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How Lifelong Learning Can Help Redefine Business Schools

Investing in lifelong learning is no longer an option, but an imperative, for business schools to continue to meet workforce needs.

With technology disrupting business models, industries, and jobs, lifelong learning has become something business professionals must do. For business schools too—to stay relevant, diversify, and fight off competition—investing in lifelong learning is critical.

The World of Work Is Changing

Fifty percent of jobs today can be automated, according to McKinsey research. Up to 375 million people worldwide (14 percent of the global workforce) may have to switch jobs by 2030.

Professionals today need to adapt to the changing world of work, driven by globalization and disruptive technology. They need to continually upskill to remain attractive to current and prospective employers.

Those transferrable soft skills taught on business school general management programs—including communication skills and the ability to work with others—are some of the most sought-after skills by employers.

In such a climate, business schools have a responsibility to support professionals at all stages of their career. Investing in flexible delivery methods for experienced working professionals can also help schools reach new audiences and raise their profile in new markets.

The director for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) at HEC Paris tells me there’s a clear correlation between people who take MOOCs and new applications to paid-for programs at the school. IE Business School, in a survey of its MOOC-takers, also found this group to be a likely pool for new degree program applications.

Keeping Alumni Engaged

More and more business schools understand that learning shouldn’t stop when students leave campus.

Hult International Business School, for example, offers lifelong learning electives to its alumni, with qualifying alums able to take an elective course once a year at any of Hult’s global campuses for the rest of their lives. The courses are typically held over weekends and cover trending topics like the digital economy.

HKUST Business School in Hong Kong recently opened its MBA elective courses to alumni, with courses on China’s Belt & Road infrastructure development project over-subscribed and prospective students placed on a waiting list. The school also plans to offer career coaching services to alumni.

Harvard Business School, which hosts a lifelong learning webinar series for alumni as well as in-person events, claims nearly 3,600 HBS alums learned something new through an HBS webinar in 2018.

By offering free or low-cost lifelong learning programs to alumni, business schools can keep their community engaged even after they’ve completed their degrees.

That alumni community is especially valuable, as advocates of the school but also as future customers. According to one study by AACSB and executive education partners, professionals who already hold a graduate degree are more likely than most to consider an additional graduate degree in business in their pursuit of lifelong learning. Business schools: take notice.

Overcoming the Competition

Business schools are not alone in the lifelong learning space. Competition has grown with digital disruptors, like Coursera and Udemy, offering their own online training alternatives. Coursera for Business, an executive education platform, is now used by employees from over 1,500 companies globally. Udemy offers 3,000 training courses to businesses.

Outside, or perhaps as a part, of degree programs and MOOCs is the growing interest in digital credentials. These can include microcredentials, certifications, and badges developed by education providers. But how—and to what extent—these credentials are recognized by the workforce is largely not standardized. Here, too, is an opportunity for business schools to intervene.

Business schools face a tough challenge. Almost a third of organizations surveyed by Carrington Crisp said that providers other than business schools offer training programs for working professionals that are better-suited to their needs. A quarter said business schools were out of touch with current business challenges.

The established reputation of business schools, their strength in academic research, and their alumni communities give them an advantage over their competitors—but they need to make the most of it, be agile, and create programs to meet learners’ needs.

By becoming part of the disruptive factors in higher education and business, schools can increase their visibility to new prospective learners and provide relevant, targeted offerings to businesses and the workforce. Those that don’t invest in lifelong learning will be left behind.


Marco De Novellis, editor, BusinessBecauseMarco De Novellis is the editor of BusinessBecause, an online publisher dedicated to graduate management education, and is the creator and host of the podcast, The Business School Question. Follow him on Twitter @marcodn_bb.