Online Learning: 3 Cutting Edge Director Development Options



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by Tamara Paton in Professional development
online learning

The World Economic Forum expects the global online learning market to exceed US$255 billion in 2017. The latest Global Shapers study found that 77% of 18 to 35-year olds surveyed have taken an online class. And I’ve benefitted from e-learning so much that I created my own online training program for those building a board career.

With world-class institutions offering online courses, high-quality learning opportunities can be found with a few mouse clicks. If you haven’t already sampled your options, consider 3 ways that e-learning can fuel a board director’s professional development.


MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – are a Canadian invention. In 2008, 25 tuition-paying students at the University of Manitoba took an online course alongside 2,200 members of the public who enjoyed the content for free. Later on, the New York Times declared 2012 “The Year of the MOOC,” when several well-financed providers emerged hungry for content.

Today, more than 10 million students have learned via edX, a non-profit MOOC platform featuring professors from Harvard, MIT, Oxford, and IIT. For-profit platforms Udemy and Coursera boast 15 million and 25 million users, respectively.

Non-profit executives and directors may be interested in Coursera’s Improving Leadership & Governance in Nonprofit Organizations specialization. It consists of three courses and a capstone project, all centred on non-profit board performance. Directors may also benefit from Coursera’s cybersecurity program or its refresher on workplace communication skills. Udemy has a well-regarded introduction to IT Governance, a focus on emotional dynamics on boards, and a how-to program on building a top-performing advisory board.

Personally, I’m most interested in Udacity’s “nano degree” programs in digital marketing and artificial intelligence. And I’m curious to see how Harvard Business School’s first real-time online class will pan out this summer.

Professional associations

Organizations like the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and Institute for Corporate Directors (ICD) are also getting in on the online learning action. In partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, the NACD offers certification in cybersecurity oversight. And the NACD webinar archive includes more than 60 videos on topics like pay for performance, board effectiveness, and technology risk.

North of the border, the ICD follows suit with video learning series on family enterprise governance, advisory boards and non-profit boards. You’ll need a member ID to access ICD webinars on audit committee effectiveness, D&O insurance, and dozens of other relevant topics. And an upcoming webinar from the Canadian Bar Association will explore what lawyers need to know before joining a non-profit board.

Blended delivery models

If all of this seems like a bridge too far, you may wish to get started with a blended learning program. These courses pair online learning with in-person classroom time to convey information and build capabilities efficiently.

The Directors College Audit Committee Certified program begins with an e-learning module and finishes with an in-person simulation. Royal Roads University offers a number of graduate certificate programs that balance online learning and intense small-group residencies on campus. (I’m going to start the Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching program there this fall. Come join me!)

Perhaps you’ll study leadership with a Wharton professor. Or explore public speaking with TED’s Chris Anderson. If all of this seems too serious, you can brush up on your guitar skills. Whatever your development interests, there is bound to be an online learning option for you.

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Online Learning: 3 Cutting Edge Director Development Options

by Tamara time to read: 2 min