How eLearning Can Foster Leadership Skills
Leadership is not magnetic personality/that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not making friends and influencing people /that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person's vision to higher sights, the raising of a person's performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.
-Peter F. Drucker The Age of Discontinuity - Transaction Publishing, 1969
The problem for many leaders in our fast-paced corporate world is that they are too busy leading to do anything else. Yet, to maintain success as leaders, they need continuous learning. How do they find the time to do their jobs and engage in management and leadership development?
eLearning may be the best answer for today's leaders because it is:
- Convenient - learners can log in and learn when they have the time
- Self-paced - facilitators do not control how quickly learners progress; the learners do
- Need-based - eLearning can deliver just-in-time training at a moment's notice
- Portable - learners can use their phones, laptops and tablets to learn anywhere, anytime
In this article, I'll talk about different ways eLearning can be used to promote leadership qualities and foster leaders within an organization.
Leadership Through eLearning
You've most likely heard the phrase "a born leader" used to describe someone who is good at leading and seems naturally equipped to do so. But people are not born leaders. Leaders learn how to lead. So why can't a person learn leadership skills online, and what should an online leadership course have to make it effective?
It all comes down to how a person becomes a leader in the first place, and that's through knowledge and experience. In the case of leadership skills, theories and leadership strategies can be taught online, provided that the online experience is relevant to the learner and allows for the creative and innovative thinking that a leader must possess.
The experience that helps build leadership can be taught online through:
- Case studies - The Patient Management Demo demonstrates how case study information can be used to create engaging and effective eLearning.
- Branching scenario-based learning - Connect with Haji Kamal is an excellent example of a decision-making scenario lesson where there are consequences for each decision the learner makes.
- Experiential learning - These courses take problems to the learner to solve, just as real life does!
- Virtual reality environments - Virtual Reality Forklift Training, for example, takes you inside a warehouse and teaches forklift operation.
These eLearning approaches allow learners a chance to apply the theory they've learned and see the consequences of their decisions. After all, we learn as much or more from our failures as we do from our successes.
Leadership Skills Developed Through Social Learning
Now, let's take a look at some secondary ways that eLearning fosters leadership through social learning. The online learning environment can be a social place and, where people come together to learn and exchange ideas, leaders rise to the top. Encouraging them and enhancing their leadership skills is up to the organization, and most will welcome the idea of producing their own leaders rather than searching elsewhere for them.
Social learning is not necessarily an eLearning phenomenon, but it is one way that eLearning is delivered. Social learning networks and/or virtual communities serve as a platform for employees to share knowledge and ideas. Give a group of people a common task and leave them to figure it out and social learning happens. What also happens is that leaders within such a group emerge. Participants learn from one another and, in doing so, interpret and discuss what has been learned. Eventually, one or more learners are acknowledged as authorities on the subject and become group leaders. The learning may have nothing to do with leadership, but, for some, leadership skills are a by-product of social learning. So why wouldn't an organization take advantage of that?
Social learning also encourages discussion amongst learners. By monitoring social eLearning tools such as forums and chatrooms, organizations can recognize and promote these new leaders. Exercises promoted through project-based learning can readily become a part of the social learning experience. Provide learners with a problem or question that must be solved through a group effort. When you give a group of learners control over their project, someone will assume a leadership role and that too is a learning experience.
These leaders should be encouraged to develop their leadership skills and perhaps be given the opportunity to help in the design of other projects that learners must complete. Or, they could be given the opportunity to help others develop the skills necessary to lead.
Mentoring can also be used to foster leadership through online learning using tools such as email, forums, chat rooms or social media. Typically, mentorship is a relationship between an experienced person (mentor) and a less experienced person (mentee) in which mentors share knowledge and experience with mentees to help them learn and develop skills and knowledge. Mentors are leaders, and their leadership stems as much from their experience as it does from their knowledge. Their leadership skills will be based on their practical application of knowledge, as opposed to just understanding the theory. Traditionally, mentoring was a one-on-one in-person relationship, but online mentorships can be equally effective, and a powerful learning tool that encourages leadership.
Can leadership be taught, promoted and fostered through eLearning? The answer is yes. Can leadership qualities and skills be fostered by an online learning community? Again, yes! The infographic shown here demonstrates what the next generation of leaders need to learn so that they can lead effectively.
We've discussed how social learning can play an important role in the development and sustainment of leadership skills through such platforms as forums and through project-based learning. We've talked about mentoring and how today's leaders can foster tomorrow's leaders by sharing their experience using digital tools.
Perhaps you want to be even more direct about fostering leadership skills within your organization? With all the benefits to eLearning (remember, eLearning is convenient, self-paced, need-based and portable), it just makes sense to create a course specifically tailored to foster leaderships skills. If you go this route, put these topics in your leadership program:
- Time management
- Active listening
- Conflict management
- Dealing with difficult customers
- Change management
- Building teams
- Problem solving
- Project management
Leadership skills are learned, there is nothing inherent about them. Sure, some people are better at leadership than others, but no one is born to lead. And, as we know, if something can be taught, it can be taught online.
Leaders in the digital age will face new challenges and will need solid leadership skills to face them. The future of leadership training is in connecting with the leaders of tomorrow today, through the digital world in which they live.
Shauna graduated from the University of Toronto in 2002 with a Master of Arts in English before moving home to Calgary to work in the fast-paced, detail-oriented oil and gas industry. Now certified as a technical writer, Shauna is comfortable writing in a variety of styles, and for a variety of audiences.