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How is online executive education like surfing?

According to UNICON, whose “Riding the Wave of Online Executive Education” workshop I’m attending this week, “The wave of online education has come crashing onto the shores of the Executive and Higher Education communities. The challenge ahead is to determine whether we will learn to ride the wave, watch the wave from the shore, or be swept under by it.”

Much of the discussion in the sessions – and in the hallways – mimics what we read in the media about online education in general and about MOOCs, in particular.  I heard some trepidation, some resignation, and much hopefulness about the potential power of online for executive education. 

One of the sessions yesterday featured Columbia strategy professor Rita Gunther McGrath, who compared the early days of MOOCs with the early days of movies, where people didn’t yet realize the power of the new technology – in the early days of motion pictures, they filmed plays and read radio scripts.  It took awhile to understand the full potential of the new medium, and it demanded new ways of thinking and new ways of doing business.  So just as the power of online education lies well beyond filming lectures, it will demand new business models and new ways of teaching – and pay off in an expansion of addressable market and new ways of working with individuals and corporate learning partners to impart knowledge and skills. 

The surfing metaphor seems apt for how those in executive education will need to think about increasing demands for online programs, since it will take commitment, knowledge of the terrain, focus, agility, flexibility, and improvisation. And there will be glorious rides – and wipeouts. 

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