Who’s afraid of blended learning, Part 1: Why leadership development traditionally used less blended components

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?



About Bert De Coutere

Bert's professional life is all about competent people. He thinks, publishes, consults, designs and sets up learning and development projects for corporations. His areas of expertise include technology enhanced learning and leadership development. Bert is currently Solutions Architect in the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) EMEA office. In his role he designs customized leadership interventions and programs for clients and bring these designs to fruition based on CCL's solution architecture portfolio.
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7 Responses to Who’s afraid of blended learning, Part 1: Why leadership development traditionally used less blended components

  1. Pingback: Who’s afraid of Blended Learning, Part 2: Excuses that prevent the adoption of blended learning | Leading Effectively: Official Blog of the Center for Creative Leadership

  2. Pingback: Who’s afraid of Blended Learning, Part 3: Looking ahead | Leading Effectively: Official Blog of the Center for Creative Leadership

  3. avatar John says:

    Here is a response to your blog on e-learning and leadership development that I sent to a friend of mine here in Tallahassee: Howard, I made time to read both these blogs (something one has to do when using online learning opportunities) and could not agree more with what the blogger has to say about e-learning and leadership development. E-learning requires a lot of self-discipline to use that particular technology. In some sense it is like leadership development by reading books, only takes a bit more self-discipline. If I have my most current book available, I can pick it up and read, then put it down and eat lunch (or read while eating lunch). I can do the same with e-learning, including eat lunch in my underwear and work online. Using an e-learning format requires opening a gateway to the internet to read similar content. Both require self-discipline, a trait that you and I would agree is a requisite characteristic for leadership.

    If reading a book on leadership is preferred, someone can create a group that meets face to face to discuss the content, and the same is true from accessing a group online to discuss content. In my international leadership class, I use both face to face and online learning, so I guess I am using a form of blended learning. I have a problem with a few students who do not use the online materials, and they are the same students that do not participate in class (miss class, don’t participate), so for them neither mode is particularly effective.

    I am continuing to access the public ethics course from FIU and if I don’t remain self-directed, I won’t finish the program. The same is true for a myriad of books that I have bought and never completely read each one. No matter the learning mode, self-discipline is important.

    Going to pull up the ethics course while I am thinking about it . . .


    • avatar Bert De Coutere says:

      Hi John. How very true. One of the ‘fundamental four’ in our leadership programs is learning agility. Having the discipline to set your own learning path and follow it through is a key success factor for everyone, not just leaders. Your comment makes me think that a look at how various people use learning technologies is probably a good predictor of learning agility.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful post Bert,

    Part of the problem I see with the ‘e’ is that people assume it only means formal eLearning courses (the ’10’). I suspect this is a result of people having been exposed to compliance based eLearning via course vending machines (LMS platforms).

    These days we have a rich and accessible range of online resources to support both formal and informal learning. You mentioned performance support, which I think is a wonderful example as it can draw upon a range of technology based solutions to support learning in the moment of ‘apply’.

    If we broaden our view of the ‘e’ to extend to the full range of online or technology based resources that can be used to support formal and informal learning, then our blend will be more relevant, flexible and respectful whilst driving efficiency and impact.



    • avatar Bert De Coutere says:

      Thanks for sharing Andrew. I’m with you on broadening the view on ‘e’ from the often disappointing experiences people had 10 years ago going into a compliance page-turner on their Learning Management System. And when you think about it, we already use a lot of ‘e-learning’, but may not recognize it as such. Hey, this blog is a learning tool!

  5. Pingback: Pre-announcing LeaderMOOC – Leadership for real | Leading Effectively: Official Blog of the Center for Creative Leadership

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