Remote Learning for Executives
Dec 17, 2020
BY ANGELA L. KEGLER, PhD
One of the biggest complaints regarding executive education and training prior to the pandemic was the lack of application of skills learned in the workplace.
Executives have unique competency needs that range from strategic planning to personal resiliency. They require a blend of business acumen that is used on a day-to-day basis with organizational agility that may only be tapped into during a crisis. To add to the unique needs, executives are frequently “too busy” to spend multiple days out of the office to attend traditional classroom-style training designed to enhance their skills. Consequently, meeting the training and operational needs of an executive has become challenging for many organizations.
LEARNING IN THE NEW NORMAL
Despite the pandemic’s upheaval of businesses around the globe, one consistent positive occurred: the adoption of remote operations and remote learning. The rapid movement toward social distancing and telecommuting forced many resistant organizations to rethink their traditional views of operations, meetings, and training. With this rapid pivot in operations, executives were challenged to put their skills into action to navigate changes associated with the pandemic toward a new, unknown normal.
Social distancing and remote work will likely be woven into the fabric of most organizational operations well into the future. Therefore, using remote learning capabilities for executive education and training should be woven into the fabric as well.
How might organizations choose to accomplish the new normal? Those that embrace and strengthen remote learning capabilities will not only help their current executives develop necessary skills but also establish a foundation for training their future leaders. Online education and learning opportunities range from on-demand recorded courses and short webinars to courses delivered by live instructors in formats from three hours to multiple consecutive days.
Effective use of remote learning for executives entails the development of Personal Learning Programs (PLPs) that engage the executive in the selection of courses specific to the skills required, as well as tools that measure how the skills are being applied. Effective executive PLPs involve self- evaluation of skill gaps, as well as feedback from supervisors, peers, and direct reports. The education and training included in a PLP mirror the competencies and skills unique to the executive’s profession, organization, and industry. Many remote education programs require pre- and post- assessments from the executive learner and individuals within the executive’s 360-degree sphere of influence. Obtaining perspectives of others is critical to exposing skill blind spots and closing skill gaps that an executive possesses.
How an executive schedules and engages in training can also play a significant part in the effectiveness. Many executives find it difficult to free themselves from daily operations to attend training. By engaging in remote learning, they have the opportunity to block off a portion of the day for coursework while using the remainder of the day to tend to work responsibilities. Strong executive training programs leverage this by engaging the executive in immediately seeking out opportunities to apply the class-learned skills in the workplace the same day. This approach mitigates the complaint about traditional programs that the skills learned in the class are not applied after the executive returns to work.
Remote education through PLPs provides the option of developing both short-term and long-term skills depending on the unique needs of the executive. Seasoned executives with the need to develop cutting-edge skills can opt for short webinars or single courses with built-in skill enhancers or post-learning measures for how to apply the new skill. Those with more long-term skill needs can develop longer plans with courses spread out over days and months that build upon one another.
HIGH-QUALITY IMMERSIVE EVENTS
Remote education and learning for executives should not be limited to the external courses offered by training industry leaders or the on-demand training lessons included in most corporate universities. Organizations that wish to capitalize on the use of remote education and training should explore how to integrate coaching, mentorship, lunch-and-learns, job rotations, and internship programs into the development of their executives. The sustainability of these programs into the future will require an innovative approach with high- quality immersive events in a remote environment.
Executives have traditionally engaged in coaching and mentoring via face-to-face or phone interaction. The coaching and mentoring experience has been revolutionized by the introduction of online platforms including Zoom, Webex, Adobe Connect, ON24, and GoTo. These remote tools allow executives to be the deliverer and/or the receiver of coaching and mentoring. All of the tools can be accessed from mobile devices, which makes them ideal for engaging learning on the job. A mobile device’s camera can share more than the participants’ faces and voices; it can enable the coach or mentor to see and hear real-time challenges in the workplace to address.
The same tools can be applied to lunch-and-learns by inviting participants to bring their “brown bags” to the online session. Online tools, such as Adobe Connect, provide the capability to place participants in breakout rooms for smaller group discussions and then return to the larger group for debriefing sessions. These online tools can be incredibly useful for executives who are seeking to gain qualitative information and learning, as well as practice skills in a controlled and safe setting.
DESIGN, DELIVERY, AND SUPPORT
Just as each executive has unique skill needs, each has unique learning styles. And all remote learning is not made equal. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is all too accurate in the world of remote education and training. Organizations investing in remote executive education and training should explore the design, delivery, and support provided by a course or program.
Professional education and training institutions may carry a heavier price tag, but they utilize greater technology-enabled learning environments that focus on providing the most effective online experience for the participant. At the most foundational level, the program should focus on the best technology, appropriate timing, and most qualified talent to deliver training. Executive learners should be able to access the technology easily, accomplish the learning during convenient times, and learn from subject-matter experts on the topic who have also had experience as executives. Instructors with executive experience understand that executive learners need ongoing engagement that is relevant and thought provoking.
Less expensive training, including webinars and on-demand learning, may offer refresher information; however, many are designed with too broad of an audience and rarely have support mechanisms built into the program. Executives engaging in remote learning will quickly disengage if the technology platform does not offer user support or is too cumbersome. In addition, on-demand learning has minimal engagement and rarely provides an enriching practice experience that will meet the executive learner’s needs.
How does an organization ensure that executives are engaged in the best remote learning opportunities? The following best practices will yield positive learning results:
Personalization. Seek out a remote executive personal learning program that fits the unique needs of the learner. The executive education or training should meet all the needs of the executive as it relates to skill, learning style, pre- and post-learning assessments, and ability to develop skills at the short- and/or long-term pace required by the executive.
Immersion. Executives learn from executives. Consequently, remote learning for executives should promote engagement through interactive practice sessions, group discussions, and thought-provoking ideas. Understand the experience of the instructor as well to determine if his or her experience level matches the need of the learner.
Digitization. Choose remote learning programs that utilize platforms that will be easy to navigate from any device (desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile device). Know ahead of time what level of support is offered to avoid user frustration and disengagement.
Transformation. Executives who seek training are already motivated to learn. Ensure the remote learning program is designed to close the skills transfer gap. Recognize that not all remote learning is created equal and seek out opportunities that will most effectively allow the new skill to be applied on the job.
Innovation. Effective remote executive learning can and should offer innovative, cutting-edge learning opportunities. Whether the executive is learning a new skill or coaching another executive through a workplace challenge, the environment should offer innovation that will advance the future of all involved.
In summary, meeting the training and operational needs of an executive no longer needs to be challenging for organizations. By leveraging technology and embracing remote learning, organizations can provide executives with the competencies required to navigate daily operations and its workforce to create a new normal. Maybe what will be discovered during its creation is that remote learning for executives is the new normal that should have always been.
About the Author: Angela L. Kegler is director of human resources and organizational development for the city of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Her consulting and training experience ranges from small businesses to global organizations, with her clientele spanning across multiple entities and industries such as government agencies, municipalities, utility companies, educational institutions, financial institutions, healthcare organizations, manufacturing facilities, and nonprofit organizations.