Advantages of Online Learning for Leadership Development: What Our Research Says

woman contemplating the advantages of online learning for development

Satisfaction With Our Virtual Programs Matches In-Person Formats

The pandemic and its aftermath fundamentally changed our world. The ways we learn, lead, and work, which were already undergoing a transformation, had to be adapted to meet the accelerated changes brought about by recent events, which disrupted nearly every facet of most organizations, including training and development — a critical activity for organizations to stay competitive and thrive.

With most travel eliminated, in-person training programs were been put on hold or canceled, as HR leaders dealt with the fallout from pay cuts, furloughs, layoffs, and job eliminations.

As organizations transition to recovery mode, they’re rethinking their L&D strategies and focusing on the advantages of online learning for leadership development.

High-performing organizations know that retaining and developing leadership capacity remains their top talent challenge and that continuing with their leadership development efforts will be crucial not only for weathering the current storm, but to the long-term success of the organization.

Having well-developed and effective leadership at all levels of the organization is important as organizations position their businesses for recovery and growth. It’s imperative that they continue their leadership development efforts, despite the current challenges of conducting in-person development programs due to limited offerings, reduced capacity, and travel restrictions.

Companies that wait for a return to normal run the risk of falling behind those competitors who continue developing their leaders throughout this time. In fact, our market research found that organizations are continuing to invest in leadership development, even in economic downturn, with 82% saying it will provide a competitive advantage.

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The Shift to Online Learning for Leadership Development

While online learning was a well-established delivery method prior to the coronavirus pandemic, it quickly became the only developmental delivery method available as countries went into quarantine and issued stay-at-home orders. Like most everything else, all in-person delivery of leadership development activities ceased, and organizations found themselves looking for alternatives to their in-person initiatives.

Some companies, typically those with a more mature digital learning strategy and approach in place, quickly pivoted to online learning delivery for training and development.

Other organizations were more skeptical of the advantages of online learning. In many cases, these organizations hadn’t had much previous experience with online learning and their leaders were unfamiliar with how it works and the potential benefits. Others may have had an unsatisfactory experience with subpar online learning initiatives in the past, or were unconvinced that the advantages of online learning could match what’s achieved with in-person training and development.

The reality is that online learning is here to stay, and fortunately, the research shows that virtual leadership development programs can create results at levels similar to those of in-person programs.

Advantages of Online Learning vs. In-Person Leadership Development Programs

Infographic: Advantages of Online Learning & 3 Reasons to Invest in Online Leadership Development

Our clients often ask about the impact of online leadership development versus more traditional in-person delivery. Our ongoing research at CCL continues to show that satisfaction with leadership development delivered virtually is nearly the same as an in-person experience.

We’ve seen consistent results between our traditional in-person leadership programs and our live online program offerings in all areas, including client satisfaction, learning effectiveness, and likelihood to recommend to a colleague.

And live online programs offer certain advantages over in-person options:

  • Agility: Short, video-based learning can target specific skills needed in a fast-changing environment.
  • Flexibility: Self-directed learning allows learners to move at their own pace and replay videos if they missed something. 
  • Immediacy: Learners are able to apply what they just learned to their own jobs in real time.
  • Scalability: Online training is a cost-effective way to provide development for large groups of learners.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the 2 methodologies for CCL participants from the past year and a half:


Live Online


Overall Satisfaction



Likelihood to Recommend



We’ve seen similar positive results for achieving learning objectives and being applicable to the participants’ work.

We heard equally from participants in both delivery methods that their program met the promised learning objectives, and they felt similarly confident about their abilities to apply the knowledge and skills gained in their programs to both their job, as well as to their organization’s success.

“Our participants were pleasantly surprised at the structure and effectiveness of the virtual program, and most enjoyed collaborating and learning from colleagues across the global organization.”

Both formats were able to deliver a meaningful and engaging learning experience.

Additionally, both our live online and in-person program participants said that our programs were able to deliver a meaningful learning experience, with similar average ratings for both methodologies on a 5-point scale.

Our live online programs contain many of the same elements and experiences that happen in our widely-recognized in-person programs. Small group discussions, 360-degree feedback, and personal one-on-one coaching are just some of the human-centered activities that we’re able to duplicate virtually, making live online as close to an in-person program experience as possible.

In addition, nearly all participants (98%) rated our live online leadership solutions as equally or more engaging compared to other online leadership programs they have experienced.

Comparison: Client Satisfaction With Our Programs Delivered Live Online vs. In-Person

Live Online


Meaningful Learning Experience



Satisfied With Faculty Quality



Applicable to My Job



Applicable to My Organization



Meets Learning Objectives



Overall Satisfaction



According to our research, leadership development participants not only want content to be applicable, they want it to be immediately applicable. In a highly uncertain and unpredictable world, time and resources are limited, and urgency plays a big role in learning experiences. Skilled facilitators are the key to drawing these lines of connection because they are able to share their experiences.

Participants in both in-person and online delivery were highly satisfied with the faculty who delivered their training program, providing further evidence that our faculty are able to deliver a highly engaging and meaningful learning experience in an online format, as well as in-person.

Online participants who were surveyed especially appreciated that facilitators were willing to relate personal stories and insights. They also commented on their instructors’ ability to push the conversation beyond the “comfort zone.”  (Our instructors have even shared some of the surprising and unexpected benefits they’ve encountered from online delivery format.)

A confusing or overly-technical user experience is often one of the biggest criticisms of an online leadership development experience. According to our participants, that’s not the case with our online leadership training. Most participants (94%) reported that they found our live online programs easy to access, use, and navigate.

As the workplace has become more virtual, so have our leadership development solutions. Our expansive portfolio of innovative online leadership training immerses participants in compelling conversations, peer-learning exercises, and personalized attention from the best leadership experts in the world. Our curated, data-driven, and structured online learning journeys will create the impact that you’re looking for and generate the results that matter most to you and your organization.

The Effectiveness of Our Virtual Leadership Development Programs

In addition to having high participant engagement levels and similar impact as in-person programs, our online leadership development solutions also offer additional benefits to the organization. They’re easily scalable and can be delivered to any number of leaders. They can be customized and personalized into a journey specifically for your organization and its leaders.

These programs are also convenient for your organization’s leaders in that they’re able to participate from any location in the world and don’t require additional travel expenses, making it possible for your people to learn leadership skills online and transform without travel.

Most importantly, online leadership development is a safe and effective way for your organization to continue its talent development efforts without jeopardizing the health and safety of your organization’s top leadership talent.

For over a decade, we’ve partnered with thousands of clients to drive performance through online leadership training. We know what makes leaders succeed, and our online leadership development provides actionable steps for addressing today’s complex leadership challenges. Our solutions:

  • Flex with organizational needs;
  • Integrate seamlessly into existing development initiatives; and
  • Can be customized to achieve business impact and results that matter to you and your organization.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

We can partner with you to create a leadership development solution with all the advantages of online learning, but designed to fit your your organization’s unique needs. Explore our virtual leadership development programs for leaders at every level.

October 15, 2022
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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