An investigation into the effectiveness of executive education
: A comparative analysis of British programmes.

  • Rita-Marie Murtagh

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


Executive education programmes since their inception have sought to embed knowledge, to upskill individuals, and to create better leadership capabilities in participant learners. All too often the traditional pedagogies which involved the teaching of theory and examining static case studies stymied attempts to purposefully help individuals to become more effective in their strategic decision-making as well as being more agile leaders in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. This research examines a more contemporary approach to executive education through a specific programme which apart from theoretical analysis, embeds high volumes of executive coaching (Tushman et al., 2017) and mentoring; live organisational inquiries which are reported on at Board-level; and much work on critical and iterative self-reflection for behavioural change. A Case Study Research (CSR) approach was utilized (Yin, 2014) to understand the lived experiences of executive education participants, and whilst the data was self-reported, the responses on behavioural change were also tested for statistical significance. The findings showed that when compared to comparison programmes which offered a more traditional pedagogy, the target programme generated higher levels of satisfaction in the pedagogy, higher levels of personal and organisational return on investment (ROI), and higher levels of positive behavioural change. Attention was also paid to the perceptions of co-workers who work alongside the target CSR group to test confirmatory patterns. It is clear that if executives are encouraged to be agile, then business schools must also adopt this plasticity in terms of their executive education offerings which need to be innovative, adaptive, fit-for-purpose, provide return-on-investment (ROI) regarding course fees, and must be delivered by individuals who can deliver relevance and rigour. That said, many business schools often employ small numbers of academic staff who also have significant industrial consulting experience. To that end, programmes which offer the much more contemporary and relevant offering can lose impact quickly where there is a change in faculty members.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2024
Date of AwardDec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorTony Gallagher (Supervisor)


  • Executive education, behavioural change, academic-practitioner divide, rigour-relevance gap, qualitative, statistical significance, case study research

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