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V. Holton, P. Hind

Ashridge Business School (UNITED KINGDOM)
Executive education abounds with different objectives, designs, philosophies and delivery methods, some of which will meet all expectations and objectives, but it is fair to say that not every programme is effective. The research study reported here aimed to explore the key issues in curriculum design and delivery with a view to offering insights into the factors which contribute to the effectiveness of executive education. The questions explored in the research included issues of organisational alignment, programme content and participant engagement.

Learning is a complex process – for individual learners, for providers (such as business schools and tutors) and for client organisations commissioning executive education. There is relatively little literature focused on the design and delivery of effective executive education (De Vries, M. K., & Korotov, K. 2007; Ely, R.J., Ibarra, H., and Kolb, D., 2011; Hind, P., Wilson, A. & Lenssen, G. 2009; Weldon, E., 2012 and 2014), and so this study is a useful addition to the research evidence available. The research also complements theory on learning transfer (Baldwin and Ford, 1988; Holton and Baldwin, 2003; D'Netto et al., 2008) and offers a practical study of what will help those involved with curriculum design to achieve high impact, sustained executive and leadership development.

The research took a qualitative approach and gathered data through a number of in-depth interviews with 20 experienced senior members of faculty at an international business school. This group represented a considerable breadth of knowledge and international experience with a wide range of corporate clients. The initial analysis of the interview data from the study indicates the following 4 themes are important – Contracts, Communities, Content and Contexts of learning and these will be explored in the conference presentation:
• Contracts: such as between the education provider and the buyer of executive education.
• Communities: the different communities that participants are members of.
• Content: including the quality and relevant of teaching as well as building a learning space where both challenge, stretch and support is available.
• Context: finding a variety of ways to create an engaging experience for learners. The results offer some practical insights that will be useful to those attending the conference, to providers of executive education, and to everyone involved in teaching, designing and delivering executive education.

The focus of curriculum design is often upon what happens in the classroom. While this is undoubtedly important, this research highlights that it is only one piece of the learning process. In order to create effective programmes it is necessary to have a more holistic approach; a bigger environment to consider. To understand what happens earlier, in the diagnosis and design discussion stage is one part of this that is perhaps even more important than what happens in the classroom. Another piece is about planning for the post-programme phase, and the key issues for participants returning to the workplace.

For executive education, it is the interdependencies between these different parts of the process that must be examined and refined, to ensure success.