August 2017 | 

Wharton Online: Business Education Anywhere, Any Time

Wharton Online

For the last 136 years, the Wharton School has strived to fulfill founder Joseph Wharton’s directive to teach students to cope with “the immense swings upward or downward that await the competent or the incompetent soldier in this modern strife" of global commerce.

In 2015, Wharton Executive Education began offering the same level of world-class learning to the internet through Wharton Online. The project aims to help both companies and workers tackle today’s “immense swings” in the new skills needed to thrive in our era of rapidly changing technology.

Anna Trumbore, senior director of Wharton Online, said she sees an increasing role for universities to work with corporations in this fast-growing space.  “It’s something that higher education does very well — teaching people to be agile thinkers, and instilling a love of learning,” she says. An added goal is “to link learning with engagement, so that the company-specific skills then can be delivered by the enterprise or by the corporation.”

Trumbore recently spoke on the issue at Wharton Executive Education’s Global Talent Management Summit. She noted that in just two years, Wharton Online has issued over 100,000 course completion certificates, some 70 percent of them to students from outside the United States, to those eager to broaden their business knowledge, primarily for career advancement.

The challenge now — not just for Wharton Online, but as voiced by others at the session “Educating Your Workforce at Scale,” which included leaders from LinkedIn Learning and Burning Glass Technologies — is to better tailor internet offerings to skills that businesses will need in the near future, as technologies and strategies change rapidly.

Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass, told the Wharton audience that his labor analytics firm looks to address what he calls “a signal processing problem” in the job market. Roughly 20 percent of workers are either unemployed or under-employed even as U.S. corporations lose billions on bad hires or the cost of recruiting to fill open slots. He said HR leaders are increasingly looking to develop or hire workers who can adapt to the skills needed a couple of years from now, as technologies change. “If you can see where the puck is going,” Sigelman said, “understanding the skills that are coming to be really important in the market overall to you as a business, you can start to plan for them.”

Increasingly, academic institutions like Wharton as well as large corporations are finding the most accessible venue for mid-career training is through the internet. “We became a leader online because we wanted to increase educational access for executives who could never come to the Wharton School,” says Dean Geoffrey Garrett.

That’s already resulted in more than 3 million enrollments in more than 30 online courses, and Wharton Online continues to update its offerings to make them more accessible through smartphones and mobile devices. Wharton Online also features more specialized online professional education, and is working with individual companies to customize programs that can accommodate the learning needs of 500 or more employees,

At the recent summit, experts said the increasing ease of offering online courses has altered the long-held notion that career learning had a “70-20-10 rule” — 70 percent came through on-the-job experience, 20 percent through mentoring, and just 10 percent from classroom-type instruction. Mike Malefakis, CEO and Associate Vice Dean of Wharton Executive Education, said the mentoring and learning are becoming a bigger part of that equation as employers focus more on their future challenges. “What we are homing in on,” Malefakis said at the Wharton summit, “is helping companies identify and develop agile learners so that executives who have the motivation to enhance their skill sets can do so as their career path progresses.”

The biggest adjustment now underway, according to speakers on the Wharton panel, involves steering more online students from certification classes for personal enrichment toward focused career advancement and the specific skill areas where employers are finding or projecting shortfalls.

Sonia Hardaway, chief learning officer at Bristol-Myers Squibb, who attended the Wharton summit, said that while her company still believes in classroom learning and group experiences such as webinars, the firm has found that its younger workers are increasing pushing for knowledge through their personal mobile devices, where about 50 percent of learning already takes place.

“The reason we're making it available with a single sign-on from any device,” said Hardaway of the pharmaceutical firm’s educational offerings, “is because we know that people want to learn when they want to consume things and it's happening on the baseball field, on the trains, in their cars while they're commuting.”