The informational and computational “tectonic shifts” of the past decade—enabling sharing, transacting, collaborating, and learning online—have created new challenges for executive development programs, in part by making visible to both buyers and sellers the specific objectives of participants and their organizations. Drawing on interviews with sponsoring organizations and participants in executive education at Harvard Business School, this study examines what learners and organizations want from executive development and maps the sources of value and drivers of demand for executive development.
Executive development programs have entered a period of disruption catalyzed by the digitalization of content, connectivity, and communication and are driven by renewed demand for high-level executive and managerial skills. Unlike other segments of higher education, the executive education market is heavily subsidized by the organizations employing the executives that participate in them. To understand the ongoing transformation of the industry, we use a large database of interviews with participants in executive development programs at HBS—and executives in their sponsoring organizations—to map out the (multidimensional) objective functions of executive participants and their organizations and show how the trio of disruptive forces (disintermediation, disaggregation, and decoupling) that have figured prominently in other industries disrupted by digitalization (media, travel, publishing) are likely to reshape the structure of demand for executive development.
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