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What is Executive Education?

You may be an individual who’s reached a point in your career where you’re thinking about developing new skills to advance your career, or you may be a HR professional looking for training courses to upskill members of your organization. In either case, while researching various types of training, you may have come across executive education (also known as exec-ed and ExEd) and wondered what exactly it is. 

At, we’ve put together a guide to help you understand what executive education is, and how it varies from other types of training. We hope this guide will help you decide whether executive education is the right training option for you and/or your organization.

What is Executive Education?

The short answer is that executive education programs are short, non-degree courses for professionals offered by business schools at universities and colleges.

Executive education courses usually focus on particular skill sets, topics, roles or industries. Executive education training courses can be completed in much shorter time frames than say, an MBA degree program.

Some executive education programs are modular - these executive education courses build on each other, for instance, from introductory to advanced levels.

Available Executive Education Formats and Delivery Methods

There are two main types of executive education programs: open enrollment and customized programs.

  • Open enrollment programs are courses that are offered by university- or college-based business schools on selected dates throughout the year. Open enrollment courses are open to participants from all companies and organizations.

  • Customized programs are programs that are tailored to the needs of your organization. Your organization will work with an executive education provider to design specialized programs that enable your managers and executives to develop particular skills and knowledge.

Executive education programs are delivered in a wide variety of methods. The courses can be offered online (e-learning and webinars), via in-person classroom learning at certain locations specified by the business school, or on-site at your organization. To find the delivery method that best suits your needs, go to our executive education programs page and filter by the course delivery method.

Who Usually Enrolls in Executive Education Programs?

Executive education courses are aimed at managers, leaders and executives from all kinds of organizations around the world. 

Executive education training programs are designed for employees and individuals who are pressed for time but who wish to develop certain skills.

The seniority and experience of those who are enrolled in executive education courses mean that the participants will bring a deep and wide range of knowledge and experience to the classroom. 

This leads to a unique feature of a typical executive education course. Busy and demanding professionals are likely to challenge their peers in the classroom as much as the lecturers - leading to an environment that is conducive for a fruitful exchange of ideas and knowledge.

The calibre of the participants in executive education programs also means that executive education courses offer excellent networking opportunities for you and your peers both within and outside of your organization and industry.

How is Executive Education Different From Other Training Programs?

There are various ways in which executive education programs differ from other types of training programs. We’ll look at how executive education differs from MBA programs and massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Executive Education vs MBA

Here are some key differences between executive programs and MBA programs:

  • While both executive education and MBA programs are programs that are offered by business schools, executive education programs are much shorter than MBA programs. 

  • Unlike MBA programs which are degree programs, executive education programs are typically non-degree programs. Executive education courses may lead to the award of certificates and may offer continuing education units that are accepted by certain professional bodies.

  • Students who undertake an MBA can expect to develop a broad range of management skills. In contrast, executive education courses aim to develop students’ skills in specific areas. An example of an executive education course that is focused on developing particular aspects of participants’ skills is Columbia Business School Executive Education’s 3-day course on financial analysis and valuation.

  • Participants who attend executive education programs typically have a wider range of experience and are older than MBA students. Nicolas Fahrni, a program advisor at Switzerland's IMD Business School notes that the average age of their MBA students is around 30 years old while those who enroll in executive education courses can range between 28 and 45 years old and older.

  • The older age range of executive education programs’ participants is because many executive education courses are aimed at senior executives and experienced managers. These senior executives tend to bring a deeper and broader range of experience to the classroom than a younger and less experienced MBA cohort.

Executive Education vs MOOCs

Online courses are a well-established course delivery method for executive education programs globally. However, we should make a distinction between the online delivery of executive education courses and massive open online courses (MOOCs).

MOOCs are free or low-cost courses offered via online platforms such as Coursera and Udemy. The most popular MOOCs can attract hundreds of thousands and even millions of students.

The vast majority of MOOCs offered on business subjects are at an introductory level, with words like “foundations”, “introduction” and “fundamentals” in the course titles. MOOCs are thus a viable option for learning basic skills - perhaps as a precursor to taking more advanced executive education programs on a business school campus.

However, MOOCs are unable to meet the primary objectives of the target students of executive education courses. The main audience for executive education programs are senior executives and managers, for whom time scarcity is a key issue. 

Renu Kulkarni, Associate Dean of Executive Education at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business says of Booth’s audience of senior executives, “they tell us that being able to spend three to five days on our campus, in a high-touch environment with faculty and professional peers, is something they just can’t get anywhere else.” 

This shows that MOOCs cannot currently substitute for the executive education course learning environment. Attendees of executive education programs continue to prize the spontaneous, immersive and immediate interaction - whether in-person or online - they can get with faculty and peers in an executive education classroom.

Are you ready to take your career to the next level?

Find & compare executive education programs from leading business schools around the country today!

Browse executive education programs

About the Author

Carol Pang is a Digital Content Editor for Prior to this, she has 12 years of experience in the corporate and financial sectors.

She believes that people are fundamental to an organization’s success, and that effective training can create a motivated and engaged workforce.

Last updated: 08 Dec 2020

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