The projected 10-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the sector is 11.2% globally. It is expected to reach nearly $110 billion by 2031, attracting new investors and new players. New business models, delivery modalities, and offerings are emerging and evolving rapidly. What sector is it? It’s executive education, which despite its burgeoning demand and creative ferment, has been an underreported growth phenomenon worldwide.
Executive education, and other forms of nondegree education, have become a substantial and growing part of the content economy. The disruption of COVID accelerated this growth, but it’s being driven by factors that are separate from and will endure after the pandemic.
The growth of executive education and the related edtech space are attracting more attention from investors. Sequoia Capital India has invested in Emeritus and, with Owl Ventures led a $5 million seed round for Growth School, a live learning platform. Blackstone was part of a deal to acquire Ellucian, a higher education solutions provider with a customer base spanning more than 50 countries. Other players have also received VC investments.
New players have emerged, including 2U, Emeritus, Volute, Section4 and a growing set of others, with new and different business models. At the same time, universities and business schools that are well-established global leaders in executive education, including Kellogg, Wharton, London Business School and other top-tier institutions, are rapidly advancing their own strategies, offerings and initiatives, both internally and in combination with intermediary partners.
The growing demand is coming from both organizations and individuals. In other words, it’s both BB and BC. And the same underlying dynamics are the main drivers of both: 1) the accelerating pace of change, innovation and new demands in today’s business environment and 2) the greatly expanded accessibility of top-caliber content.
Rapid Change Demands Continuous Learning
The pace of change facing organizations and individuals challenges even the most progressive. Entirely new subjects have emerged that leaders must understand and incorporate into their business strategies, organizations and processes. An obvious example is artificial intelligence and machine learning, the adoption of which has now become a business imperative in a wide and growing range of industries and functions. Business leaders don’t all need to become technically proficient in AI and ML, but they do need to understand the key principles and implications of these technologies, to determine how to incorporate them into their business strategies, integrate them into their businesses, and put them to use for business outcomes. The same applies to data science, digital transformation, network science and a set of related subjects.
A very different and yet critically important example is how the latest diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) imperatives now require and proactive steps by organizations. Again, leadership must understand the essential principles, issues, and practices as the foundation for determining how to build the necessary commitment and take effective action in a time of rapid and demanding change. The same holds true for broader environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.
There are many more examples of emerging developments and issues businesses face today—eg, logistics and supply chains, cybersecurity, health care models, climate change, remote worker organizations. These challenges extend from the Board level to the C-level to business unit heads to function heads to managers. And leaders in executive and functional roles at all levels are now engaging more intensively than ever in executive education programs to get and stay up to speed and understand the business implications and opportunities posed in today’s environment.
This is not limited to certain countries or regions. Business leaders globally are grappling with many of the same rapid developments. Nor is it confined to businesses. Government agencies and services, nonprofit organizations and more face the same developments. Nor is it relevant only to startups or legacy enterprises. Businesses of all sizes and ages must understand and incorporate many of the same developments. And thus, they’re all investing in executive education.
The same developments are impacting individuals and their careers worldwide. Consider a marketing executive in her mid-40s with an MBA degree from a top business school. She has had an outstanding education, experience and career to date. Any yet, she is now responsible for leading her organization’s strategy in areas that didn’t even exist, or were at best nascent, when she was in school. With many more years ahead in her career, and often with her company’s support and advocacy, she is now investing her time in executive education programs. This is particularly relevant to the growing popularity of certifications in fields such as data science.
Executive Education Has Become Much More Accessible
The other largely unheralded driver of the growing popularity of executive education is the great expansion of accessibility created by new delivery modalities. As executive education has evolved beyond classroom programs to live virtual, online and blended programs (combining multiple modalities), it has become much more accessible and flexible both for organizations and individuals. This has expanded learning opportunities geographically, for women, for underrepresented minorities, and others who may be unable to travel to, afford and/or participate in conventional classroom programmes.
As a case at point, I recently asked, out of curiosity, a woman participating in a live virtual executive education program whether she would have attended the program if it had been in person in Chicago. She told me: “I work for a small company in Amsterdam. There is no way my company could pay for the travel and program cost if it were in Chicago. But, because we could do it virtually, my manager said that I and four of my colleagues could participate from Amsterdam.”
Now, individuals virtually anywhere in the world can and do participate in the same top-quality programs. A young women entrepreneur with a financial services startup in Nigeria can be in the same course and interact with individuals in Poland, Columbia, Japan, Ghana, Malaysia, India, Argentina, the US and more places, in small towns and rural areas as well as major urban locations. This, too, is driving the growing global demand for executive education programs in a wide and expanding set of levels, price points, durations, modalities, and subjects. Plus, participants benefit from the richness of interaction with an international cohort, while learning from top-rated faculty at the world’s leading universities. So, if the leaders of a small hotel company in the Czech Republic, a bicycle maker in Oregon, or a telecommunication company in Mexico want their teams to learn marketing analytics, they have more options than ever to do so.
These two phenomena—the acceleration of new executive developments and the expansion of access—are driving the flourishing evolution of education worldwide today and will for years to come. The established modalities of classroom, live virtual and online will soon become anachronistic, as faculty, universities and other players are rapidly becoming more proficient and creative in new program designs and combinations of modalities.
It remains to be seen what business models will be sustainable and successful. Right now, while demand for executive education is growing strongly, the supply of program offerings is evidently growing even faster, particularly for certain popular subjects. The cost of BC customer acquisition is rising consequentially for online education players. Some have needed to adopt new approaches, refocus and/or cut back. The importance of BB program development is growing. Demand is shifting by program length and type. New types of offerings are being introduced.
In all, it’s a fascinating time in a dynamic space, as growing numbers of organizations and people engage in continuous learning in more ways than ever. I look forward to discussing the creative evolution of executive education and continuous learning for organizations and individuals in upcoming columns.