Leading Economic Growth 2020: Moving Executive Education Online during a Pandemic

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written by Salimah Samji

In March 2020, Harvard University decided to move all classes to online-only, in an effort to de-densify our campus and to slow the spread of COVID-19. It soon became clear that remote learning was going to be our new normal. 

At the time,  Leading Economic Growth, a longstanding 5-day residential executive education program co-chaired by the Growth Lab’s Ricardo Hausmann and BSC’s Matt Andrews, was scheduled for May 2020. Participants had already applied for this program, but we needed to make a decision: should we not offer it until next year or do we pivot to online?

We observed that the lockdowns and other measures that countries were employing in response to the pandemic were exacerbating the large economic disparities that exist around the globe, and the need to build public sector capability to meet this challenge had never been greater. We strongly believed that it was an important time to convene policymakers and practitioners around the critical economic issues all cities, regions, and countries were facing. Drawing on BSC’s past experience running both online programs and blended learning programs, we put our knowhow into action and pivoted a 5-day residential program into a 10-week online program.

The program used a three-part model: you learn the concept, practice by applying the concepts, then reflect on the application to your context. We designed the course to include two asynchronous content sessions and one live question and answer session with the faculty each week. Participants were required to identify an economic growth challenge in their city, region or country, that they would use to apply the concepts, frameworks, and tools they learned each week. Participants also attend a weekly peer learning group session where they could engage with each other and deepen their understanding. 

This was one of the first executive education programs to pivot online at the Harvard Kennedy School. We launched the program in early April with three weeks to market the program. Given the short time frame, we expected to seat a class of 50-60 participants. Nevertheless, there was a huge demand; we received over 300 applications and we enrolled 222 participants!

216 participants from 64 countries successfully completed the 10-week program.

 82% of the participants rated the assignments as extremely or very useful, and 67% attended their first executive education program. We were able to leverage the disruption to not only continue training development leaders around the world, but also improve access to training by allowing more people to enroll and expanding representation from a greater variety of countries.

Here are some comments from participants:

Leading Economic Growth (LEG) Online was a terrific course that gave me useful theories, analytical paradigms and tools to use to address challenges and opportunities related to economic development in my country, the region and globally.  The extended structure coupled with the online facilitation of the course enabled a deeper learning environment due to the 10-week length compared to the five-day residential version of LEG.  The 10 weeks allowed for more extensive reading, reflection and time to process what we were learning.  The group work, assignments and weekly, live discussions with Professors Hausmann and Andrews made for a fantastic course.  The cohort was impressive and my learning was definitely facilitated further by the knowledge shared by the other LEG online classmates.  I can’t say enough about the course, and I highly recommend it.” 

Gillian Pearl, Australia

The extraordinary diversity of the participants was unique and we exchanged ideas and perspectives weekly, in a very meaningful way. I was also really happy with the atmosphere of openness the LEG team built, encouraging us to advance our critical-thinking and ideas on development and policy
implementation to tackle challenges we truly care about

Isabel Tarrisse da Fontoura, Brazil

The Leading Economic Growth Online course helped me to revisit and refresh my thinking on how best to tackle challenges involved in leading effective processes of economic growth and development. The course also provided me with some very useful tools with which to conceptualize growth problems and with which to lead wider discussions on economic challenges.” 

Dr Kenneth Creamer, South Africa

I found the quality of the virtual teaching material to be excellent and the course was well-paced. The social learning approach (with the devolution of discussion and assignments to study groups) also worked very well because I was part of a collaborative and committed group. We had useful engagements on the learning themes and were exposed to a range of applied learning experiences in four different countries because of our group discussions. I would recommend this course very highly for mid-career development professionals with an interest in how to make economies work better.” 

Sharon Lewis, Bangladesh

Throughout the course, we also held weekly check-in meetings with our team of teaching assistants who provided feedback on the participants’ weekly assignments. These meetings were instrumental in helping us to understand what the participants were struggling with and to make real-time content changes. The act of grading also helped clarify concepts and cement their own learning.

Being a grader for this course was an amazing opportunity. Not just because I could revisit many concepts that I learned while at HKS but because it gave me the opportunity to interact and share ideas with participants that are trying to accomplish really hard challenges. It was really satisfying engaging in conversations with them, witnessing how eager they were to learn, and appreciating how grateful they were with our comments.”

Participants wrote learning journey blogs which we will be posting over the next few months. You can read some of them here.

We are offering Leading Economic Growth online again from March 1 – May 7th 2021. To learn more, visit the course website.


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