Intersection of KM, Executive Education, and Disruptive Innovation

Intersection of KM, Executive Education, and Disruptive Innovation

Executive Education Is Ripe for Online Disruption – Morten T. Hansen – Harvard Business Review.

innovationDisruptive innovations are those that consume (even “cannibalize”) previously successful and even sustained products and methods, in favor of a markedly different device or way of doing things.  Disruptive innovation is occurring in K-12 education, by way of Massively On-line Open Curricula (MOOCs, with variations on the exact wording), like the Khan Academy, among many others.  Still, workplace training – and as featured in this article, especially executive education – remains formal; largely classroom based with a smattering of eLearning and some work experiences/shadowing/stretch assignments.  There are pockets of innovation; but nothing yet globally disruptive.

Why is this?

You might say that there’s not the need; but a citation from a colleague the other day refutes this: she says that over the next few years, her company (a major utility) is estimated to lose 46% of its current management team to retirement.  Imagine that!  Nearly half of your experienced leadership will be making their way to Maui in a matter of months!  Hers is not an isolated outlier – this trend is being anticipated in nearly every industry in every region.  So it’s not that executive education is not needed.

Now, you might think that those responsible for remaining half – who are the ones ultimately responsible for raising the replacements out of the ranks – are not yet committed to the cause.  And you’d be right.  But why?  Is it the scarcity of resources?  That could certainly be a part of it, recognizing that the “recovery” has been fitfully slow.  Yet the data also warn that replacing these leaders will be costly – in the neighborhood of 1.5 to 2 times the annual salary of the departing exec.  Delaying the inevitable by not looking for a disruptive solution (to bring down that cost) is a recipe for disaster.

Dr. Hansen suggests hybridizing the current classroom model of executive education with some targeted eLearning – and this is a good step.  But it is not disruptive.  The reason the Khan Academy is disruptive is that it “flips” the classroom and homework experiences – out-of-school study time is when didactic learning takes place, accommodating the students style, pace, and current level of knowledge.  The classroom, then, is for rehearsal, practice, supportive mistake-making, and corrective guidance in a collaborative atmosphere (more aligned, by the way, with the post-modern workplace – a bonus!).

Applying this methodology to executive education, then, involves:

  • Flipping the experiences of didactic learning and practice, by relying far less on classroom experiences and formal eLearning courses, opting for continually-updated bibliographies, extensive reading and research, participation in discussion fora, and exploration into a variety of information resources (which, as a side benefits, helps build one’s lifelong learning skills).  Practice becomes a series of guided, meaningful, structured exercises in an environment in which it is safe to fail, and consistently builds confidence in the student’s ability to envision, align, and enable.
  • Incorporating mentoring (around specific competencies) and coaching (for general support while progressing through the learning experience) as fundamental aspects of the program (teachers and more advanced students fill this role in K-12  environs).
  • Clearly articulating the set of competencies and skills that will drive the behaviors and attitudes that are necessary for successful leaders.  This should be done, anyway, to support everything from hiring to performance reviews – but it is essential to constructing a viable training program that will be measurable against organizational goals (see Kirkpatrick, especially, for rationale and explanation of this dynamic).

Disruptions are risky.  It is much easier to try to eke out “just a little more” out of tried-and-true structures (such as classroom training).  Yet, the horizon is fast approaching and it is clear.  The economics will not support traditional models of training, and the next generation of learners is already well beyond this modality of learning (try as the existing educational institutions might to keep it relevant).  Are you bold enough to try?

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