The challenges of the digital transformation in executive education

We live in a changing world driven by emerging technologies that are accelerating the digitalisation of our daily lives, both personally and professionally.

By Julio Villalobos

This reality is forcing traditional learning models to be reconsidered, giving way to new and different means of education and training.

Changes in technology are revolutionising educational models around the world. Technological advances and digitalisation have made it so any person, anywhere, can continue with their education without having to resort exclusively to face-to-face programmes, and nor give up a rewarding educational experience by doing so.

Changes in technology are revolutionising educational models around the world

Executives today must keep themselves up to date, much as doctors have always had to do. It is no longer enough for a doctor to have trained in a top university for one or even two decades. These days, if a surgeon has not learnt to operate using minimally invasive techniques instead of open surgery, no hospital would hire him or her, regardless of whether they had received their degree from the best school of medicine in the world.

The same goes for executives. If directors do not acquire the skills that allow them to adapt to the new digital environment, they will not be able to comply with the main objective which companies have hired them to fulfil: provide value.

Julio Villalobos Esade
Emerging technologies are forcing traditional learning models to adapt to the new digital environment (Photo: Esade)

If, as directors, we do not adapt to the ongoing evolution of the market, our capacity to provide this value to companies will not only diminish, it will keep us from being efficient. Like it or not, we directors are destined to be in a process of ongoing training, which today is called lifelong learning.

The physical limitations to being able to learn no longer exist. Educational institutions now do not need to exclusively have a physical presence in certain countries: today they can reach anywhere in the world via open learning.

Digitalisation is democratising education, allowing access to fully-online training programmes which before were less accessible – be it physical accessibility and/or economic accessibility – because the component associated with onsite learning entailed the cost and time spent getting there, not to mention the costs of building a campus.

Many professionals will have to be retrained in order to remain valid in a context of Industry 4.0

Adapt or perish

Much of the professional knowledge and training that is important today will swiftly change in the coming years, and in many cases, what skills will be required are yet to be known for certain.

In this climate of uncertainty, many professionals will have to be retrained in order to remain valid in a context of Industry 4.0, where many of the work positions existing today will have been automated.

Staying up to date will be a must for many professions, especially because many of the functions that we know today will no longer be used in the future we should expect from a 4.0 economy. 

A synchronous world

The first great leap in the digital transformation process was unquestionably the rise of the internet. The second great change was the appearance of smartphones and their derivate consequences: mobility, connectivity and synchronicity, as well as the concept that groups together these three derivatives, the so-called micro-moments.

We are in a synchronous world, dominated by impatience, where we seek the accessibility of information in practically real time. In market terms, these changes have led to content, which was historically given in class, to be now open, thus democratising the access to education.

Much of the professional knowledge that is important today will swiftly change in the coming years

Historically, the way to obtain this knowledge was by attending class and listening to a teacher. Now it is no longer necessary to go to the classroom, as the classroom can now go to the student. And through technology and a good academic instructional design, it can be done qualitatively, efficiently and with a learning and networking experience that is optimal for the participant.

New technologies are opening the doors to new business models and teaching dynamics which can promote the accessibility of education while upholding its quality and effectiveness.

A three-step process

In the education sector, the digital transformation implies the consideration of different levels.

An initial level is the internal transformation: review internal processes so as to transform them digitally and achieve greater efficiency within the institution. This process of internal transformation implies, among others, reviewing current dynamics, learning how to capture data better and implementing techniques to lower costs and improve the user experience.

A second key element in the digital transformation is to introduce, as part of the traditional range of educational programmes offer, digital knowledge that allows students to acquire the necessary skills to meet the professional challenges derived from the digital transformation.

The third key part of the digital transformation process is to generate vertical programmes of digital content, be it in an on-campus format (100% face-to-face), in hybrid formats (60% online – 40% face-to-face) or in 100% online formats that meet the educational needs posed by the 4.0 economy and keep pace with the market. Along these lines, the hybrid and online format of the programmes at Esade are called In·On programmes (in class – online).

Myths of the digital transformation

The first myth of the digital transformation in education originates at the operative level. The task of deploying online programmes is more complex than it may seem, especially in organisations which have spent decades in an offline environment without leaving its comfort zone.

It is not just setting up a camera, recording a professor and launching the video on a platform. We are opening new doors, and in any change process, operational complexities and challenges arise. Issues come up such as how to handle the intellectual property of the materials – historically such a problem did not exist – or the image rights of the professors.

Studying online means making a greater effort than a face-to-face programme

The second myth is thinking that creating online programmes is cheaper. In fact, that is a falsehood, as doing an online programme right is much more expensive than an onsite programme in terms of production.

The third myth is regarding time. Studying online, at first glance, may seem to imply less dedication. But in fact, studying online means making a greater effort than a face-to-face programme, where the student can decide their degree of interactivity in the classroom. In the online world, the only way to learn is to devote time and effort to it, working with each and every one of the different learning methodologies set out in the instructional design of the online programmes.

We have verified that the learning experience of studying in online programmes at Esade is similar to the one obtained by enrolling in onsite programmes. In order to compare the efficacy between both formats, we have measured the learning level of the students upon completing the same programme in online and offline formats. 

In the exam results of both programmes we obtain similar result ratios, and even in some cases we detected a better learning experience and results when studying online. Online education is, undoubtedly, a very effective means of learning and the tip of the iceberg of a future dominated by technology and digitalisation.

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