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3 Ways Executive Education Leaders Innovate to Support Professional Learners

By Scott Gutowski June 10, 2021

This past year, drastic changes to the education and workforce landscape have created more demand for upskilling and enabled a wider reach for executive education. Most programs are now focused on establishing relevant starting points for professional learners, gaining new operational efficiencies, and delivering exceptional experiences so that learners continually return. New innovations have positively impacted executive education initiatives, creating opportunities for sustainable growth and real impact.

In conversations with executive education leaders and expert organizations, such as UNICON: Global Consortium of University Based Executive Education, we’ve seen a few key strategies emerge as institutions innovate to support professional learners, and grow their program impact and revenue.

Person on virtual conference call

Institutions are focused on improving the reach, scalability, and deliverability of programs in new and different ways, which is both process and technology enabled.

1. Adopt a CRM Strategy

The pandemic created pressures for executive education programs to evolve. Organizations like UNICON bring leaders together to share best practices and address challenges facing the industry.

Institutions are focused on improving the reach, scalability, and deliverability of programs in new and different ways, which is both process and technology enabled. Some, such as Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business, have adopted a centralized CRM strategy — putting constituents at the center of every decision, opening the door for business improvements, and helping previously siloed teams work more collaboratively.

“CRM is a strategy we’ve implemented college-wide. This requires us to look at things very differently and collaborate across the institution in ways we haven’t before,” says Carrie Marcinkevage, CRM strategy director at Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business. “There are many change management approaches to technology. We use appreciative inquiry — starting with our strengths in executive education and constituent relationship management — to unify decision making and drive impact for our learners.”

The University of Chicago started a new division to design and build a robust portfolio of programs for early career and professional learners. With this new model comes strong growth goals and the need to advocate for change within the institution. It also provides an excellent opportunity to learn from what sells and drives impact to improve overall program offerings. 

“In our work, everything is interconnected — from IT to marketing and more — and it’s challenging to scale without strong processes and collaboration,” shares Valorie Nash, senior associate director of strategic initiatives at University of Chicago. “We’re asking the hard questions and defining what steps are essential across multiple departments to move toward larger institution goals.”

2. Establish a Single Source of Truth

Executive education programs are accelerating digital transformation. The need to unify learner data to understand relationships with the institution holistically across all departments or schools is more critical than ever. Additionally, the need to do more with fewer systems quickly increases the pressure for programs to evolve.  

MIT Sloan School of Management implemented Salesforce to provide a cutting edge, end-to-end customer experience.

“The pandemic showed us how important it is to have an integrated platform to support new business models,” says Kate Anderson, senior director, executive education at MIT Sloan School of Management. “We now have the infrastructure to bring customer and program data into a single view and build out our portfolio in whatever way the market demands.”

Jeff Lane, digital campaign manager at Carlson Executive Education, University of Minnesota, shares, “Every touch point with learners through the funnel is a transaction in itself. You have to be able to pull the data and relationships together to provide value, whether it’s relevancy, career information, etc.”

Having a single source of truth fuels insights for executive education programs, whether it’s informing new program development, reaching new audiences, or leveraging relationships —  from faculty and staff to alumni and corporate partners — that may already exist within institutions.

Men and women sitting at a desk smiling

This past year, drastic changes to the education and workforce landscape have created more demand for upskilling and enabled a wider reach for executive education programs.

3. Create an Integrated Experience

Many executive education programs are focused on using data to create a connected learner experience, and they’re innovating with technology in new ways. 

With Commerce Cloud, Experience Cloud, MuleSoft, and Tableau, MIT Sloan School of Management provides a best-in-class shopping experience, integrates critical data, visualizes program performance to inform decisions about content and themes for future offerings — all while delivering an instant-access experience for professional learners with “always on” information, meaningful content, and course materials. 

“We’ve also introduced self-service so our learners can see all of their past and future courses, track their certificate progress, access course materials, manage their payments, and make enrollment changes such as course cancellations and transfers all in one place without needing to email or call our support team,” says Anderson.

Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business is similarly focused on deepening learner relationships across departments to provide a truly connected experience. 

“We’re looking at building and stacking programs and certificates in relevant ways,” shares Marcinkevage. “For learners who are participating in degree programs, we’re focused on how we can extend their lifelong learning through executive education. And vice versa, how executive education can be the springboard for degree programs.” 

We hope these strategies empower executive education programs everywhere to innovate to support professional learners, improve the immediate impact of programs, and drive broader success into the future.

For more inspiration and tips to unite your teams and programs around the professional learner experience, download this guide

About the Author

Scott Gutowski, Industry Solutions Director,
Scott Gutowski is an industry solutions director on the Education Cloud team at Obsessed with efficiency, if there is a better way to do something, Scott is focused on figuring it out and helping institutions get more out of their investments, technology, and time so they can focus on what matters — supporting learners, faculty, and staff. Scott worked in both private and public education as a technical leader for the past 15+ years where he learned to listen in order to improve.