I am very excited about the possibilities that are emerging in using new technology to develop leaders. While much work needs to be done, progress is being made. I believe that ultimately, e-learning tools will be used as both stand-alone and supplemental aids in developing leaders of the future. Here are some of the reasons why I am excited about the possibilities of e-leadership development and why I believe new technology can be used to facilitate the development of leaders.
• Accessing best-in-class thought leaders
Let's say you are looking for help with a specific topic, such as dealing with poor performers. In-person advice from a top coach or expert would likely be cost-prohibitive. But e-learning—downloading or playing a few short videos—can be a cost-effective way to get information from top thought leaders. E-learning ultimately can provide experts for any challenge that leaders may face.
• Getting help when and where it is needed
Traditional courses aren't always the most effecient way to learn something. Everyone in the room hears the same content at the same time. In the future, online courses will be developed that permit leaders to skip less relevant material and focus on precisely what they need, when they need it. Online courses will ultimately be tailored for the company, the leader, and the issue—and will be available when and where they can be of most use.
• Learning from around the world
Traditionally, the vast majority of training and development instructors have come from the same country as the participants in the program, or even the same locality. E-solutions will soon be available that help leaders learn from the best experts around the world. As organizations become increasingly global, this capability becomes increasingly relevant. Cross-cultural understanding will be a key variable that differentiates the global leader of the future from the domestic leader of the past. E-learning can help provide a range of instructors with specific expertise in different cultures and regions of the world.
• Using "push" technology to help leaders grow
Research that my partner, Howard Morgan, and I conducted with more than 86,000 respondents has clearly demonstrated that leaders who identify behavior they to change, who involve their co-workers in the change process, and who follow-up with their co-workers to monitor improvement, are much more likely to achieve lasting, developmental change than leaders who just go to courses. "Push" technology can be used to give leaders an ongoing stream of reminders and suggestions tailored to their specific areas for development. This type of electronic assistance can both help ensure follow-up and dramatically increase the corporation's return on training and feedback.
• Coaching for many leaders, not just the privileged few
Traditional training (and especially coaching) is expensive. But once software has been developed, the marginal cost of each additional application is quite low. E-coaching can be made available for thousands of leaders. While the quality of e-coaching may not match that of an in-person coach, e-coaching will become far better than no coach at all.
While I am excited about using new technology to develop leaders, I am not naïve. This process still has a way to go. In some cases, the quality is still spotty. As technology has improved, the major quality issues are evolving from delivery problems (such as poor reception) to content problems (the reception is great, but the content is boring).
A common mistake is simply to try to copy successful in-person training and put it online. That doesn't work. Have you ever seen a great Broadway play that is simply taped and shown on TV? Even with a wonderful play, the TV version is usually awful. Imagine having to watch the same play on your computer—or, even worse, your iPod? Training is the same. It will take a few years of experimentation before corporations figure out how to make instructors come to life online. But it will happen, just as movies and TV shows evolved into their own art form, rather than just being a bad version of something else.
Mixing Online and Live
In the short-term, many organizations are beginning to experiment with blended learning. This enables participants to have the added value of a live human being—and expand this person's contribution through the use of new technology.
One problem with new technology is that it can easily be misused. Corporations already are paying for thousands of wasted hours that employees are spending online—hours that do absolutely nothing for the company. E-learning has the potential to degenerate into entertainment instead of education and end up doing as much harm as it does good.
Nevertheless, I am excited about the future of e-leadership development. Although it will require substantial refinement, I think that new technology can help train and develop the millions of leaders from around the world that will be needed to drive tomorrow's global economy.
Readers: What are your thoughts about e-learning or especially e-leadership development? What is working and what isn't? Your ideas are always appreciated.