Low completion rates of large open online courses force a rethink of effective executive training

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Written by Jon Kennard on 17 October 2017 in Press Zone
Press Zone

Online learning programmes aimed at training large groups of executives are coming under pressure to improve their effectiveness. 


Typical course completion rates for MOOCs are below 8%; customised high-impact online programmes achieve 85% successful completion. 

Massive open online courses (MOOCs), usually offered on digital platforms and consisting mainly of pre-recorded videos, with no direct interaction with the educators that developed the content, show typical participant completion rates of between 5% and 8%. Self-determination and perseverance are often required to complete this type of executive training.

In contrast, customised online courses aimed at smaller groups which provide direct interaction with professors, other participants and varied teaching staff, are seeing completion rates above 85%. These so-called ‘small private online courses’, or SPOCs, mostly offered by business schools, point the way to more effective executive online training.

Executive education and leadership development make up a crowded market that has been going through a revival in recent years. According to the Financial Times1, after almost a decade of shrinking demand, the business of executive education short courses started to look buoyant again in 2014.

‘The upturn has seen an increase in the number of MOOCs as one solution to cash-strapped, hard-pressed HR and Learning & Development departments,’ says VanDyck Silveira, CEO of FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, a large provider of customised leadership development programmes.

‘Aimed at training hundreds, or even thousands, of participants, their effectiveness is often undermined by poor completion rates. Unless an organisation is staffed almost exclusively by determined self-starters, MOOCs are unlikely to produce the anticipated outcome for businesses.

‘By their nature, open online courses deliver their content digitally. They measure progress and completion through automated self-assessment and, at best, interaction with many hundreds of others taking the same course. So it is not surprising that many participants of MOOCs are, frankly, left to drown.’

The answer to the problem, according to Silveira, lies in adopting customised short-course executive programmes and introducing personalised analysis of progress. The support of a dedicated teaching team, drawn from a pool of academics, FT journalists and other advisers knowledgeable about a company’s commercial environment, can lead to far higher completion rates.

The experience of the international IE Business School has shown that SPOCs, designed to be compatible with executives’ working lives, can achieve a completion rate higher than 85%.

The composition of the teaching team, says Silveira, can be a special ingredient in the successful completion of a course. The SPOC developed by FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance – the High-Impact Online Programme (HiOP) – is unique because it introduces Financial Times journalists into the teaching team.

‘Over a period of four to five weeks, the Corporate Learning Alliance HiOPs courses can draw on a range of FT journalists, who bring their specialist sector knowledge to teaching and assessing the participants’ understanding of the topics in the programme.

Subjects such as embedding finance in everyday decision-making, leadership in volatile and uncertain times, what to do once a company starts to grow, entrepreneurship, and leading innovation, are all suited to the business knowledge of financial journalists.’

Corporate Learning Alliance HiOPs programmes are designed according to a company’s own requirements and for groups of 50 or more executives. The primary characteristics of each course and the roles of the designers and teachers are:

  • The instructor: designs and develops the course; hosts live video conferences and discussion sessions.
  • Course alumni, expert contributors and guest speakers: their active engagement in the course creates more practical learning.
  • The teaching team (academics, experts, FT journalists): in addition to delivering the programme content, the team applies learning analytics to identify points where students get stuck, generates patterns for engagement, identifies key issues to raise in live sessions, creates and fosters a community environment, hosts forums.

On successful completion of a HiOPs course, participants are awarded certificates of approval accredited by FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, backed by IE Business School and the Financial Times.


More information is available at http://resources.ftiecla.com/en-gb/hiops

1 The revival of executive education, FT, May 11 2014