Success factors in building online executive development programs in three universities: A collective case study

Open Access
Stopper, Angela
Graduate Program:
Workforce Education and Development
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 19, 2013
Committee Members:
  • William J Rothwell, Dissertation Advisor
  • Judith Ann Kolb, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Albert Vicere, Special Member
  • Executive Education
  • Distance Education
  • Online Community of Learning
  • Non-Credit Education
  • Workforce Education
The purpose of this study was to investigate the process used by three top-ranked university Executive Education Departments in the United States to develop online program portfolios. Using the conceptual framework of the Soft Skills Learning Triangle to guide the research, this study provides direct insight into the design process used, as well as strategic insight into why universities chose to enter the online market and how they went about building the business case within their university to support the venture. This study used the comparative case study method to answer research questions about how technology is being used in executive education, as well as how the online portfolio was developed (who were the key stakeholders and what roles did they play, what tools were used to build the online community of learning, and what was the program design process). To answer these questions, interviews within each university executive education department with relevant individuals were conducted, documents were collected and reviewed, direct observation of programs were completed, and physical artifacts were analyzed. Based on the study, the researcher concluded that three different development models were used: (1) self-created (using only internal university resources), (2) partnership (partnering with an external online education company), and (3) blended (using internal university resources supplemented with external contract partners when appropriate). Although different, all three models included a research phase and a design phase, which are described in detail. Additionally, lists of the technology used and stakeholders and their roles are discussed. The ideas of asynchronous learning and creation of online communities of learning are also explored. Findings from this study have a number of important implications for both researchers and practitioners in the executive education field. For researchers, this study lays the groundwork for additional, necessary research to be completed as new university providers enter the market. For practitioners, this research provides a template for the development of strategic plans for expansion into the online market. It also shows that the online executive education market can be reached successfully using resources available to any university with a small budget and sufficient determination.