The concept of online learning – or digital development as we call it at Aspire - is not something new; it’s been around for many years. Historically, digital development has been used by universities or large organisations, to impart and then test a person’s new-found knowledge. Online learning in this context is proven and certainly has its place, but when it comes to digital development in the area of management training, the jury is still out.
Management training is about developing the skills needed to approach a situation in the workplace, such as coaching a member of your team or influencing decision makers. With this in mind, it begs the question, how much can you learn online when the objective isn’t to just acquire knowledge, but to also develop new skills?It’s a question of theory versus ability; just because a manager may know how to deliver a successful appraisal, doesn’t mean they actually have the skills to physically deliver the appraisal effectively in the workplace.
One of the major benefits of digital development is accessibility. According to a study by the International Data Corporation, 30% of employees across the UK are now able to access digital development tools from the workplace or at home. This is ideal for business owners and SMEs that may not have the capital to commission a bespoke in-house management training programme but still have a staff development need. In addition, digital development allows businesses to monitor which employees are taking control of their own learning, benchmarking their development and identifying other areas for improvement.
Of course, there’s also the cost-savings enjoyed through digital development; a 2012 study revealed that companies embracing online learning have cut their training costs by 22% while seeing a 26% improvement in reach and employee engagement. And the advantages of digital development don’t end here. The benefit for employees is the level of flexibility – people lead increasingly busy lives and the way we work isn’t always desk-bound in the office; with digital delivery employees can access it anytime and anywhere.
In addition, digital development is focused and timely; employees can pick and choose specific areas that is relevant to their individual learning needs, rather than sitting through the ‘background noise’ of a full management training workshop in the workplace covering a number of different development subjects. As the Millennium Generation (20-something-year-olds who have grown up with technology and instant connectivity) work their way through the ranks and take up management roles, the demand for digital development is set to grow and grow. In fact, a recent study has shown that up to 70% of UK businesses plan to implement some form of digital development in the workplace.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to digital development; like the concern that businesses will lose control of corporate key messages that would be communicated during face-to-face workshops and learning programmes, in addition to the challenge of assessing skills, rather than testing knowledge. So what can businesses do to make sure that digital development is an asset to their training programmes while developing skills, not just imparting knowledge? The answer is blended learning.
A 2014 review of the e-learning market in the UK found that face-to-face training is still the preferred method when developing high level skills. So with this in mind and coupled with the increasing demand for digital development, the 21st Century solution to successful management training is blended learning, which offers the best of both worlds; imparting knowledge through digital development then assessing and applying skills through a range of face-to-face methods.