• Learning

Transformative Online Learning

INSEAD’s designs for highly personalized online learning to scale digital transformation

Thursday 16 May 2019


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Ben Bensaou, Mark Roberts and Swapnil Chugh at INSEAD discuss where we have reached in designing online learning journeys for executives – and where we are heading next.

You’re a major digital player. You want to change how your sales team talks to the market. The idea is that they will become as comfortable in front of a head of strategy or a director of marketing as a chief information officer. You would like to bring 10,000 of them up to speed as quickly as you can. But you are struggling to figure out how. At this rate, it could take you five years.

At this point, you get talking to a team from INSEAD, the elite business school, who are at a similar stage of trying to combine the depth and intensity of learning face to face with the speed and reach of digital. Together, you decide to innovate in a way that is different from everyone else.

Instead of taking the next steps beyond MOOCs into open learning for individuals, you dive deeply into customising your own learning solution that can be deployed at scale. For the digital player, it transforms its capability to open up more wide-ranging conversations around digital strategy with senior executives in any field. For INSEAD, it yields a series of lessons in how to innovate around online learning and how it fits into the wider landscape of digital transformation.

‘We are leveraging the technology for what it can do best,’ says Ben Bensaou, Dean of Executive Education at INSEAD. ‘We have amplified the individual learning. We have opened up the space beyond the classroom. We are engaging the whole pyramid from leaders at the top to those who are implementing the change. Now we are using AI to move to the next level and find new patterns in learning.’

Learning journeys

High quality for everyone was the original appeal of online learning. It regularly fell short through lack of a human touch. Too often, learners felt they could dip in and dip out without really having to invest themselves. Many skipped finishing the course.

So INSEAD has set about about bringing its online experience to life. Faculty are involved throughout. They help to design the original course, make a series of bite-sized video presentations and are available to answer questions at every stage. Day to day, an INSEAD alumnus is on hand as a coach to resolve any challenges in learning.


Find out more about INSEAD’s online executive education programs HERE


Through the online platform that INSEAD has developed, learners forge bonds with each other to create teams and study groups, giving them the tools to work together well beyond the classroom. The extent to which they participate beyond the minimum is up to them and they are free to select projects which are close to their own working experience.

Their progress is tracked as a weekly learning journey and their work is peer reviewed at the end. They can even accumulate points on a leader-board.

‘It’s a serious learning experience,’ says Swapnil Chugh, INSEAD’s Global Director of Online Learning. ‘Our completion rates are over 90%. Participants can see the value in engaging with us and experience for themselves the impact that is being created.’

From its start in deep customised partnerships, INSEAD soon moved into open online programmes. Any expectations that it would find itself confined to more technical learning were soon dispelled. Conceptual subjects such as leadership, innovation and transformation are proving just as popular as they are face to face.

Hybrid cascades

Distinctions between learning face to face and online are blurring in other ways. Originally, it was assumed that courses on the campus would end up being superseded. In fact, at INSEAD, they’re still growing healthily, even while interest in online is surging ahead.

It is not just learning professionals who are paying attention. The C suite has spotted the potential for online learning to embed new concepts and cascade messages through the organization. Cost is generally less of a concern than you might imagine when comparing an online executive course at €1500 with one on campus at between €7000 and €35,000. What counts more for senior executives is the speed and scale of online.

‘Online learning is becoming a vehicle for transformation across organizations,’ says Mark Roberts, INSEAD’s Associate Dean of Executive Education and Chief Transformation Officer. ‘For us, it is expanding the ways in which we can engage with companies. We have always had access to the top level. Now we can take INSEAD’s quality deeper into organizations.’

‘We are designing the whole learning experience, both face to face and online, around the shifts that organizations are looking to make. So, for a leading electrical engineer striving to improve its performance around leadership and innovation, we created a programme with four levels of detail. At the top, it was mainly face to face. Deeper into the organization, it became more online. You can now reach thousands, not just a dozen or so.’

Learning patterns

Online learning is already adding a distinctive quality of its own to learning at INSEAD. You dedicate five hours a week to your course, then get back to your job and start applying the concepts you are learning immediately. It is proving a powerful way for participants to assimilate and internalize what they are learning.

Now INSEAD is using its online technology to investigate the intricate detail of how such learning happens, opening up the potential to customize programmes to an even more individual level. ‘We can now learn from learners in a way that could never happen in a conventional classroom,’ says Ben Bensaou. ‘Through our technology and through AI, we can track different behaviours, maybe even different cognitive processes.’

‘In particular, we are going to know far more about what groups learn from each other. It has the potential to change the traditionally vertical relationship in which the teacher dispenses knowledge to the class. In future, the learner will become more like the teacher. As professors, we will become more like orchestrators or facilitators of learning. It is the next challenge for all of us.’

As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas from around the world to change lives and to transform organisations.

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