifth year, offers a total of twenty-three online courses, each of which run on a eight-week quarterly schedule. Eleven of the 23 LEAD courses have been added within the last year, many of which have traditionally been viewed as “soft skill” courses that could only be taught on-campus, the school said.

Other schools have also been busy ramping up their offerings in the two  to three years. MIT Sloan now offers 13 open enrollment executive education classes that run multiple times a year, up from just four courses three years ago.  Sloan’s Kate Feeney Anderson, senior director of executive education, said one welcome outcome has been that the school’s online executive education classes have turned out to be a gateway for getting those students to come to campus.  

“Much of the growth in open enrollment programs in the past couple of years has come through online courses,” Anderson said. “These courses have allowed us to expand the breadth of our offerings and connect with far more business professional than we would have been able to reach on campus alone.”


Mathismoen, the Norwegian executive education student who first started taking MIT Sloan classes online, is a poster child for this phenomenon. He has come to the MIT campus three different times for on-campus executive education classes in the last two years. He’s already earned a certificate in management and leadership, and will be getting the school’s strategy and innovation certificate this month. The combination of taking online and on-campus courses has been powerful, he said.

“What I’m learning now is cutting edge. There’s no master’s degree I could have gotten 10 years ago that would have taught me what I’m learning now,” he said. “It takes a little discipline to work in this way, especially if you want to learn everything, but I think it is giving me new opportunities.”

Page 2 of 2