Programs Send Alumni Back to School

Business schools offer a range of specialized offerings that help alums and working professionals continue to upgrade their skills.

In addition to a full range of traditional executive education pro­grams, many business schools are developing specialized pro­gramming designed to help alumni, working professionals, and other learners upgrade their skills at crucial points in their careers. Because schools are targeting a wide range of learners, from recent alums to seasoned managers, most find it essential to provide an equally wide range of offerings, from just-in-time courses to immer­sive programs. Here’s a sampling of the types of lifelong learning options available from the five schools featured here:

Broadcasts. Open University in the U.K. works with the BBC and other TV and radio stations to disseminate knowledge—some­times across the globe. For instance, OU’s Mark Fenton-O’Creevy was involved in a documentary series called “Escape from the Boardroom” that followed chief executives tackling business prob­lems across international borders. The program went out worldwide over the BBC channel. Fenton-O’Creevy notes that, in a year’s time, the university’s radio and TV shows, and online repeats, netted 240 million views and listens.

The Wharton School offers about two dozen radio broadcasts over Sirius XM radio on topics such as leadership, sports business, and innovation. The information in these shows is “digestible,” says Jane Simons. “People can tune in as needed.”

Webinars. At the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, alumni can access a growing online library of on-demand video and live sessions. In 2016, the school debuted a four-part leadership series that was presented in seminar format; it also was recorded and posted on the school’s learning portal. In 2017, the school wants to bring in more “peer alums” to teach webinars on topics such as entrepreneurship.

Wharton maintains a series of skill-oriented one-hour webinars that are run out of the alumni relations office. Some have built-in quizzes that enable professors to test whether students are retain­ing information; some allow viewers to submit questions online at the end of the programming. “Usually between 300 and 600 people watch live,” says Simons. Webinars also are made available through the video library.

Other online learning. Some schools use websites and portals to provide learners with quick hits of useful knowledge. For instance, the Wharton Leadership Digest is a bimonthly compendium of articles, interviews, and videos that is delivered electronically and stored online so viewers can access information when they need it.

Similarly, Kevin Wong of Berkeley-Haas is building a library of online topics where alums can search for a specific subject and find a selection of constantly updated videos, TED Talks, and other material. To discover what information would be the most valuable, he surveys alumni, interviews workshop participants, and conducts in-person interviews; he also checks with program offices to learn what topics are most in demand or have waiting lists in the current classrooms so he can offer similar programming online.

But other schools use online learning to offer more immersive options. For instance, last year the University of Edinburgh Business School launched its first MOOC, a six-week introductory marketing course; in 2017, it will offer its first fully online part-time masters in accounting and society. Wharton delivers Wharton Online classes— shorter, focused, skills-based courses—through Coursera and edX.

Open University offers a wide range of free learning opportunities through multiple platforms: YouTube, iTunes U, its own OpenLearn site, and the MOOC platform FutureLearn, which is wholly owned by OU. FutureLearn has more than 100 partners from around the world, including other universities, cultural organizations, and professional bodies, and it has drawn more than 5 million learners since its first courses were offered in 2013, says Fenton-O’Creevy.

Live events. Wharton delivers educational opportunities at many of its reunions, as well as its twice-yearly Global Forums, which are two-day international conferences that include research pre­sentations, master classes, and practitioner’s panels. According to Simons, “Alumni walk away not just with an understanding of the top research that’s coming out of the school, but also with knowledge of how to apply it in the field.”

Berkeley-Haas also provides lifelong learning opportunities through live events, such as alumni chapter meetings, which are often recorded and added to the learning portal.

Corporate partnerships. To serve companies that want to train employees in specific skills, Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business unbundles some of its programs down to the course level and delivers them at company facilities.

“It’s a real win-win situation,” says Hugh Courtney. “The company gets a cohort of people focused on exactly what they need to know to do a better job. The students earn credit toward a degree program, and usually those credits are mostly, if not fully, funded. It’s like they’re choosing credit-bearing executive education.”

It’s also a win for Northeastern because it creates a pipeline of potential new students. Since the school launched this program with its first client, about one-third of the cohort has enrolled in additional courses and is moving forward in a degree program.

Academic alliances. Lifelong learners need a depth of knowledge that extends beyond business, says Wendy Loretto of the University of Edinburgh, so the business school is increasingly combining its programs with other disciplines, such as psychology, history, and philosophy.

In addition, the business school is part of the Edinburgh Global Compassion Initiative, which examines “the role compassion can play in holding together the human relationships needed to solve some of the most pressing international issues,” Loretto says. “I feel returning students are looking for a more holistic, interdisciplinary learning experience and have a real drive to play a part in addressing global challenges. They’re drawn to leadership education because they see it as a route to make a difference.”

This article appeared in print in the March/April 2017 issue.