E-Learning: Coming to a Computer Near You

by Merrick Rosenberg, MBA


According to workers, the number one factor negatively affecting productivity is poor management (Society for Human Resource Management, 2004). Another study found that 72% of companies predict that they'll have an increasing number of leadership vacancies over the next three to five years. At the same time, 76% are "less than confident" in their abilities to adequately staff these positions (Corporate Leadership Council).

Is leadership important? You better believe it. Is leadership development important? Your company's success depends upon it.

Over the past five years, the methodology to develop leaders has changed significantly. There has been a steady shift toward "one-on-one" training as evident in the increasing use of performance coaching and e-learning. Both of these developmental approaches take people out of the classroom and provide leaders with a personal development experience.

Coaching allows each person to address his or her specific challenges and opportunities. E-learning derives its power from its convenience and training-on-demand flexibility.

If it hasn't happened yet, training may soon be coming to a computer near you. However, before we examine e-learning, let's focus on what makes traditional classroom training effective. We will then apply those insights utilizing e-learning to make a difference. 

Here's what we know about training:

  • Trainees need to see a reason to develop new skills, therefore, position training from the "What's in it for me?" perspective.
  • When the trainee's manager is involved in the process, individuals are more likely to transfer learning from the classroom to the workplace.
  • Learning is a process, not an event. Training needs to be reinforced if application is to take place.
  • The concepts need to relevant and immediately applicable.
  • The training needs to be engaging and utilize a variety of methods to convey insights and practice/experience new skills
We also know that training must be convenient. Leadership development has gradually shifted from week-long retreats, to one or two-day seminars, and now to e-learning. I do not believe that leadership development should or will ever completely shift to e-learning, but a powerful leadership development process can blend classroom learning with e-learning modules. 

E-learning can supplement traditional training by reinforcing the skills taught in the classroom. Alternatively, e-learning can be used to expose leaders to concepts that they have not yet seen in a classroom. In this case, leaders can meet with other leaders who have taken the course and discuss insights and strategies for implementing new skills.

In terms of delivery, truly effective e-learning experiences should not simply include PowerPoint slides placed on a server. E-learning should be engaging and dynamic. Courses should include modeling videos that:

  • Bring real-world application into the learning process
  • Show participants the right and wrong way to exhibit the skill
  • Provide recommended strategies, techniques, and clearly defined skill points
Effective classroom training encourages participation. This holds true for online learning as well. E-learning courses should allow the trainee to interact with the course in a variety of ways, including:

  • Simulated practice of real-world practice situations
  • Opportunities to reflect on thoughts and applications
  • Quizzes with comparison to structured answers
  • Pre and post-tests to measure learning
Beyond the content and design of the e-learning course, organizations must create a learning environment in which leaders buy-into the process and work hard transferring learning from the training interaction to the job. Companies must encourage employees to take courses for personal and professional development. They may even wish to discuss online experiences in team meetings and even use the company newsletter to highlight online experiences and real-world application.

If e-learning is going to be effective, organizations must consider the same items that make classroom training effective. Therefore:

  • The trainee's manager should meet with the trainee after taking the course and discuss learning and future application.
  • The e-learning course is one component of a larger self-reinforcing process.
  • Individuals must see immediate relevance and application of the skills taught in the course
  • Trainees must be motivated to develop the skills and rewarded when they do.
  • The training needs to be engaging and interactive, not simply watching a passive online presentation.
Leaders drive the success of your organization. By providing them with the opportunity to learn - and supporting their learning endeavors, you will set your organization on a path for success. And if you're asked, about your confidence to adequately staff future leadership vacancies, you can revel in your ability to staff those positions from within your own organization.