MIT, Tuck, Columbia Partner With Online Firm To Slash Cost Of Management Education

First published 3/2016. The executive education sections of MIT Sloan, Tuck Dartmouth, and Columbia Business School have become “founding” academic institutions in partnership with a closely held Singapore startup company, creating a new structure to take their leadership development short-courses online.

Many business schools and universities worldwide are experimenting with models that allow them to expand market scope, and this is not the first online foray for any of the particular institutions, but there is a coordinated brand-first global intent here that suggests this initiative may change the future terrain of leadership learning, particularly for multinational corporations.

The Singapore company, Emeritus Institute of Management, was formed in 2014 by Ashwin Damera who achieved prominence building and selling Travelguru.

Over a series of interviews Damera explains his new opportunity: “A top-tier business education, whether at MBA or executive education level, requires a logistical and financial investment that narrows its reach to a very selective minority.”

“Emeritus is making quality b-school education accessible to the world.”

But of course the world doesn’t just want management education, it wants branded management education, with the right all-important door-opening masthead at the top of the diploma certificate. Providing this at an affordable price worldwide is Damera’s business.

Bob Halperin, Chairman of Academic Board at Emeritus and research affiliate at MIT, leads the EMERITUS Masterclass in Singapore

Bob Halperin, Chairman of Academic Board at Emeritus and research affiliate at MIT, leads a class in Singapore. Picture: Emeritus

Emeritus represents itself as “Global Ivy Education” from its brochures all the way down to the tablecloths in its Singapore classroom. (While most of the programming is online, the company has a classroom on-site at its head office to facilitate company face-to-face educational options.)

MIT not being part of the Ivy League appears to be a surmountable obstacle in the Emeritus brand campaign.

So far, Emeritus has nine courses in its stable, three from each of the three schools, covering such topics as leadership, negotiation, innovation, finance, and marketing. Each typically involves four hours of study a week for 6-8 weeks, and costs on average just US$750 per delegate.

Standard on-site executive education from elite providers comes in at about $2,500 per person per day.

The price point is possible because classes contain between 50 and 300 delegates, but Damera is quick to allay any notion that he is running Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) programs. No matter how large the student group is, it is broken up into course cohorts of less than 300, and much of the learning is designed to managed synchronously in teams of 5-7 people, he says.

Damera began in consumer banking at Citigroup, India, before an MBA at Harvard Business School. His HBS summer 2004 internship with JetBlue executive Dave Barger was an entrepreneurial experience that inspired him and fellow-student Ganesh Rengaswamy to write a business plan for what turned out to be Travelguru, an India tourism portal. Backed by Sequoia Capital, Damera grew the company to 350 employees by 2009, and sold it to Travelocity.

This sale has allowed him to fund Emeritus, including 25 payroll employees, out of his own pocket thus far. Damera owns almost all the equity in Emeritus.

Following Travelguru, Damera moved into management education with a venture called Eruditus, partnering with Chaitanya Kalipatnapu at INSEAD Executive Education to bring executive short courses to emerging market companies.

“But two years ago we realized, bringing these schools to global markets, demand far exceeds supply, and there are considerable price constraints.”

“I asked ‘how do we scale this?’ It was clear we needed to go online to get the necessary scale,” says Damera.

“At the same time reputable academic institutions were starting to get serious about online learning. When the EDX platform was founded by Harvard and  MIT, many in the industry really sat up and took note.”

Damera describes three broad models currently in play as business schools look to take their offerings into the digital environment: the MOOC platforms such as EDX and Coursera; the self-built, one-provider platforms such as those of HBX and INSEAD; and the partner model where schools work with a commercial provider such as CorpU, ExecOnline, or Emeritus.


Mike Malefakis, Associate Dean of Executive Education at Columbia Business School, is candid that CBS falls into the third category.

“Columbia hasn’t had the same resources as some other schools–to create its own studios or do its own production. Although it was first in its space to offer an online open enrollment program, in 2012, it has had to find partners to get online.”

So far CBS Executive Education has partnered with five different providers over the past four years, in what Malefakis describes as a “real-options approach” referencing the strategy principle that says managers facing uncertainty do best by taking various alternative stakes to maximize chances of holding potentially valuable positions while spreading risk, analogous to how investors use financial options.

“It is all about experimenting, seeing which partnerships work, continuing to further build relationships with those that work well,” says Malefakis.

Having said this, there also appears to be a genuine meeting of minds in the Emeritus partnership. “We really like their production model, what they are designing for in the online platform.”

“When dealing with world-class faculty, you need good filming and production techniques, but you also need to know how to work with faculty,” says Malefakis.


“The crew at Emeritus ‘gets’ the content, in addition to capturing the imagery and slides and lessons. Faculty have enjoyed working with them. It’s like having bright students in the room when filming, and at the same time a good director’s eye helping us make translation of our content into the digital space.”

For Damera this deeper relationship with the schools and collaboration with faculty is a pivotal differentiator of Emeritus.

“This is about deeper design. We help the faculty create content in the digital environment. Our partners are founding institutions not just content providers. We’re not just putting their stuff online.”

Emeritus is set up to foster academic collaboration between itself and the partner schools via a five-person framework it calls the “Academic Steering Committee,” made up of the Executive Education directors of each of the schools (Malefakis; Peter Hirst of MIT Sloan; and Clark Callahan of Tuck Dartmouth). Emeritus has two representatives, one being Damera himself, the other Committee Chairman Bob Halperin, management education industry veteran and ex-Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.

Partner schools don’t have any equity in Emeritus, and have no say over commercial decisions. The academic committee’s remit is limited to issues to do with faculty, academic standards, curriculum design and learning outcomes.

By agreement, all programs have have a common instructional design principle of one-third lecture (video, asynchronous) and two-thirds synchronous experiential or peer-learning, application and feedback.

This theory vs. application weighting reflects the schools own brands: MIT’s ‘Mens et Manus’ learning-by-doing, and Tuck’s peer-to-peer learning philosophy, says Damera.

Student delegates engaging with their peers circles at Emeritus classroom in Singapore

Student delegates engaging with their peer circles in Singapore. Picture: Emeritus

Baking real-time, peer-based applied learning into the online experience is no small matter, and Emeritus has developers around the world creating new virtual collaboration tools. This plays out in, for example, Professor John van Maanen’s ‘Leading Organizations and Change’ course, where the final part calls for a multi-player simulation whereby each group has to make eight sequential decisions in competition with other groups.

Although van Maanen, a living legend in field of organizational behavior, had run the simulation many times in the classroom, an online version didn’t exist until Emeritus made it happen.

The technical side of the Emeritus’ value-add includes the online learning management system (customized from Canvas, by Instructure), and a ‘Whats-app like’ mobile app that handles interactions across the broad cohort as well as inside small learning groups.

Similarly to ongoing developments at IESE, the company and MIT are creating a “big data” system called “Meeting Mediator” that monitors the entire scope of the student digital interface to build a picture of participant interactivity patterns, which can be fed back to students and instructors as part of learning and review.

Emeritus, in addition to providing all the video production and technology platform enablers, is responsible for marketing, enrollment, billing, and the student experience.


The key difference between Emeritus and other institutions offering online education partnership services is orientation to global markets. “We have feet on ground, marketing, meeting the companies in global markets,” says Damera.

Malefakis agrees that Emeritus “brings access to a market we don’t have in NYC, helping Columbia break down time and space barriers across the globe.”

Despite a meeting of minds, and common interest, negotiating the rights and responsibilities between three eminent US universities and a privately held Singapore startup company was a long and winding road. The general councils from each of the universities was involved over four months of assessing contractual arrangements, says Malefakis.

All three schools have transparent, identical agreements, and get the same revenue split (a straight percentage of gross sales.) Each splits its own course sales with Emeritus–there is no pooled revenue.

Acknowledging the background brand risk in harnessing the Columbia name to a startup commercial entity on the far side of the world, Malefakis observes that there is an even greater strategic risk in not being at the global table for executive education  when the cards are being dealt.

Intellectual capital comes completely from the schools, and Makefakis observes that the academic partners are, in terms of the agreement, entitled to reuse and repurpose what they created for Emeritus in their own other on-campus or blended-learning programs. They can use the material for their client independently, on or off the Emeritus platform.


Might there be some trickiness in in-house competition between the schools? Says Damera: “The consortium leverages the strengths of each. MIT is strong in digital business, technology and entrepreneurship; Columbia in finance, global markets, digital, banking; Tuck in health care and innovation. They all add something without stepping on each others toes.”

Emeritus the company is hoping to have 20 short-courses from its three partners by the end of 2016, and also launch a one-year Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration certificate–awarded in the name of all three schools.

Damera has his eye on open enrollment options, but for now the company is focused on the in-company market. He’s targeting to have 20-30 global company accounts, each putting 3,000-5,000 employees on his high-brand, low-cost management development courses every year.

In business education worldwide there are a few thousand people lucky or rich enough to get quality management or business education in any year. “This is not going to move the needle on social and business impact worldwide. But the Emeritus Institute of Management can do that,” says Damera.

Posted by admin in EdTech, Innovation, Learning

The Future Of Leadership Development With IESE’s Learning Innovation Unit

First published 1/2016. For most business school educators and their corporate clients, the moving frontier of executive education is the online classroom or perhaps MOOCs (massively open online courses). But educators at IESE Business School, overlooking and perhaps taking courage from Barcelona F.C.’s Camp Nou, are racing past this toward what they call “omni-learning.”

Omni-learning continuously and digitally integrates all real and virtual learning sites –classroom, workplace, customers’ premises and beyond.

The concept owes much to data-tracking adaptive feedback systems that have emerged in other industries, for example Fitbit wearables that track health and fitness activity and provide ongoing interaction with peers and feedback to doctors. Or, similarly, Waze (a Google company) which aggregates continuous distributed peer imputs about the state of traffic into knowledge that guides driver choices.

IESE Business School, Barcelona. Picture: the author

IESE Business School, Barcelona

In an IESE Insight position paper “The Road to Omni-Learning: How Digitalization is Changing the Way Executives Learn,” the directors of IESE’s Learning Innovation Unit, Drs Guiseppe Auricchio and Evgeny Kaganer, argue that eLearning is already “a relic” in merely adding an online component to traditional education.

So far use of digital technologies has been merely as instruments that tinker with an educational model that remains bound by the idea of instructor-led classroom-based learning.

But Auricchio and Kaganer anticipate that digital technologies will break the classroom paradigm entirely, allowing something altogether new in executive education: learner-led, peer-oriented, real-time adaptive knowledge acquisition that works seamlessly across all relevant sites and contexts.

I tracked down Giuseppe Auricchio for a one-one interview, here are the highlights:

Auricchio: “When I think executive education program, I don’t think Monday morning. I think ‘the learning experience’ , what is best possible way to achieve the learning outcome — accessing the most appropriate tool at each step?”

“We know a learner has to be motivated in order to learn. Yet we have passive, one-way, top-down delivery. We know a learner needs constant feedback, yet we currently have no way to do this other than an exam.

“Lectures are the worst way to learn. But in an analog world they are the only way to scale. Now digital technology is lifting these constraints, so we can start to do the things we know are right, but which practically and economically have not been feasible.


“Digital technologies will finally allow us to create learning that is much more aligned with the way we know real learning occurs—in situations that are social, collaborative, ongoing, and which personalize learning and assessment and giving the learner some control.”

In the IESE paper the authors explain further: “The number of organizations investing time and resources in alternative learning processes is growing fast. But they treat online learning as an optional extra to gain efficiencies–saving the time that executives spend away from work, and reducing travel costs, so the organization saves money. Meanwhile, the true intention–to improve learning effectiveness–gets lost.

“In your organization, don’t start by asking, “How can we do what we currently do better?” Instead ask, “What could be done at each key stage of the learning process to enhance or optimize the experience for learners, which integrates the respective strengths of online and in-person learning?”

Kaganer and Aurrichio isolate three key features of omni-learning:

  • Continuous and Cross-Context. These overlap, and are rooted in the idea that learning must be knitted into an executive’s everyday activities rather than be a standalone event. The range of an executive’s activities and, therefore, physical and virtual learning contexts necessarily spans all the places and situations the executive finds herself in, which all need to be captured and integrated.
  • Learner-Led. In formal learning, pathways and learning experiences are preselected by the lecturer or learning designer. In omni-learning, it is anticipated that participants identify and integrate learning moments themselves, including making the choices that personalize each learner’s journey to his own needs.
  • Data-driven. The learner-led moments embedded in everyday situations generate a rich data footprint, to be captured, stored and analysed to monitor each learner’s performance and personalize tasks. Crucially, data is not just a record of past activity — the learner’s path data is available to guide future choices. As with Waze, collaborative data feedback will guide best choices each learner can and should make next.

Collaborative data also plays a role in learners’ engagement and motivation. Again drawing on the analogy with Fitbit, the authors say there is a “motivational boost stemming from the ability to visualize one’s progress and to compete with others. Ultimately, this transforms the experience of (staying fit) from a fragmented set of difficult-to-sustain personal commitments to a holistic, social journey integrated into one’s everyday life.”


At present, omni-learning is an aspirational idea not an established practice, with the technology still clunky and buried in stand-alone apps. However IESE Executive Education is currently bootstrapping an engagement with one corporate client that embraces aspects of omni-learning logic, connecting in-class learning with external learning moments, including social and workplace platforms chosen by the learning cohort.

It allows executives to integrate what they are reading, talking about, or observing back into the education program, and make their information and usage data more readily available to all. The totality of activities, both physical and online, of all learners in the group is aggregated for general insight and benefit.

At the same time IESE is updating case studies with multimedia, providing links to relevant news and analysis, embedding Q&A to improve retention, and creating adaptive storylines to stimulate engagement.

When the full-blown vision arrives, omni-learning will go beyond the business school and the beyond any one specific executive program, allowing each executive learner to connect with other and even competing contexts, people, places and practices in an expert-guided but learner-led system.


Success depends on technology progress quickly allowing ease of use and quality of user experience, and according to Auricchio the technology is not too far off at this stage: “Google could pull it all together in six months.”

But progress in this direction involves more than just better technology. It involves a fundamental shift in the way learning is perceived, designed, and used.

Says Aurrichio: “What is harder is changing organizational culture and managerial mindsets inside organizations. The guru-led classroom has been the educational frame for at least 100 years. Omni-learning displaces the classroom and centers learning on the individual learner.

“Consider how most executive development is assembled. The starting point is usually a classroom-based core, augmented by some online component. Contrast that with how other digital products and service are offered today, where user-led experiences span channels and contexts, and which are characterized by user empowerment.”

Employees are being exposed to data-driven adaptive learning in their private lives. With this exposure comes new expectations that will drive what learning should look like at work.


Individuals will take control of their personal learning as an everyday activity integrated into other daily workplace activities, and be ready for options that go beyond simple blended online-offline modes into a set of continuous activities.

Client company or learner perceptions aside, the displaced classroom also implies deep challenges for business schools and other providers of executive development. Not least, the entire foundation of the current business model—billing per contact teaching day—will crumble and have to be rethought.

There will also be challenges to current executive education department programme design processes. Auricchio foresees a far less faculty-led model as learning design shifts from predictive-path “instructional design” to adaptive-path “learning experience design.”

Learning experience design will require a broader spectrum of actors, including a learning community experience manager and possibly data specialists.

At the same time, he remains savvy about the pace and extent of digital disruption in the executive education industry. “’Either-or’ framing is incorrect. It won’t be either online or face-to-face. Either omni-learning or a traditional program. Even with Fitbit we still go the gym!”


“Shopping is still shopping, but not what it was five years ago. It is still about buying a dress, but not as was. It is not just going down the high street. Nor is it just going online. It is about seeing the item, tweeting it to your friends, price comparing it, and getting it delivered. It is a continuous, seamless, online-offline digital experience.”

In the same way, in the next era of executive education the basic functions of teaching, coaching, mentoring, reading etc. will be recognizably fulfilled, both online and off-line. But these will be integrated into a continuous data matrix that will greatly expand options and benefits for learners and corporate purchasers of executive education.

Posted by admin in EdTech, Innovation, Learning

How Michigan Ross Can Give 500,000 Alumni Free or Half-Price Executive Education And Still Make Money

First published 10/2015 The University of Michigan Ross School of Business on October 12 announced free lifetime open-enrolment executive education for all its degree alumni, a business model inflection that raises interesting issues in strategic cannibalization, and which threatens the status quo of both MBA and wider short-course leadership development industries.

The “Alumni Advantage” offer means UM graduates have lifelong free access to executive education, in Ann Arbor, in Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, and online. Non-Ross UM alumni are eligible for half-price.

The offer applies only to open-enrolment executive education programs. The school will continue to operate custom in-company executive education in the normal way.

Still, there are about 3,400 students at Ross School at any one time (including about 400 MBAs, adding themselves consistently to 45,000 MBA alumni), and the University of Michigan estimates its global alumni base at more than 500,000. That’s a lot of people to promise free stuff to.

The question is how Ross can sustain this offer, and why it expects to gain more in value than it gives up in fees.

Picture: University of Michigan

The Ross School, University of Michigan. Picture: University of Michigan.

It is standard practice for executive education units to limit free or concession seats on programs so as to create a sustainable ratio of paying vs. non-paying delegates, and to cancel programs that don’t have enough paying delegates.

In this they are something like airlines. Once a program hits an acceptable profit (or acceptable strategic loss) threshold, the marginal cost of the unused seats is close to zero and and the revenue value of the empty seat is zero, so it’s relatively easy to give them away. Also, executive education can push class size, within reason, to accommodate the giveaway seats.

With obligation managed in this way, the only revenue loss to be born is the number of alumni who would have been full-price buyers of open programs multiplied by the value of what they would have spent. It’s hard to know what that number might have been, but we can assume that Ross Exec Ed knows its existing open-program customer base, and that it’s not thickly populated with paying UM alumni.

All this is why Professor Scott Derue, Ross School Associate Dean for Executive Education, in an interview with is able to say: “I do not expect a major impact on (Ross) Executive Education from a business perspective. We will continue to serve our clients at a high level and enroll participants from across the globe in our open-enrolment and custom programs.”

MBA Calculus

On the other side of the ledger, the move has various significant upsides.

First, it completely changes the Ross MBA cost-benefit calculation, not to mention that of all other Ross and UM degrees. The $61,590 per year (full-time MBA, out of state) for two years that the Ross MBA pays will now buy them as much business school education as they could ever use.

This should drive up MBA admissions interest, and therefore student quality, all of which will push the Ross MBA up the business school rankings, where it is currently ranked 24th in the world.

Full-time MBA–the  traditional flagship b-school degree–rankings have an disproportionate effect on the general reputation of a business school and the desirability of all its products and services. So pushing its MBA ranking gives the Ross School impetus in executive education and all across the board in gaining parity with the historically elite providers such as Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Chicago GSB, and European equivalents LBS and INSEAD.


There are other benefits. Open short-courses, which have always required a heavy and consistent marketing spend, are becoming harder than ever to sell due to mostly free MOOC (massively open online course) purveyors such Coursera, edX or Udacity, as well as readily available product from a myriad of b-schools, policy schools, and wider professional education providers. There is huge pressure on profit margins.

So Ross is astutely giving away product that has become quite difficult and costly to sell.

But part of the reason for keeping open programs going is they function as a “shop-window” for the in-company custom side of the business. This side, with bespoke programs designed to directly advance clients’ strategic and business interests, typically renews via senior relationships and is less sensitive to price.

Furthermore, from a marketing point of view, the alumni who see benefit in the open programs they will now attend become gateways to custom programs potentially sold to the organizations they work for.

Donor dividend

Still more benefit is to be had from genuine alumni integration into the life of the business school. B-schools tout the value of their global alumni networks, but beyond immediate cohort friendships this benefit is at least dubious, and perhaps widely overestimated.

When Derue says: “We are redefining the relationship between student and school to be a lifetime partnership,” he has a valid basis to claim there is a real possibility that Ross alumni will be around, involved, integrated, and so add value in a way that other schools cannot match.

And, to cap it all, there’s a likely quid-pro-quo donor dividend. Being active in the life of graduates and giving them clear and present value is not going to hurt the Ross School or UM when it comes time to solicit alumni donations.

Posted by admin in Innovation, Leadership, Learning

Executive Masters in Organizational Change Offers ‘Mindset Shift’

First published 3/2017. Activism is not usually a term that goes hand-in-hand with executive education, but in a world where “resistance” and “protest” are now everyday language among the educated middle-class, it’s not altogether surprising that a major U.S.-U.K. business school is offering a graduate studies program with a radical edge.
In an interview with, Academic Director and faculty on the new Ashridge Hult Executive Masters in Organizational Change (EMOC), Professor Steve Marshall, references Albert Einstein saying, “a problem cannot be solved from the same mindset that created it. ”

Ashridge Hult

Ashridge Business School. Inset Professor Steve Marshall

Problems we don’t seem to be able to shift using our habitual ways of thinking include “‘intractable’ issues like climate change, social justice, the growing gap between rich and poor, gender issues,” says Marshall.

“Without doing deep work about the way we think, anything we do to address the bigger problems we face will be so rooted in those problems that its unlikely to be effective.”

To break the mindset, Ashridge EMOC is dipping into its 20-year experience in Action Research.

While Action Learning is a well-known real-world oriented team learning process, its problem, says Marshall, is participants remain rooted in existing paradigms.

Action Research, by contrast, has an agenda of promoting “a spirit of participation, social justice, sustainability, equality, and leaders’ reflexivity in considering their own paradigmatic models that we would expect to see in leaders at this (senior) level.”
Ashridge, located in a former royal residence in Hertfordshire, England, merged operations with U.S. Boston-based Hult International Business School in September 2015.

At an outreach event at Ashridge House in February, course directors told potential participants and their organizational sponsors that EMOC is for participants who are facing volatile disruption, looking to acquire new skills to go about change and become leaders through working with disruption.

It is for participants who are “fed up with standard business school platitudes and want a different experience with a focus on application and wisdom.”

“Participative and reflective frameworks of Action Research offer better ways to intervene in complex systems and lead change in organizations facing a changing future.”

Enacting Action Research implies challenging and renewing the business education mindset, so EMOC designers are rejecting the Harvard b-school case method in favor of live cases that participants and their sponsoring organizations bring to the program.
Participants’ own real-life change projects are the case studies.

Marshall explains: “The world moves fast. Typical business school case studies become less and less relevant. We would rather participants bring the stuff they are currently working, and that will be our cases.

“Faculty and peers will work alongside delegates on the project work they bring in, interlaying and interweaving methodological considerations. We hold process for them.

“We engage with their current ‘mess,’ rather than offer polished solutions to past solved cases.”

A curriculum design that invites participants to work on their organization’s real-world business challenges also calls the sponsoring corporate (or professional or public sector organization) into direct engagement.

Our invitation to the sponsoring organization is “bring us your worst problems to work on,” says Marshall.

The two-year, part-time Masters program combines online learning and webinars with six three-and-a-half-day workshops held at Ashridge and Schumacher College in the U.K.

Posted by admin in Innovation, Leadership, Learning