Employers must rethink digital learning to develop managers

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Digital learning may be nothing new, but companies need to rethink how they use it to develop managers’ skills and get the right outcomes for the organisation, says Ian Myson from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

Our leisure and working lives have been revolutionised by digital technology. The rise of social media in the last decade has transformed our expectations about how we do business, how we communicate, and how we connect and share.

The potential for it to change how we learn to lead is every bit as big. But has that potential yet been realised?

Not according to many of the managers surveyed by CMI.

The findings of “Learning to lead: the digital potential” reveal that many employers need to rethink how they go about helping their managers and leaders develop their professional skills.

According to 1,184 UK managers surveyed for the report, nearly all (97%) spend at least one day a year developing skills through digital learning. However, four in five (79%) managers believe that their organisation is not “realising digital learning potential” of smartphone and tablet web-enabled apps they now take for granted.

Perceptions of digital learning

Almost seven in 10 (69%) perceive cost-cutting to be the main reason why their employers opt for digital learning, compared to just one-fifth who believe it is used to improve the quality of teaching.

More than one in three (37%) surveyed said that the courses are “poorly aligned with their organisation’s objectives”.

Counterintuitively, the report finds that younger managers are more likely to opt for face-to-face training, which is attributed to current e-learning materials falling short of the expectations of managers used to high-quality smartphone apps.

The report, however, shows the potential for firms getting such advanced apps right. Younger managers express a clear preference for more advanced digital training approaches, such as gamification. Those under the age of 35 are more than twice as likely (41%, compared with 16% of those aged 55+) to find games and apps useful.

Three-quarters (73%) of managers want to see digital learning become more personalised by using adaptive learning technologies, with content and approach tailored to personal learning style and progression.

Access to a network of peers is also considered a must, with 58% of younger managers wanting to see better networks become part of their learning. Just 20% report that the digital learning they have undertaken is accredited.

What do managers want?

Digital learning has the potential to facilitate skills development at any time or place and to allow a great deal of choice in content and subject areas. Managers want more control over the time, location and pace of their learning, and increasingly this means learning from the comfort of their desk at home.

Managers want personalised bite-size content, to share knowledge and learn from connected peer networks, to ask questions and get feedback in real time. Textbooks do not offer that, but digital learning does.

That is now part of how we work and live but managers do not see this being provided when they learn. The result? Younger managers – those most savvy about the digital world – are the group least attracted to digital learning.

What’s more, managers see that cost is the biggest driver for their organisation, at the expense of quality and effectiveness. They expect better.

Fulfilling the digital potential

Employers are at risk of making tech-savvy managers “switch off” from learning new skills by using dated digital technologies.

If we want better-led organisations, then we need accredited digital training that engages managers.

Organisations need to actively encourage managers to use what is available, select and signpost appropriate resources, and integrate digital learning into their management and leadership development programme.

The use of accredited digital learning gives managers the chance to achieve formal professional qualifications.

Blending the flexibility of digital learning with accredited development routes can give learners a clear focus and, by providing recognition of what they have learned, reinforce their confidence and performance.

There are plenty of examples of companies doing it right. Corporates like BP and PwC are using “real-world” learning programmes. And CMI’s online portal ManagementDirect gives managers the power to build their own learning experiences.

Digital learning offers managers unprecedented control over their development. The future will be more personalised, more socially connected and more practical. The challenge is ensuring digital learning capitalises on these things.

Recognising the need for accredited digital learning, the CMI has created a new programme of leadership and management (MOOC) in partnership with The Open University Business School (OUBS).

Launching on the 27 June on the FutureLearn platform, this will be the first MOOC to offer learners a professional CMI management qualification.

This new innovative partnership with the OUBS means that the CMI are able to deliver a CMI-accredited course to help thousands of managers develop recognised professional skills, using the latest tried and tested online learning techniques.

Ian Myson

About Ian Myson

Ian Myson is director of higher education partnerships at the Chartered Management Institute.
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