Ever since I narrowed my professional scope from ‘all kinds of learning’ to leadership exclusively, I’ve been amazed at the slower speed of adopting technology for leadership development compared to other learning domains.  This seems especially true higher up the leader pipeline, where I’ve occasionally encountered very emotional reactions against anything “e”.

Now, I’m not saying that there are no e-learning components in the leader development blend today, nor am I saying face-to-face isn’t very, very valuable.  In fact, the European E-learning barometer teaches us that today already 7% of the e-learning audience is senior management, 22% general management and 6% high potential.  It has also found that 37% of companies use e-learning components for management and leadership training. The Bersin Leadership Development Factbook 2012 states that depending on the level, e-learning and virtual classes make up 14 to 23% of the mix.

What I am saying in this blog series is that…

  1. Over the years there have been valid reasons why leadership development used less blended components .
  2. There are also a fair share of excuses and myths.
  3. Looking ahead, there can only be more “e” in the blend.

Today we’ll cover the first of these points.  Here are three valid reasons why e-learning components–at least in the traditional sense–are needed less for leadership development than other fields:

  • Leadership isn’t about certification.  The earliest learning technologies were all about streamlining the learning process, tracking progress, and handing out certificates for completed learning. Leadership isn’t about certification in the form of a diploma, as the proof is in what you do at work, not what courses you’ve attended.
  • Leadership isn’t about compliance training. Another big chunk of earlier e-learning was all sorts of compliance training. I’ve got a double feeling about these. Compliance trainings are often the kind of boring and tedious e-learning encounters that have deeply disappointed and disengaged a generation of learners. Many of these courses don’t really have much of a learning goal in the first place. Their goal is to check a box.
  • Leadership development isn’t really about content either.  More importantly, the first generation of e-learning systems were all content-centric, and their goal was to massively disseminate knowledge in a consistent way.  Of course, there is a place to learn from content and models to become an effective leader, but we shouldn’t overestimate their importance.  CCL’s Lessons of Experience project and subsequent research  have shown that formal training only amounts to about 10% of developmental experiences and that experience and learning from others is far more important. That being said, when friends of mine suddenly found themselves in charge of a team, they all craved very concrete content on how to deal with their new situation.There is also a need for very concrete performance support content such as the evaluation and approvals of processes and systems, and high performing companies often have this learning content available in a leader portal.  However, the more experienced leaders get, the less actual content is really needed, and the more reflection, self-awareness, sharing of experiences, stretch assignments, etc. is needed. In the end, leadership development is about behavior change, not about knowledge spread.

In part 2 of this series, we will discuss the common myths and excuses that can prevent the adoption of blended learning in the field of leadership development.

Do you think that blended solutions have a meaningful place in leadership development?  Where do you think the use of technology for learning is most helpful for growing leaders?  When should it be avoided?


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