8 Unexpected Benefits of Online Training for Leadership Development

8 Unexpected Benefits of Online Learning for Development

With millions more employees engaging in remote work and online learning than ever before, leadership development training traditionally delivered in-person, like many other things, has transitioned to the virtual space.

At CCL, our facilitators have been pleasantly surprised by the many unexpected benefits of online learning we’ve seen emerging in the past few months. 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, beyond what was previously possible in face-to-face environments.

3 Keys to Amplifying the Benefits of Online Learning

To ensure that all our virtual leadership programs deliver the impact our clients have come to expect, we’ve found that it’s important for each of them to incorporate these 3 elements:

  • Deliberate design
  • Authentic connection
  • Vibrant experiences

Deliberate Design

For a virtual program to succeed, it needs to be rooted in experience. With 50 years of leadership research expertise, we’ve honed how to translate the anatomy of a learning experience into the online learning space.

Everything — from the amount of text we share on-screen, to the length and timing of each module of the curriculum — is informed by our research on optimal learning transfer and retention of information.

Authentic Connection

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

At CCL, human-centered design is important to us, and we use technology to our advantage to “reach through the screen” more deliberately. Our facilitators make a point to share personal stories to highlight key 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. That’s why all our live online programs incorporate movement, music, and unexpected surprises aimed at maximizing the impact through immersive and unforgettable experiences.

In a sea of emails, video calls, and PowerPoints, our programs are memorable, enjoyable, and life-changing.

Some organizations we surveyed were initially skeptical about moving their leadership development to an online format. They worried that some of the “magic” they’d come to expect from a CCL program would be lost in translation.

But our formula for impactful live online training is continually proving its effectiveness as 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.

8 Unexpected Benefits of Online Learning for Leadership Development

The unexpected benefits of online 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 we’ve identified so far of virtual or online leadership development opportunities that follow our formula for success:

  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 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 online learning 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 an online setting, 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 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.

“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,
Information Technology Director, Lambton College
(Participant in our Leading Strategically Experience online course)

5. Practical Application.

Learners in online classrooms are often practicing new behaviors in the same environment where they will be implementing them. 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 and other resources, the carbon-neutral and paperless reality of virtual classrooms is one of the other 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.

Self-Reflection for Participants: Unlocking the Benefits of Online Learning

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 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 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 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 leadership development engagement.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Whether you’re looking for a customized online program, virtual executive coaching, assessment certification, or a mix of self-paced and moderated options, we can partner with you to unlock the benefits of online learning with a virtual leadership program solution designed to fit your schedule, your style, and your organization’s unique needs. Explore our online leadership training options for leaders at every level.

October 14, 2020
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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