Should hybrid programmes now deliver more?

Hybrid Programmes - the future of executive education

I can guarantee anyone reading this will have read at least two other articles about the accelerated change of offline to online education, blended to hybrid programmes – but see if this has something a little different to offer.

The past 12 months have presented a strategic earthquake for executive education providers. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced plans to change, and then change again; programmes have been postponed, cancelled and reformatted. This causes untold difficulties in staffing, budgets and overall stress levels of everyone involved. Yet as we adjust to ‘new normals’, perhaps the seismic shifts in programme delivery aren’t as unfamiliar, or as unhelpful as we think. More radical shifts may provide even more effective learning in the long-term.

How are programmes changing?

Executive education providers have pivoted since this pandemic took hold, some to fully online, many to hybrid programmes, and others have delayed the inevitable and put campus programmes on ice. People have worked hard to apply the SAMR model of Substitution Augmentation Modification or Redefinition to their programmes. Most providers are unlikely to go as far as taking an established, and successful on-campus programme to its full redefinition. However, we need to ask ourselves, or more importantly, ask our prospective students, what sort of new learning experiences they will consume.

Like others, I have contemplated deeply how an on-campus learning experience, with all its moments of realisation, camaraderie, new horizons, safe spaces and unique stimuli, can be replaced by a hybrid programme, or a full online offering. There are simply some things you do in person that you cannot online, and vice versa. It is safe to say that on-campus programmes will never die, online programmes will grow, but what could exist in between?

Should we be more ambitious with our hybrid programmes?

Perhaps it is time to take our learning into the real world in a more fundamental and committed way? After all, where is learning actually applied? In the classroom, or back in the world you inhabit and interact with? Learning exists both in your own mind and in the interactions, planning and approaches you conduct with your teams. What if you could take the learning from the classroom and combine it into the every day more extensively, and in a more supported way? What if programmes extended beyond a week to a month, an alumni annual event elongated to an ongoing programme of further study? The answer could lie in the combination of the human richness of the on-campus experience, with the reach and flexibility of the online.

Why is some online learning particularly effective? Could it be the asynchronous nature of it? Bite-sized chunks of learning are consumed and put into practice as you learn. The traditional executive education model takes a diverse group of people and puts them into an environment away from their places of work and lives. It provides an educational sanctuary, finishing school, or boot camp, depending on the provider’s approach. You are exposed to stimuli that test your thinking and reinterpret your experiences. You are challenged by your tutors, classmates, and subconscious self to question your preconceptions and reference points, engage with fresh perspectives to tackle problems and derive new solutions.

How can we extend applied learning beyond the campus?

However, you could say that the greatest actual learning is the conversion of this experience into the application. Executive education learning without application is clearly not very useful. Arguably, most people will probably walk away with three core, or meaningful insights from a programme that will lead to genuine, positive, change. They may require further follow up and reinforcement of new concepts and methods. Working with their alumni group will help, but how will they truly utilise what they have learnt? Could it be advantageous to break down the learning experience into the every day, asynchronously? Could combining more thoroughly the stimuli and content of the classroom with the practice, mistakes, and personalities of the every day could lead to greater adaptation and improvement?

This new approach demands more of the student and the education provider, it is more of a commitment, it is an ongoing contract with meaningful, and long-term outcomes. It redefines the educational experience into more of a coaching relationship and a community of learning. It stretches your non-accredited programmes into realms more akin to your accredited offerings. As with CPD courses it requires students to take an ongoing investment in their professional abilities.

Has there been a better time to try a new hybrid programmes model?

This all sounds like an expensive investment of time and energy. If executive education institutions, particularly those of universities, believe in life-long learning, why not prove it now? What better opportunity has presented itself in the past few decades? Why not look to develop a type of learning relationship which combines the on-campus experience with the ongoing connectivity of the online? Convert the workplace into the practical classroom, merge an alumnus back into the student?