Executive Education 4.0

January 18, 2022

The most important learning trends of the future

Learning in the age of digitalization: As knowledge needs to be constantly adapted, businesses are faced with entirely new challenges when it comes to educating managers and executives. Amassing knowledge is a thing of the past. The future will be all about understanding connections, reducing complexity and conceptualizing lifelong learning as a form of executive education in its own right. It is against this backdrop that Dr. Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé, former Managing Director of the WU Executive Academy, has taken a closer look not only at the pivotal role that an organization's digital culture will play in this context but also at what trends will shape the future of learning.

Dr. Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé holds a speech
Dr. Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé about the pivotal role that an organization's digital culture will play and trends will shape the future of learning.

An update for your mobile phone is available: It closes security gaps, makes your device compatible with new apps and ensures that you are up to date. Not only our phones but we too need such updates, and we do so more and more frequently. Nowadays, lifelong learning is more than a buzzword—it is about new ways of conveying knowledge and skills in the age of digitalization, and these ways are just starting to crystallize. Only gradually are we beginning to see the real manifestations and effects of the digital revolution. Similarly, the transformation in the field of executive education is an ongoing process whose repercussions are not clear yet. What is clear, though, is that effective education and training measures that address people's needs and requirements will continue to be based on the following core elements: bringing individuals together, boosting their motivation and their curiosity, creating networks and focusing on what really matters.

A matter of digital culture

Most businesses have come to realize that education and training play a vital role not least because of new technological developments. However, when it comes to turning theory into practice, things often get tricky: According to a study carried out by Bitkom, Germany's digital association, three employees in four lament that they do not have enough time at work to familiarize themselves with new technologies. People are expected to be literate as far as information technology is concerned, but this is not the sole purpose of further education and training. More importantly, the constant adaptation of knowledge is a prerequisite for businesses to become learning and understanding organizations in the very best sense of the word. “This will give businesses maximum flexibility at all times, making it possible for them to quickly respond to changes and proactively create their own future. The organization is learning and developing, and each and every individual should be doing the same so as to be able to adapt flexibly to exploit new opportunities both within the organization and on the job market,” says Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé, Managing Director of the WU Executive Academy.

Knowledge is power?

For decades, people have said that knowledge is power, but nowadays this is only partly true, given that knowledge alone has ceased to be a unique selling proposition, so to speak. What really matters today is to connect the dots between individual pieces of information and data, to come up with creative solutions to current problems and to swiftly respond to new demands. Information is easier and cheaper to obtain than in the past (thanks to Wikipedia, for instance), but it can quickly become outdated or unusable.

“What is more, the sheer volume of information is hardly manageable. Therefore, we need new approaches to providing and conveying information,” says Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé.

Learning as a form of executive education in its own right

What does this mean when it comes to education managers and executives in our digital age? Amassing knowledge is no longer the primary purpose of learning. What really matters is to connect the dots and realize that we learn always and everywhere. The key to achieving learning success is to bring our individual experience, new knowledge and our actions together, to engage in a process of reflection, to gain fresh insights along the way and to capitalize on them in the context of working in new fields, on new projects, etc. Learning thus becomes a form of further education and training in its own right.

Dr. Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé

  • Managing Director of the WU Executive Academy

For executive education to be successful in the age of digitalization, there have to be state-of-the-art learning opportunities that are geared to the individual needs and requirements of the learners. This is also reflected by the findings of a current study carried out by the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), one of the world's three leading accreditation agencies for business schools. We have taken a closer look at what this means in particular and what the most important trends are.

The trends:


In an environment where businesses are required to respond to radical change, speed is the single most crucial factor—and this also applies to learning. Hence, learning opportunities not only need to keep up with the times, which is getting easier thanks to technology, but also have to be offered in ways that perfectly cater to the needs and requirements of the learners. Learning ahead will no longer work in the future. We have to provide people with learning opportunities that prepare them for responding to new challenges every single day.

Motivation and enthusiasm

Motivation and enthusiasm are key elements of the new way of learning. Learning has to happen in such a manner that employees regard it as relevant and useful in the context of addressing the challenges facing them. If people can relate to learning opportunities and build on their existing knowledge, they will be enthusiastic, motivated and eager when it comes to learning and trying things out.

What is also important is to support people along the learning journey. As far as learning in online and offline spaces is concerned, this can be done by the instructors, who are no longer teachers in the traditional sense of the word but rather facilitators and supporters.

Availability—learning on demand

The availability of content is a key aspect of digitalization and hence also of learning: People expect that learning opportunities are readily accessible, for instance online, and that there is continuous interaction not only between those who teach and those who learn but also across all organizational levels. That is to say learning becomes an ongoing and interactive process.

Interdisciplinary content

As the rigid boundaries between industries, departments and areas of knowledge become blurred and finally disappear, in learning too new approaches that bring together and unite different fields are needed. Departments such as R&D, marketing, sales and finance are expected to join forces when it comes to working on innovative solutions, so they should also acquire knowledge together. This makes it easier for employees of the same business to learn from one another, and interacting with co-workers, both formally and informally, becomes part and parcel of the learning process.

“Knowing how to provide opportunities for further education and training in a targeted manner becomes not only a crucial factor in terms of whether or not a business will succeed but also an invaluable asset as far as the job market in concerned: Organizations where learning is seen as a decisive factor, and consequently plays a critical role, are attractive to employees,” says Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé with conviction.

Learning in the age of digitalization is the focus of the Executive Education of the WU Executive Academy!

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