Business school students are demanding flexible, low-cost access to knowledge and skills on a career-long continuum. But with providers like Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare gaining popularity, B-schools’ executive education programs need to adapt to meet students’ needs.
That’s the message from Geoff Perry, AACSB International executive vice president and chief officer. “There’s a degree of trust in the quality and expertise of what you get from business school,” Perry tells Poets&Quants in a recent interview. “But business schools need to demonstrate the value they’re offering. There are tons of low cost providers who have come into the market.”
Perry says society has evolved past the traditional model of education where, once obtaining a degree, one is set up for life; the needs of business have changed at a rapid rate, and will continue to do so. In June, AACSB released a thought paper, Lifelong Learning and University-Based Business Schools, in collaboration with IEDP and UNICON to uncover the strengths and opportunities facing executive education in this landscape.
“Learning is no longer one and done,” Perry says. “It’s now necessary for people to retrain themselves, uplevel their skills, and prepare for their evolving careers.”
ADOPTING A LIFELONG LEARNING MINDSET
While competition between business schools and low cost providers may be stiffening, Perry believes that executive education will — and should — continue to be an important part of the lifelong learning ecosystem. “It helps meet the need for lifelong learning and makes business schools have a bigger impact on learners, business, and society,” he says.
But it isn’t just about business schools creating executive education programs that contribute to lifelong learning; it’s about embodying a lifelong learning mindset in everything that they do.
AACSB identified the “three C’s” that make up a lifelong learning mindset: creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking. Now, AACSB requires the commitment to lifelong learning as a requirement in its accreditation system, which includes over 950 business schools worldwide. “If business school curriculums help students to develop those skills, then they’re likely to encourage people to be lifelong learners,” says Perry.
RIDING THE COATTAILS OF THE GREAT RESIGNATION
One way B-schools are developing those skills is in increasing their capacity in what Perry calls the “mico-credential space;” while we ride the coattails of The Great Resignation, employment rates are high and firms are looking to retain talent. Business schools can capitalize on this if they’re aware of business’ and learners’ needs, and prioritize which aspect of the lifelong learning spectrum they want to focus on. “A micro-credential can flow into a course, which can flow into a certificate, which can flow into a diploma, which can flow into a degree,” says Perry. “It’s fascinating to see how many business schools are now starting to embed certificates and diplomas within degrees.”
According to the paper, business schools need to focus on what businesses and learners want, and then create products to meet those needs. These micro-credentials provide people with specific, niche skills — which the report says employers and students alike are increasingly looking for.
BALANCING COST WITH ACCESSIBILITY
The greatest opportunities for executive education, the paper says, are related to the scale of demand. “Business schools need to recognize the opportunity to be flexible, collaborate, and work closely with businesses and learners to understand what they want out of their curriculum,” he says.
“This needs to be done in collaboration with business and private providers,” he adds. “Some business schools are even making connections with providers like Coursera, in which they’re getting credit for. The question then becomes: How do you maintain and ensure its quality?”
The key here is collaboration; Perry believes that business schools can become a hub to connect students to other areas of learning, and that a significant component of this is hiring the right faculty. “Having people with current or recent industry experience on your faculty is important,” says Perry. “Collaborate and bring in industry people to help create and deliver courses.”
‘BUSINESS SCHOOLS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE’
Lifelong learning has weaknesses, too; according to the paper, some barriers include faculty training, structural impediments, slow scale of change, resistance, and a limited teaching capacity.
But, for B-schools to remain relevant — and cut through the noise — these will have to be overcome. “The market is getting cluttered,” says Perry. “Business schools have an advantage. They need to be strategic and focused so that the areas that they engage in reflect the expertise that they have.”
For prospective and current executive education students, Perry advises that people continuously think about what skills and expertise they have that can prepare them for the next steps they want to take. “People may have many careers in their lifetime,” he continues. “It’s about continuously engaging with learning to ensure that they can maximize outcomes in their lives, jobs, and businesses.”