Executives have traditionally shied away from online learning, viewing the medium as impersonal and unengaging. And since thought leaders and experts have also ignored this medium, preferring to deliver sessions to live audiences, the result is that there isn’t much e-learning content of value for executives to tap into.
As a result, organizational adoption of e-learning has been confined to lower level staff, with a focus on technical training, compliance, and frontline skills.
But this is all about to change. Three forces are enabling a whole new experience for executives as online learning comes of age.
- The “anytime, anywhere” revolution in technology is putting high-speed access to videos and the internet in the hands of anyone carrying a smartphone.
- Social media tools are letting people interact online – sharing content, providing feedback, and building connections – in ways that are sometimes even richer than what they can do in the physical world.
- Open-source and cloud-based computing are making educators gain access to sophisticated platforms on which to build compelling online learning experiences.
Innovators in executive education are starting to take notice. Hitendra Wadhwa, a professor at Columbia Business School who also directs the Institute for Personal Leadership and is at the forefront of Columbia’s development of online executive education programs, is getting executives and their organizations to finally give a nod to online learning. He is doing so by creating a fresh new approach that destroys the three enduring myths that executives have held on to for the last decade:
Myth #1: Online learning is impersonal. New Wisdom: Online learning can help executives meaningfully share and learn and form communities with their peers around the globe.
By leveraging social media tools, and interspersing lecture-content with online discussions, quizzes and online learning group interactions, innovative educators can help participants forge deep and meaningful ties online. One recent participant in Wadhwa’s Personal Leadership (Online) program reflects, “This program allowed me to be part of a global community and have the opportunity to share my thoughts and to learn from other participants' experiences in a non-intrusive way.”
Myth #2: Online learning is unengaging. New Wisdom: By introducing TV and film-making sensibilities, online learning today can deliver a very engaging experience online that inspires as much as it informs the learner’s journey.
Executives have traditionally complained that it is difficult to sit in front of a computer and listen to someone talk for more than five minutes. Wadhwa believes this is because the medium has not been used creatively. After all, he says, don’t we all happily allow our attention to be held captive by actors on a movie screen for more than an hour at a time? The secret to making online content engaging, according to Wadhwa, is to recognize that education is not only about nourishing participants’ minds but also about stirring their hearts. When instructors learn to form a rich personal connection with their participants on camera, they are already starting to inspire, not just inform, the participants on their learning journey. And this journey can be made even more engaging by carefully designing the physical environment – the setting in which the lectures are delivered, the graphics and the music. Wadhwa, for instance, is eschewing the use of a studio and instead delivering lectures in natural settings such as the scenic Columbia University campus and other New York landmarks like Central Park, Grand Central Terminal and Wall Street. By training himself to speak naturally to the camera, he comes across as though he is directly speaking to you, the learner.
One executive observes, “Personal Leadership (Online) is like watching an interactive TV channel loaded with information and insights.”. Another observes, “The videos outside of the classroom in attractive architectural and natural settings are very effective. Professor Wadhwa's compassionate mind and thoughtful presence came through much more effectively than in the classroom settings; a connection was established and sustained across the videos.
Such a connection seems particularly important given the intensely personal nature of the experience.” Wadhwa creatively mixes these on-location video-lectures with videos of classroom discussion, creating a dynamic experience where the participants’ learning journey is constantly evolving.
Myth #3: Online content is limited to serving low-level training needs. New Wisdom: A new breed of leading-edge educators are now offering executive-focused programs and content online.
As Wadhwa’s forays online demonstrate, thought leaders and experts are now starting to embrace the online medium. Columbia Business School Executive Education is offering two online programs next month, Personal Leadership and Driving Strategic Impact, and more of their top executive education faculty are preparing to launch classes online in 2013. As this trend continues to grow, executives will find more and more leading-edge content, tools and training being available to them online. As one executive put it, “Personal Leadership (Online) taught me valuable tools and techniques to overcome various challenges and become more effective in achieving my goals. I will definitely review the materials, tools and concepts from the program on a regular basis so I can [continually] refine my skills set.”
Wadhwa sees the information explosion of today’s digital age as a key challenge for executives who want to stay on top of the rapidly evolving base of knowledge in the art and science of management. He is unfazed by the advent of MOOCs and free online content – as he appreciates that ‘there will be a constant demand for those experts who can be trusted to identify, synthesize and apply the right content and deliver it with impact and relevance…The sign of a great teacher is not just dealing with the intellectual element, it is also in creating and resolving tensions so that the participant’s emotions are engaged.
Inspiration has always been integral to good learning. And Wadhwa has seen in his own online programs that, in the same way that emotions and engagement can be stirred across the airwaves on radio and TV, so too can thought leaders and teachers transfer that excitement with leading-edge content and their pedagogic skills online.