Executive Education at Duke

Using video lectures for online degree programs has been around for roughly a decade and has seen a high rate of adoption. Online education as a concept has developed over a long time.

Liberty University first began its Online Degree program in 2009. It used recorded video lectures to deliver education to enrolled students remotely. It was the beginning of many more online programs to come. And today online education has evolved as it is getting closer to having the same credibility as in-person education programs.

The method of knowledge delivery, though, has not changed since.

Not the official logo of Duke University’s program

The Challenge

Understanding the intricacies of the student-university relationship and performing the ethnographic research process virtually.

We had to analyze interaction of the full-time employed students with their company and their involvement in the online education program. How can we bridge the gap between these students and the university with each student having different interests and schedules?

How the project came into existence

Over the years, number of applicants for distance programs in US have been gradually decreasing. This results in a very small cohort size whereas the programs have resources to accommodate much more students. There was a need to rethink the actual program and the future of online education at Duke.

The Director of distributed – Master of Engineering Management program presented this project in order to elicit ideas from students about improvements in how the program is tailored to early career professionals seeking higher education.

Our Team

We had a team of 6 graduate students from Duke pursuing fields like Business, Engineering Management, and Electrical Engineering with work experience ranging from 0 to 5 years.

The Problem Statement

Project Initiation

To begin the project, we had to identify if this problem was specific to Duke or if it troubled the whole online education sector. We started with a look at the background and the a competitive analysis.

Looking at similar Engineering Management departments and their distance programs’ competencies

Early Insights

Although the d-MEMP program has representation worldwide and is accessible to everyone, the current cohort has 95% domestic students.

The Stakeholders

We identified key stakeholders who are involved in decision-making and will play a vital role in our project.

Define, Refine, Validate

The process we structured to define the project scope and outcomes, refine the jobs-to-be-done, and validate them using consumer personas
(blurred to protect student data)

Key Insights

We engaged with the stakeholders to have a clear understanding of the limitations and resources available to us and the program. The end-users were distance students and the primary method of user interviews was virtual.

Set of questions prepared to clarify scope of project and get insights from the internal stakeholders

Customer Personas

We conducted student interviews to understand the depth of their interaction with various aspects of the program. We elicited this information via ethnographic interviews with distance students from 7 cohorts of the d-MEMP.

We created customer personas based on these interviews. Here are two from the ones we identified as representative users.

Empathy Mapping

The empathy mapping process to define how our personas behave and what they desire.

Personas in Focus

A final look at the personas and their top characteristics

Refreshing the Job-to-be-Done

We refreshed our job to be done to align closer to the personas. This helps steer clear from any prejudice or bias the client may have about their product.

Ideation Process

A representation of the ideation process with brainstorming and refining the ideas, with actual picture

The ideation process begins with brainstorming where the whole team sits down and tries to indulge in divergent thinking. We think for solutions to solve the identified jobs-to-be-done. The main goal of the session is to have as many ideas as possible (feasible and infeasible) for the process.

After having all the ideas out of our system, we come together as a group and refine the ideas on the board into groups of similar ideas or ideas that are a sub-category of another ideas. We then replace these multiple notes with one sticky note that represents all the ideas in that group.

Mapping the ideas for their Feasibility v/s. Impact

We take these representative ideas and map them on a plot of Feasibility v/s Impact. This helps us categorize the ideas and focus on the ones which closely align with our goals and resources.

This can be done in various ways. We used the voting method where each participant votes for the ideas they think is feasible and impactful. Using red dots for impact and green for feasibility. Everyone gets equal votes. Then we map the ideas based on the votes they receive on these two criteria.

Ideas with high impact and high feasibility are no-brainers i.e. they are obvious choices.
The other ones can be worked with if we find a way to improve their impact/feasibility.

Validating the Ideas

We validated our ideas by creating storyboards and napkin pitches.
These give us a clear picture of the user’s interaction with our solution.

Sample storyboard
Napkin pitch for our idea – Specialized Certification Tracks
Napkin pitch for our idea – Professional Development Program for Companies

Business Analysis

Now that we have our idea, we focused on analyzing them from a go-to-market and business perspective. We used Porter’s six forces to analyze the market strategy for a new product or idea. Using Drucker’s Discipline of Innovation, we verified if our idea matches the seven unique characteristics of an innovation from a business success point-of-view.

Analysis using Porter’s Six Forces and Drucker’s Discipline of Innovation

Co-Create, Learn and Loop

Co-creation helps us get continuous feedback from the stakeholders by getting them involved in the idea at its early stage.
We get valuable inputs about what is useful to them and what could be cut down or tried further.
We go back and try those things, till we have something substantial to go forward with.

Our Solution

Providing Executive Education
This is the primary solution that we targeted. It includes using a defined three-step process by the University.

1. The University first needs to partner with companies which do not have a developed professional training or development program. Duke can leverage its reputation and quality of education to partner with these companies.

2. Since the early career professionals seek maximum value in their time, we offer them a two-week intensive “Micromasters” degree. This is one customized course which could be offered on-site or online to the students.

3. We provide them the option of stackability which offers them an option to complete a few more required courses and stack all those “Micromasters” to get a specialized track certificate.

Although, this is just the first step in our final solution which is essentially a process to funnel students into the d-MEMP program.

The funnel begins with the Exec-Ed program which exposes the students to pursue a specialized certificate due to its structure. Students completing the certificate program are attracted to the d-MEMP program because it is very feasible to complete another certificate in order to get a degree.
A snapshot of all our solutions included in the final d-MEMP funnel

The Impact

Our ideas were validated after our final presentation to the d-MEMP Director and other key stakeholders from Duke. The feedback was positive and our presentation validated their thoughts about the student perception as well. A majority of the solutions are under development and will be put to use soon.

Specifics have been omitted due to a non-disclosure.

For further reading and referencing, follow the links below.
Final project paper
Final presentation