8 Unexpected Benefits of Online Learning for Leadership Development

8 Unexpected Benefits of Online Learning for Development

With millions more people working and learning online than ever before, leadership development training, like many other things that were once primarily delivered in person, has transitioned much more to the virtual space because of the global pandemic.

At CCL, our facilitators have been pleasantly surprised by the many unexpected benefits of online learning we’ve seen emerge in the past couple of years. These benefits of online learning support our belief that impactful leadership development doesn’t have to be limited to the 4 walls of a classroom.

We’ve found that designing leadership training to promote the people-oriented use of technology enables learners to connect in new ways, even beyond what was previously possible.

The (Unexpected) Benefits of Online Learning for Development

We’ve Been Pleasantly Surprised by These 8 Benefits

The unexpected benefits of virtual learning have also energized us to explore more creative ways to push the limits of what’s possible in a virtual classroom. Here are the top 8 benefits of online learning that we’ve identified for virtual leadership development:

  1. Improved efficiency
  2. Enhanced psychological safety
  3. Roundtable participation
  4. Deliberate engagement
  5. Practical application
  6. Combat of overload
  7. Increased cameo appearances
  8. Reduced environmental impacts
Infographic: 8 Benefits of Online Learning for Development

1. Improved Efficiency.

With many employees being asked to take on more than ever before, the design of online learning should reflect and respect the value of each learner’s time. Without requiring the time and logistics of traveling, online learning offers participants the opportunity to maximize learning in the limited time they have to prioritize development.

Additionally, intentional preparation ensures seamless transitions between discussing broad concepts with larger groups to reflection and discussion within smaller groups. Logistical shifts that took several minutes to orchestrate in a classroom environment take just seconds to implement online.

2. Enhanced Psychological Safety.

Psychologically safe environments foster a sense of belonging and inclusion and allow people to feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions. Since virtual classroom environments offer chat capabilities, learners have the option to privately message the facilitator if a personal event arises or if they’re uncomfortable participating in a certain discussion or activity. This allows the learner to be able to create boundaries without drawing attention to themselves.

Learners can also contribute to the conversation via chat, rather than having to speak in front of the larger group. This can be especially helpful when discussing sensitive topics such as equity, diversity & inclusion.

Plus, in online classrooms, conversations cannot unintentionally be overheard, so breakout discussion groups have a heightened atmosphere of confidentiality.

3. Roundtable Participation.

In online learning environments, all participants have the same proximity to whomever is speaking, which can facilitate more participation. Since there isn’t the possibility of participants struggling to hear someone speak from the back of the room or being distracted by a side conversation at their table, they can more easily stay focused on the topic of discussion.

4. Deliberate Engagement.

One of the benefits of online learning is that a virtual classroom environment offers multiple ways to solicit learner participation. When engagement is integrated into the design of live online programs, learners are able to participate in ways that complement their personal preferences. The option to quickly and seamlessly break into smaller groups, poll the class in real time, or encourage input via chat enables facilitators to more frequently incorporate opportunities for participation and discussion. After the course, leaders of remote and hybrid teams can replicate some of these approaches to more meaningfully connect with their own teams.

“Going into an online only course, I was a bit concerned. But the amount of engagement that was offered — along with the hands-on virtual labs — was incredible. The way in which new concepts were introduced with the breakout sessions for further dialogue really allowed them to hit home with me.”

— Dave Mitton,
IT Director,
Lambton College

5. Practical Application.

Learners in virtual classrooms are often practicing new behaviors in the same environment where they will be implementing them — giving them the opportunity to immediately test what they’re learning. With the practice field adjacent to the playing field, learners can easily envision how these new behaviors will manifest in their daily work and quickly embed reminders, bookmark resources, and create other prompts that will keep new learnings top-of-mind.

6. Combat Overload.

During this time when many of us are working longer hours than ever before and being asked to pivot and learn new skills on a weekly basis, cognitive overload is a real struggle. Online learning that’s designed to challenge participants enough to spark growth without overwhelming provokes the positive response we feel when checking items off a to-do list, encourages learners to approach large tasks in small increments, and reinforces productivity.

7. Increased Cameo Appearances.

Our research tells us that the learnings from development are more likely to stick if they are supported and reinforced by the participant’s boss. Without the need to travel, our facilitators have found it easier to ask and encourage senior leadership to join certain discussions or lead some activities, which signals buy-in from leaders, emphasizes the importance of the concepts being explored, and increases participant engagement.

8. Reduced Environmental Impact.

Without the requirement of travel and the need to print classroom signage, handouts, and other resources, the carbon-neutral and paperless reality of virtual classrooms is one of the other often overlooked benefits of online learning. If learners prefer hard copies of learning materials, they can practice intentionality when it comes to printing the specific resources they’d like to review on paper.

3 Keys to Unlocking the Benefits of Virtual Learning

What We’ve Learned Is Essential for Delivering Impactful Leadership Development Online

First, to unlock the benefits of online learning and ensure that all our virtual leadership programs deliver the impact our clients have come to expect, we’ve found it’s important that leadership development delivered online incorporates these 3 elements: deliberate design, authentic connection, and vibrant experiences. Here’s a bit more about what we mean for each.

Deliberate Design

To make online learning as successful as possible, everything — from the amount of text shared on-screen, to the length of each module of the curriculum, to the timing of breaks — should be thoughtfully planned with the learner in mind.

  • At CCL, we’ve honed how to translate the anatomy of a learning experience into the online learning space. Informed by our decades of research on learning transfer and making learning “stick,” our online leadership programs are deliberately designed for long-lasting retention of information and sustained behavior change.

Authentic Connection

The best virtual training facilitators are intentional about creating ample space within the online learning environment to foster real, meaningful connections between participants and facilitators.

  • At CCL, we use technology to our advantage to “reach through the screen.” Our facilitators make a point to share personal stories and insights, encourage participants to connect through ice breakers that involve their workspaces and personal preferences, and always make time before and after modules to answer questions and offer additional resources.

Vibrant Experiences

With virtual learning, there’s a risk of cognitive overload that comes with staring at a screen all day. In a sea of emails, virtual meetings, PowerPoints, and “Zoom fatigue,” it can be difficult for online learning programs to break through.

  • At CCL, that’s why all our live online programs incorporate movement, music, and unexpected surprises, for immersive and unforgettable experiences that are enjoyable, memorable, and life-changing. Our research has consistently found that the impact of our live online programs matches that of in-person programs in all areas, including client satisfaction, learning effectiveness, and likelihood to recommend to a colleague.

Unlocking the Benefits of Virtual Learning

Self-Reflection Quiz for Participants

While the greatest benefits of online learning come from leadership development that’s intentionally designed with elements that engage participants, it’s also critical that participants are committed to the program and to applying what they’ve learned in their day-to-day work.

To help you evaluate this and maximize the impact of your investment, we offer this complimentary tool for self-reflection for readiness for unlocking the benefits of online learning:

Online Learning Participant Self-Reflection Quiz - Benefits of Online Learning

Access our complimentary Online Learning Participant Self-Reflection Quiz, share it with people in your organization before they engage in an online learning program, or ask them to use it to evaluate themselves upon completing the course.

Doing so will position participants to make the most of their learning, so they can put their new skills into action and maximize the impact and ROI of the engagement, thereby unlocking all the many benefits of online learning for leadership development.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

We can partner with your organization to unlock the benefits of online learning with options to fit your schedule, your style, and your organization’s unique needs. Explore our online leadership training options for leaders at every level.

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Frequently Asked Questions About the Benefits of Online Learning

The benefits of online learning are numerous. Organizations that use this training modality are able to improve efficiency, reduce environmental impacts, and keep costs down by not having to pull employees away from their daily work setting to engage in development. Taking leadership development online also allows learners to practice new skills and behaviors in the same context where they will be implementing them when leading virtual teams. Other benefits of online learning include improved learner engagement and a stronger sense of psychological safety for participants in a virtual classroom, as there are multiple ways for different personality styles to contribute to discussions. 

There are many benefits of online learning such as cost savings, efficiency, reduced impact on the environment, and increased opportunities for “cameo” appearances by senior leaders to drop in and signal their support of the virtual learning initiative. At the same time, there are instances where in-person training formats will be more appropriate than online learning. In-person leadership training works best when attendees need an opportunity to get away from their normal work environment in a focused time and serene space that’s wholly dedicated to helping them grow through personal and professional development.

One of the many benefits of online learning is the ability for participants to practice new skills and behaviors right away — often implementing them in the same (virtual) format as they learned them. At the Center for Creative Leadership, the advantages of online learning include high client satisfaction, as our research has found that the impact of our live online programs matches that of in-person courses. In addition, virtual learning offers budget savings and reduces the environmental impact that traveling for training can have.

While there are many reasons for taking virtual programs, the top 3 include convenient access and ease of incorporating training into busy schedules; increased opportunity for engagement of all participants, regardless of personality style, due to available tools such as chat; and seamless, practical application. In today’s hybrid workplace, learners are typically already in their work setting when engaging with the online training, making what they learn easily and directly applicable to their day-to-day experiences.

More questions? Our experts are here to help. Let’s have a conversation!

January 14, 2023
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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