Executive Education: The Prime Mover Of The Experiential Learning Cycle

for a complete learning, both academicians and executives need to engage. Thus, executive education becomes prime mover for learning in management education.

Learning is not a one- time activity but a continuous process in the life of successful professionals; it is very much true in the case of the management profession as well. Management is an applied discipline, the experience of the learner is one key input in the learning process and effective learning from experiences involves multiple stages. Management is art and science. It is theory and practice. Thus for a complete learning, both academicians and executives need to engage. Thus, executive education becomes prime mover for learning in management education.

Management Education and Experiential Learning Cycle:  Kolb’s learning cycle proposed in 1984 is one of the most well-known illustrations in management education and has become a useful model to express the nature of experiential learning.  Kolb’s learning cycle includes the four stages/ activities of experiencing, reflecting, thinking and acting. The immediate or concrete experience forms the basis for further observation and reflection. These reflections based on the experience and observations are distilled into abstract concepts either consciously or not so consciously,  from which new implications for action or new ways of action are then created.  These new possibilities are further actively tested/ experimented and then serve as a guide in creating new experiences.   

Kolb (1984) maintains that learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through grasping and transforming of the experiences. Organizations are today seen as learning systems and the management process is viewed as a process of learning. Hence it is important for organizations to invest in enhancing the ability of its executives to learn better from their own experiences as well as the firm and the industry experience. According to the Kolb’s learning cycle to enable experiential learning it is just not enough to experiment with new ways of management but it is as important to reflect on one's experiences, observe and assess one’s experiences and draw abstractions from one’s own experience as well as from others.  To enable holistic learning the learner has to go through all the stages of experiencing, reflecting, abstraction and validating the abstraction through actions.

Executive Education: Complementing Learning Styles of Academicians and Practitioners: Research on learning styles has shown that practitioners, on the whole, are distinguished by strong active experimentation skills and relatively weaker reflective observation and abstraction skills. Business faculty members (and professors in general) usually possess the reverse profile; strong reflective observation and abstraction skills than experimentation skills. In fact, their opportunity to have real-life experiences of managing businesses is also limited.   Executive education thus offers an opportunity for practitioners and academician to complement each other’s learning process by reflection of actions and thinking about the feelings that emerged from different real-life experiences. In the process practitioners through quality executive programs become better in learning from their own experiences by appreciating various theories and frameworks to capture and analyze their experiences. The management faculty, in turn, gets an opportunity to validate different theories from the shared practitioner experiences in the executive education programs. Thus practitioners become better at practice and business faculty better in connecting abstractions/ theories to the real world.

Ensuring Quality Executive Education Programs: It is thus important to set specific and relevant program objectives as well as realistic performance outcomes. This should be done considering the training pedagogy used to ensure quality executive education programs. The measurement of the effectiveness of executive training programs could incorporate feedback from their superiors in the workplace apart from the participant feedback of the program itself.  This demands that the executive programs are customized to specific desired organizational goals. In such cases, the design of the program would become as important as the delivery of the program. Many organizations with clearly articulated program outcomes, in our experience, treat the program design as a consulting engagement and the delivery of the program as a training engagement both by the same team and even bill them separately. This has resulted in much superior training outcomes than conducting canned programs periodically.

Executive Education: A Win-Win Opportunity for   Management Institutes and Businesses: Customised quality executive education programs complementing the learning styles of both the practitioners and the faculty not only facilitates businesses attain their organizational goals but also enables the management institutes to offer an opportunity to its faculty to experience business realities and validate their management theories. This could go a long way to make teaching and research relevant to practice and enhance the overall quality of the institute.   Thus quality executive programs offer a win-win opportunity for business, management institutes and the society at large.

This article was published in BW Education issue dated 'Nov. 20, 2018' with cover story titled 'BW Education Issue Nov-Dec 2018'

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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