E-learning for Executives
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E-learning for Executives

Do Learning Management Systems have a future in management development?


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In our complex business world, effective staff development and training are critical, as is the need to keep learning up-to-date and spread it through organizations. Learning Management Systems (LMS) offer a solution. Although expensive to set up, the advantages of LMS are numerous, from lower ongoing costs to accessibility to flexibility.

However, when it comes to executive development and the sophisticated skills so important to managing complex businesses, LMS may not be the answer.

In this perceptive article Dr Toby Thompson, Networked Learning Director, Centre for Customised Executive Development, Cranfield School of Management, sounds a warning about relying on Learning Management Systems to deliver executive learning:

Learning Management Systems (LMS) have become popular tools for supporting programmes of staff development and training inside organizations. Often associated with some form of e‑learning, LMS help organizations to administer, document, track—and often deliver—training and development programmes.

Nor is it difficult to see why LMS are so popular. With regulation in a wide range of industries increasingly imposing duties on employers to both train employees and keep that training up to date, the use of LMS to monitor that training enables organizations to ensure regulatory compliance. And if a Learning Management System can actually deliver that training as well, through e-learning, then so much the better.

But the nature of the e-learning training that is associated with LMS—especially when those same LMS are used to deliver the training in question—raises doubts about their broader applicability.

In short, it’s one thing for LMS to make sure that all relevant staff have received (say) health and safety training. And quite another for LMS to be capable of being used for management development at an executive level.

A bridge too far

It’s fair to say that this is not yet a widely-held viewpoint, especially among management development professionals.

Put another way, in some quarters there’s a fashionable perception of e-learning as a means of combining low-cost and resource-light training with an approach to management development that offers considerable flexibility to learners in respect of how they consume that learning.

This isn’t necessarily a view that we share here at Cranfield. And most definitely not if we’re talking about the sort of single-learner e-learning characterised by simple text-based screens supplemented by short video segments and clunky multiple choice questions.

To be blunt, it’s a mistake to imagine that the complex soft skills that are required of effective managers—and therefore, the soft skills required to be imparted through management development—can be effectively taught via such simple e‑learning tools.

Which isn’t to say that such tools don’t have a place. Health and safety training, yes. Financial training, yes. Regulatory compliance training, yes. But management development training? Almost certainly not.

Redefining e-learning

Which isn’t to dismiss modern technology completely as a means of delivering effective management development.

And certainly not to dismiss LMS allied to what we might think of a rich e-learning—an approach to e-learning that leverages technology when that leveraging makes sense, but which otherwise refuses to compromise on delivering high-calibre educators, class-based discussion and debate, and work-based projects that go further than simple multiple-choice quizzes.

In other words, e-learning should use technology to make it easy for people to gain access to management development through insightful webinars, join with their peers in virtual classrooms, access leading experts, and work on challenging role-based and work-based projects. And all while retaining the flexibility that technology offers, in terms of being able to continue to carry out their normal roles and responsibilities, without interruption.

Thinking: brilliantly applied for the decade ahead

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