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Online learning out of favour for L&D

E-learning is unpopular among executives, while classroom-based and one-to-one methods are enjoying a new lease of life in 2015.

Pure online learning is the least preferred learning and development method among executives, according to a report by Henley Business School.

The annual Corporate Learning Priorities Survey, which researched 368 executives from 39 countries, found only 6% of executive and senior management and 7% of middle management preferred e-learning as a learning and development method.

In contrast, coaching is rising in popularity, especially among senior management. Some two-thirds (65%) of executive and senior management said coaching was their preferred learning and development method. According to the research, individual coaching will be the most used L&D activity in 2015, with 85% of respondents planning to use this. Peer-to-peer activities will be the next favourite method of learning.

Henley Business School head of learning design Claire Hewitt said while online learning may be the least popular, she didn’t believe people had lost interest in it.  Rather, it is part of an “overall blended learning solution”.

“We have become much more clever in designing programmes using online in different ways, particularly in those interactive ways that frequently people don’t classify as online learning,” she said.

Jeremy Phillips-Powell, global talent and organisational effectiveness director at RSA Group, said e-learning had proved to be a useful tool when time was short. “We’ve had real success this year through using e-learning for training people about whistleblowing. It’s something we wanted to get the whole organisation up to speed on quickly.

“If I wanted to do that through a classroom-based approach it could have taken me the best part of six months to train the entire organisation. Through e-learning I was able to do it in three weeks.”

Dorchester Collection director of learning & talent Charlotte Gibson said she related to the unpopularity of online learning. She said she had found traditional one-to-one classroom and on-the-floor learning was still the most preferred method within the business.

“As we are in the business of serving people, personalised training and coaching is far more effective than online learning,” she said.

She added online learning “serves best” as a reinforcement of already learned information. “Given the 24-hour nature of our business, taking a blended approach ensures we get the most from our people,” she said.

Enlighten Training & Consultancy MD Lindsey Thornton predicts a rise in the use of technology in learning and development activities over the next year.

“With so much of life moving online and in the cloud, the opportunities for training are endless, with potential for organisations to reduce training costs,” she said.

The dip in popularity of e-learning could be due to employee perceptions of it being an “off-the-shelf solution with little investment into them as individuals,” she added.

Gillian Pillans, Corporate Research Forum (CRF) research director, said the figures for coaching are likely to be so high with senior management because they were more exposed to this development method.

CRF released its own members survey in 2013, which found the most common use of coaching was for a transition to a more senior role or promotion (67.5%) while 56% of respondents said coaching was offered as part of executive development coaching programmes.

The expense of coaching might restrict the use of it beyond senior executive level, Pillans added. “Coaching is expensive so it tends to be tied in to specific leadership activities,” she said.