S1:E20 Pardeep Kullar – Building an online professional education program from the ground up
June 16, 2021 | News
Pardeep Kullar shares her experience building Kullar College as a fully online executive education institute. She shares the skills that they provide and some of the challenges they faced along the way. www.kullar.edu
Tyler Jacobson 0:00
Welcome to LabChats, a podcast from the team at LabStats. I’m Tyler Jacobson, your host for today’s episode. Each week we’ll sit down with technology leaders in higher education to get the latest buzz and insights while we discuss current events, trends, problems and solutions. Now let’s get into it. Today for LabChats, we are joined by Pardeep Kular, who is the Founder and Chief Learning Designer for Kular College. So Pardeep give us a little bit of background on Kular College and your experience and we can take off in the conversation.
Pardeep Kular 0:36
Sure. Hi, everyone. So my name is Dr. Pardeep Kular, and I found the Kular College last year which actually launched this year. And so Kular College focuses on leadership development in three domains. We focus on Analytics Leadership, Agile Leadership and Inclusive Leadership. And in the creation of our institution, we paid attention to the market demand and kind of taking a look at what was needed in terms of the next generation of leadership, versus the traditional models of leadership that focus on like leadership traits, like charismatic leadership or transformational leadership, or servant leadership, we wanted to focus more on the tactical component that would move companies and organizations as well as their people forward. So that’s a little bit.
Tyler Jacobson 1:27
Okay, excellent. So are your customers more geared towards the businesses or towards the people that you’re wanting to enroll in your courses? Or are they the same?
Pardeep Kular 1:40
So right now, Kular College is a B2C. So really, we target students, individuals that want to learn and uplevel their leadership insights and capacity to lead. They want to take on additional projects or greater responsibility or you know, lead a team, anything like that, as well as executives and VPs, managers that are ready in that space that want to learn a little bit more acumen, and gain insight into specific leadership strategy that focuses on analytics driven leadership or agile leadership, especially during the time like with COVID happening, where all companies had to make massive changes immediately. And inclusive leadership, which is, you know, an urgent topic in today’s economy.
Tyler Jacobson 2:28
Okay, so what courses do you currently offer?
Pardeep Kular 2:31
So we offer three programs. We have analytics leadership, which really focuses on helping leaders learn how to use data to drive strategy and growth, how to look at the numbers and understand the story that the numbers are telling, and also how to focus on the right numbers. A lot of times, what we find is that individuals…[that] in organizations there are specific individuals that have a lot of data. But that data is a little bit disaggregated, it’s a little bit chaotically, structured. There’s no story they can pull out of it, because they don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for. So we help guide them on how to find the right information to pinpoint the right data that they need to make a decision on how to move forward strategically. And that’s one of our programs. And then we have Agile Leadership, which focuses on just innovation. If we look at the core of agile, it’s really team innovation. Agile is a term that’s been really popularized in the project management space, and with Scrum, and Kanban, and all these other things. But really, agile is a leadership strategy. If you put it into place effectively, it really opens the doors for creative and innovative teams to take the lead and move the company forward with these small projects that could be iterated and iterated until there’s a final landing place where they land and they say this is what we’re ultimately looking for. A lot of times, what we found was that through my own experience, companies are delayed in taking action because they get lost in the planning process. And planning takes two years, before they even get into implementation or even like the project of taking action on the planning. And in today’s economy, you’re going to be a dead company if you spend two years in planning, right? So we’ve got to get you to iterate and get into this concept of having an agile mindset. And you develop that through the practices. And so we really kind of hone in on helping leaders understand what those practices look like. And then our last program is Inclusive Leadership. And that one really focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion, given the circumstances of what’s going on in our world today of all of the hate and the movements of inequality or inequity, and so we really are highlighting a little bit of a deeper level of understanding of what inequality and inequity has looked like and how as a leader, you can make some changes. And what that would mean to create belonging in a space of inclusiveness for all of your people, versus just a select few. And so it’s a deep level program. There is a lot of personal exposure, I would say that an individual has to feel comfortable sharing in order to get the most benefit out of it.
Tyler Jacobson 5:32
Excellent. I kind of interjected after that first one, because that’s very close to our heart at LabStats because it has data on for instance, computer lab usage and things like that. But they need to be able to get the data formatted in a way that will answer the question. So if you’re looking at a high level question, you need high level data. And if you’re looking at a very specific question, you need to be able to get very, very specific filters and things like that applied to answer a question. So I understood that first one fairly well, and the other sounds like great, great programs, just things that I’m a little less familiar with. So we had talked just a little bit before. Before we started recording. You started this in the last year and a half. Is that accurate?
Pardeep Kular 6:25
Yes. So Kular College actually launched in March of 2021. But the culmination of it has been in progress for the last year and a half or so. And I could even trace it back to maybe the last 10 years, because the formation of Kular College I should say, developed out of my own experience as an executive coach. So I’m also…I’m an administrator in the higher ed space. And then I also had this sidetrack career, which was as an executive coach for some big companies. And in the work that I did as both an administrator in higher ed and as an executive coach, I realized there was a need for really revamping what leadership looked like, but also what the educational delivery model looked like for the modern learner. So it was like when I looked at myself, and I said, “Okay, let me just take myself as an example. I’m a high functioning, high performing, high level executive in the higher ed space, and how much time do I have to commit to a leadership development program?” And if I’m learning online, what do I want that program to look like? What do I want it to consist of? And so really, we built this model of like finding…So [I experienced] the same thing, when I was coaching. Looking at a lot of the clients [that] I was coaching, were in similar high level positions as myself. So we were looking at that, like, what are the needs of this niche clientele? And we really developed a program that would target and hit them and meet their needs. Whether it was like we need quick access to learning, we need it to be robust, we need it to be informative, we need it to be meaningful, we need to be engaging, but we need it also to be self-paced and available for us when we need it versus being controlled by someone else telling us when and what not. I took programs through a couple of different organizations myself in large institutions to kind of get a sense of what online learning could look like. And before I transitioned into it, I would tell you back in, like 2017, I had thought about the idea of transitioning from being a[n] on ground executive education training company to being an online company. And I had nixed the idea, because I had said, “Well, you know what, you can’t get the same experience online as you get on ground because we have that person to person connection. In person that just can’t be emulated on the ground online even in this virtual space.” And so then we went a little bit further from that when we started developing color and color already, as we launched in March. And we’ve already gone through one big reiteration in our program, in our offering, [which was] the instructional delivery model. And that really is to make it self-paced, completely isolating the requirement for a live interaction or commitment on the students’ part because they don’t have that time, especially during COVID. When they have children at home, they’ve got all these other family obligations, work has been a little bit more stressful than normal, because of all the changes going on. So we’ve really taken that into account to create something unique that still gives them a personalized experience. But without having them make a commitment to a specific time slot that they’ve got to say, “Okay, from 11 to noon, every Wednesday, I’ve got to be here.” And what we also did was we took a strategy that is not common in the online space, and we created a one day intensive. Really a model that’s unique to say, “Hey, we’re going to give you the same experience that you would have if you took an executive certificate program, which is usually a weekend seminar that you do in these high intensity environments, right? With networking, collaboration, group work, things like that. And we’ve taken that we said, we’re gonna do the same in a one day intensive, because giving you a three day intensive of online is a little bit much, but we can do it in one day, and the student has the option to break it up, whether they want to do it in a day and five days and five weeks, however they want to go about it. And that’s been really a unique factor for us, in driving a lot more desire, I should say, because the students are…you know, it’s kind of like, the “quick fix” economy, you know? I want it now and I want it immediately. But at the same time it’s a deep dive. We do a lot of things like, learning that integrates the concepts into their understanding and their knowledge base. And we carry a student through from understanding all the way to application, and then even evaluation. So they get the full spectrum in that one day.
Tyler Jacobson 11:05
So I’m assuming with the one day, that would be more of a joining together in some sort of format that it’s live, or is the one day intensive, just a…they’re on their own completing the material.
Pardeep Kular 11:18
Yeah, so it’s not necessarily there on their own completing their material, there is group [work] that happens, but it’s not live. So they have group interaction. So they get to interact with learners globally, but it’s not live. So they can be on their learning at 3am. If they want or learning at 8pm if they want or midnight for all it matters to us. And we also have integrated AI. So we’ve looked at AI and utilized AI as an instructional methodology to really deliver a personalized one on one experience for the student throughout every lesson by having some interaction with someone.
Tyler Jacobson 12:01
Okay. So what is the end result? Is it a formal degree? Is it a certification? What do your students…what are they working towards?
Pardeep Kular 12:11
They get an executive certificate. So it is a formal certificate in that leadership. So whether it’s analytics leadership, agile leadership, or inclusive leadership. It’s a formal sort of executive certificate. And we opted not to provide a leadership certificate specifically because having the insights and the knowledge base to lead with a specific skill set or in the domain of a specific skill set is very different from being a leader in that skill, in that skill set. And so we were very thoughtful and mindful of that, and ensured that the certificate we offered was appropriately classified. And the reason why it’s executive is because the quality of the content that we’re providing is at the executive level. We’ve partnered with Harvard Business School for our curriculum. So it’s not a curriculum that we’ve created with industry experts, or anybody else, but really, with vetted researchers and professionals and leaders, global leaders in their space.
Tyler Jacobson 13:13
So are you still getting the feedback from the corporate world of what, what types of things? Are they hoping that their employees are going to be able to gain out of this? And how is it enriching their employability and their job success?
Pardeep Kular 13:28
Yeah, so a couple of things have been going on. Some of [it] is I think a lot of corporations are just feeling a little bit stressed, and they’re a little bit disoriented. So they’re, like, “We need this, and we need this. And we need this. And we need this and we don’t know how to get it.”, is kind of a lot of it. So a lot of it has been kind of helping them channel and direct that and for us to guide them to say, “Hey, this is where we think you should start your employees,” or “We should focus on this area or this area.” So really kind of helping them streamline it to say “This is this is the one domain that we think your need is in right now. And this is the starting point we can build out on it. But this is where we recommend starting,” If they’ve got like, for example, if they’ve got someone that’s a high functioning executive that’s got like maybe a large domain of responsibility, we would suggest that they take all of our programs, and then they would get an executive diploma in an organizational leadership. So that would encompass the analytics, the agile and the inclusive leadership components into it. And with that, they have broader scope, broader understanding and broader responsibility.
Tyler Jacobson 14:42
Excellent. So what challenges have you run into as far as marketing and getting awareness because that just seems like a daunting task to me.
Pardeep Kular 14:53
Yeah, you know, it’s been quite interesting with the marketing piece. It really is daunting. It’s a little bit unknown. All So in the higher ed space as well, so when we’ve reached out to different marketing agencies to an all encompassing digital agencies to see if they want to partner with us, some of the feedback we’ve gotten is that this is a new area for them. And they don’t really know how but they’re open to learning. You know, we’ve tried a couple of marketing firms to see how it’s going to see if we can get that kind of space. And that idea of finalized and master, and we’re still looking at that, I think we are getting closer and closer, because I think they’re, I mean, obviously, there’s lots of schools that have been marketing online, you know, so our model is uniquely different, because we have kind of isolated that that experience of the student can start whenever they want, versus there’s a set start date to work target targeting or marketing for a specific start date. And, but we are working with a couple of firms now that have some experience and have shown us some good data, and some good case studies that have their own. And so it’s, it’s, it’s a work in progress. But I do think in a year from now, we’ll probably have a lot more insight on how to, you know, lead marketing for, you know, higher education in a digital world.
Tyler Jacobson 16:14
Excellent. So as you’ve been talking, I drifted for just a minute. And is this program something where it fit? Is it something that is potentially a replacement for something like the MBA? Is it in addition to, is it…like, how does that fit in the spectrum of what people think of traditionally?
Pardeep Kular 16:38
Yeah, so it’s not a replacement, we do think it’s a great addition. And so one of our students, I think he even had said that, you know, he learned different concepts and different insights, different leadership modalities through this program than he did in his MBA. And because we are targeting, you know, one of the things we really focus on is that you learn a specific tactical skill set that you can go and execute in your degree programs. And then we have what we call executive education, and executive education is really tailored to give you those high level insights. So then, as you’re going through your work, you have more knowledge and more awareness of the applicability of how you can apply something to transition or to transform or to make something better or grow, right? You have the tactical skills from your degrees, but we’re giving you what we would call the knowledge base, but these are professional development programs. So we are a great supplement to anybody who’s in any kind of degree program already, or who’s already an executive, who’s already a manager or a leader. And also, you know, if we look at our ideal clients. Our ideal clients or students that are looking to move up. So they’re already…I will tell you, like we have in our agile program, we have a number of students that are senior project managers. So they’ve already got the MBA, they’ve already got the PMP. And they’re looking to get to that director level position, or they’re looking to take on a global project versus just domestic projects or something like that. So it’s really kind of helping them get to that next level. And then when and then our other level…the bulk of our other clients, our students are what we would call already senior-level executives, either they’re VPs or you know, associate level VPs, or something like that. And, and they bring in a different realm, because they’re more in the guiding leadership. So they’re not necessarily looking to move up to the next level, they’re just looking to enhance their ability to lead in the space they’re already in.
Tyler Jacobson 18:53
And so it sounds to me and let me know if I’m off base here, that you guys are looking more towards the practical application than the theoretical knowledge and where they might get a lot of the foundation in their MBA. Your program is designed to help fill in some of the gaps on application and move to the next level. Is that pretty accurate?
Pardeep Kular 19:16
Yeah. So if I was to say in one sentence, what are we offer, we offer applied leadership training. That’s how I would say it. Really how do you apply this knowledge base in real life?
Tyler Jacobson 19:30
Excellent. So you said you have three programs. Was that your original intent was to start with three and build from there or how does that play out?
Pardeep Kular 19:41
Uh no. So our original intent was to start with 10. We had: analytics leadership, agile and inclusive leadership. We had blockchain, we had AI, we had cyber security, data and privacy. So all of the up and coming domains that we think are critical for leaders to know and master insights related to for the future of work. And climate change was one of them. And then when we realized that that was a large endeavor, and we were trying to start to [broad] and [we were thinking] how to bring it down. I mean, originally, our programs were 15 weeks long each as well. So we did a lot of market research to say, “Okay, that’s way too long,”. My entire board was like, “No…that’s not a go with us.” So I do really kind of…you know, mind you, I’m an educator, right? So I really believe in the time and the commitment that a student needs to put in and just from the feedback, we got that it was just not something feasible or viable, then we brought it down to five weeks. And even from the feedback we got there was like, well, then, “What makes you competitive compared to Harvard or Cal [State], or..you know, as a brand name [or] a larger, existing executive education institute. So we really had to be very unique and say, “Okay, how can we offer something really different and unique and target a clientele, [a student] that really is needing this service, especially in today’s economy?” And that’s kind of what helped us narrow down the programs. So we looked at: “Where is the largest gap between what companies need and what individuals need, and the direction the future is moving?” Although like blockchain, AI, all those things are up and coming and they’re moving, everybody’s moving in that direction. Right now, they’re still in the space of development versus in the space of leadership. So when we’re looking at, “Okay, where is the leadership needed?” We were like inclusivity, diversity inclusion is a huge leadership need right now. You know, when we looked at analytics…leading with data, and strategy is a huge leadership need right now. And then agile, especially. Agile was one of the most challenging ones, because the hardest thing with agile is getting people to change that mind frame of thinking it’s project management. Understanding agile is a leadership strategy that every company needs to have in place right now to be successful in moving forward. And so we opted to go with those three, based on…and like I said, completely changed our offering model from this huge thing to something really dynamic and forceful in a unique way now, based on the market research and the feedback, the focus groups we had done. So we’re excited about what we have on the table now.
Tyler Jacobson 22:34
Excellent. So you mentioned several times that it’s an executive thing, but when you brought up like the network security, we’ve had a couple of conversations on this podcast already, that a lot of the quote unquote, entry level jobs, when you read the job description are asking for not entry level they’re asking for three years of experience and three very, very different disciplines of network security. So is that one of the objectives is to potentially help round out the education to help people be better prepared for the jobs that are not necessarily executive?
Pardeep Kular 23:12
Yes, so I will say that too. So when I say executive certificate, because our clientele has been this one, our students have been this one group, it’s not specifically for them, it is for anyone, and we encourage anyone who wants to gain leadership insight, even if you’re an entry level, position, but you want to step up. You want to learn the skills that set you up for success to get you to the next level, or get you this opportunity that’s requiring you to have this breadth of knowledge base, when you might not because it’s an entry level position. But we really are catering to give you that mindset and that right frame of thinking and that model of like, “Okay, well, here’s what the foundation looks like. And here’s how we take it to the next level.” And then we build on it to create an organizational culture in this or team culture, whatever level they are, and this is how I lead in this space. And then this is how we evaluate success. So we carry them through and we think our programs are great for anybody. And I can personally attest to that when I got certified as an executive coach. You know, one of the things that I dealt with a lot was in the beginning [people] were like, “Well, you haven’t had all the years of experience.” And I was like, “Rightfully so that’s very true. But I do have the knowledge base to execute on it.” Because of my learning and I think so this is an add on to anybody that’s coming from any that’s at any level.
Tyler Jacobson 24:40
So you had said that 15 weeks is too long. Where did you guys settle on the duration of the program?
Pardeep Kular 24:47
We settled on a one day intensive. So the one day intensive, the way it’s designed this way, is that the student can go through the entire program. It is a full day intensive so they do have to blockout 10 hours and we do have set time breaks in there, if they go through the full one day. Or they could do it once a week, they could do it twice a week, they could do it one in five weeks. So we’re giving them the freedom. But we are really saying it’s a one day intensive, but we’re also not blocking out the program in one day. We’re giving them 60 days to complete it. So they have time to get through it, if you know, should something come up, should they not be able to do it in a day, or should they have to come back to it, because a lot of times, things like that can happen. So they want to take the time to go through the readings, the articles, there’s about 300 pages of articles and case studies that go along with each of the programs. So it’s not, if you look at that, that’s not going to get done in a day, the readings, right? But for the one who wants to just go through it and get the high level concepts they can, and then we want them still to….we give them access to Harvard Business School, so that they can pull out the readings and still do those because they build deeper understanding. So the way we’ve kind of…what we would say we flip the classroom a little is the way our instruction is offered. So we’re no longer saying you’ve got to read first to know it, we’re saying you can start here and then read later to deepen your learning.
Tyler Jacobson 26:24
So it’s ongoing even beyond completion of the certificate. So what are most of the resources? Are they…are there textbooks? Are there case studies? What’s most of the material that you’re drawing from?
Pardeep Kular 26:38
Yeah, there’s a textbook, and there’s case studies. So each program has about two to three case studies that go with it, and anywhere between eight to fifteen articles that are compiled in textbooks specific for that domain.
Tyler Jacobson 26:57
Excellent. Were there any unique challenges that you were just not expecting? While you were building this program?
Pardeep Kular 27:05
You know, the backend tech. I would say that I think that’s been something unique because as technology and education is evolving, and digital learning is becoming more and more common. I think the methodologies and approaches and the solutions are also being challenged, and requiring more and more creativity and innovation in that space. You know, uh, one of the things I had learned was that when everybody jumped on to Zoom, and led virtual classrooms, that was a very reactive model. And when we’re looking at the future of digital learning, that’s not the sustainable model. It’s not the model that’s going to grow and scale. That model has to be something different. So right now, is a massive opportunity for UX designers, for engineers, for software developers, to really create creative solutions for digital learning. And so we’ve sourced [a] number of products. We’ve demoed, reviewed and selected it…I mean, I will tell you that was a draining process, because we went through so many and finding all the pieces is so hard, right? So we’ve had to kind of blend in, we’ve had to code on the back end and add in here and there. And, and instead of just finding…at first, our desire was to find a one size fits all kind of platform that we could just run with. And then we realized as our programs are being innovated and changed and upgraded, there are some tools that just through our own space of creativity, we have to pull from other places, and maybe just code and create on our own. And that that I would say has been one of the challenges. And then second to that was the marketing piece.
Tyler Jacobson 29:11
So where do you guys see yourself? What’s your goal in five years?
Pardeep Kular 29:16
I think in five years, we see ourselves having more than 10 programs, truly being a leader in the digital learning space, but one day intensive in helping individuals at any level of professionals master the skills they need to lead in that specific domain. And we really are focused on leadership. So we don’t actually teach any tactical skills. Like we’re not teaching Scrum. We’re not teaching students how to do Kanban. We’re not teaching them how to analyze data, but we are teaching them that higher level of like, “Well, what data do you need to look at? What data do you need to ask your data scientists to gather? Who do you need on your team?” Right? We’re really getting them to think at that level because I think this is the main block that institutions have, that organizations have as they just don’t have the right people brought on because they don’t, at that level, they don’t have the right person saying, “Hey, this is who we need on our team.”
Tyler Jacobson 30:11
So where would people need to go in order to get updates on your programs or get more information?
Pardeep Kular 30:16
They could go to www.kular.com which is our website, and they can click on “Programs” to explore the programs there. They can also sign up for our newsletter to stay updated and informed of anything coming out. Also, they can follow us on social media, we’re on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and it’s @KularCollege. That’s, so that’s how they can get in touch with us.
Tyler Jacobson 30:42
It has been an honor to have you join where some people decided that they wanted to learn piano or guitar during the pandemic, you decided to open a whole new business. So my hat’s off to you and I appreciate having you join.
Pardeep Kular 30:57
Thank you. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Tyler Jacobson 30:59
That’s all for today’s episode of LabChats, be sure to subscribe so you’ll be notified when a new LabChats episode is posted each week. We’ll see you next time.