The Opportunity of Lifetime Enrollment

BY Jeff Cobb


What if you enrolled in a graduate program and then never really graduated?

Instead, after an initial immersive experience, you are able to access “mini-courses” and other resources as they actually apply throughout your career. As a result, you are able to move from “learn-learn-learn-certify-wait-wait-wait-deploy” – often not very effective as a way of transferring real learning into the real world – to “learn-certify-deploy, learn-certify-deploy.”

Such is the potential of MBA programs as two Wharton Business School professors see it, according to a recent post on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog.  While not likely to replace the current model at Wharton or other institutions anytime soon, the vision has merit for many of the reasons I discuss in Leading the Learning Revolution, including:

  • It addresses the short shelf life of knowledge in our current global learning economy by allowing for a much more dynamic, flexible curriculum
  • It aligns much better with adult learning principles – indeed, learning principles in general – by embracing concepts like spaced learning and providing access to learning as it is most relevant to the learner
  • By focusing on a long term relationship with the learner, it represents a much higher-value and ultimately much more cost effective business model

Of course, in many ways, this sort of lifelong approach feels an awful lot like the continuing education and professional development that has traditionally been the province of trade and professional associations. I can see a number of ways in which things could evolve over the next decade:

  • Colleges and universities will become much more like membership organizations, perhaps with the traditional alumni association taking on a much richer and more sophisticated role in the higher ed business model. Actually, I already see plenty of evidence of this happening.
  • Trade and professional associations will become much more like more like colleges and universities. I’ve suggested this before, and certainly there is nothing about the “initial intensive experience plus ongoing mini-courses” model that couldn’t be handled by relatively traditional certification and certificate models. (And the trend toward microcredentials would certainly pay a role here as well.)
  • Significant, in-depth collaboration across the higher ed and association sectors. I don’t think there has ever been a more fertile time for this type of collaboration.

The model that prevails will no doubt vary on an industry-by-industry basis. If you are leader in either higher education or the association sector, now would certainly be the time to envision what the future could look like in your specific field or industry – and start formulating a strategy for leading the way.


P.S. – Here’s a passage from Leading the Learning Revolution that seems quite relevant in relation to the Chronicle post. It follows a discussion of Kevin Kelly’s concept of “true fans” and my own view that most organizations in the lifelong learning business are entirely too transactional in how they interact with learners. The approach envisioned by the Wharton professors has the potential, in my opinion, to be just the opposite – i.e., very relationship driven and long term:

I know from my own experiences that the “true fan” concept is one that is not embraced frequently enough in the market for lifelong learning. In my work with trade and professional associations, for example, I find it is very common for members to participate in only one or two educational experiences a year, and in spite of sending in a check for membership, to really not be engaged with the organization in any meaningful way. These are not fans. These are simply customers who are on autopilot. For the short term, they provide revenue, but there is not a whole lot of reason to trust that they will be around for the long term. Similarly, I am the graduate of two institutions of higher learning, and most definitely have an interest in continuing to learn about the major topics I studied at both institutions. And yet, neither institution has made a noticeable attempt to engage me as a lifelong learner—only as a prospective donor. [31-32]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *