Burning issues exist within the talent development and leadership education space. The bottom line is that leadership development today is confounded by troublesome disconnects.
The most basic is access: More people should benefit from residential executive education experiences than those programs can accommodate or than we can afford. Furthermore, a three-day workshop format isn’t always feasible for most organizations facing financial, geographical, travel and time constraints.
The second disconnect is between the outstanding residential learning environment and the office environment: Because executives are learning in one environment and applying in another, lessons can get lost in translation.
As an example, let’s look at the “Program on Negotiation” from Harvard, a residential executive education course with a phenomenal reputation that’s been extremely successful for more than 30 years. Senior leaders who have attended this three-day workshop come out of the course with a mutual sentiment: They’ve had an amazing transformational experience, they’ve crystalized their vision, and they’re ready to drive key business initiatives in their organizations. But when they go back to the office on Monday, work gets busy, and the course manual gets put on a shelf.
It would be great if companies could offer their entire executive ranks outstanding executive experiences like Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. We can’t. So the question becomes whether it’s possible to deliver the same content in executives’ home environments in a way that fully captures the benefits of a residential experience. Taking it a step further, in delivering executive education locally, we might be able to overcome the disconnect inherent to residential programs — namely, the separation between the learning and doing environments. The necessity to pack teaching into a three-day live course has consequences that can dilute the impact of learning, including:
>> Compressed workshop schedules leave little time for reflection, practice and reinforcement of lessons.
>> When teachers and students don’t share the same context and challenge, discussion can become more theoretical than practical.
>> When participants are from different places and working on different challenges, their ability to support each other and work collectively is constrained.
>> Application of lessons to company challenges, as well as co-option of colleagues, falls on the shoulders of program participants rather than program organizers.
>> Support material available to program participants is difficult to share and interpret for colleagues needed to implement program lessons.
Understanding that it’s not possible for everyone to attend Harvard’s negotiation program in person and also knowing that, for all their strengths, elite residential programs have some structural constraints, the question arises of what we would build if we weren’t confined to traditional executive education approaches. There is an answer.
REVOLUTIONIZING LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
Dr. Larry Susskind is the master professor at M.I.T. and a co-founder of the Harvard Program on Negotiation. Using his research and teaching as a prototype, we set out to answer the burning question: Bringing together all we know about the science of learning, if we were to design an executive education experience from scratch, what would it look like?
It’s not hard to imagine the broad outlines of that ideal learning system. Of course, we would still want Susskind’s outstanding content. To fit into the busy days of attention-challenged executives, though, we would chop it up into short, delicious content bites and deliver it digitally. But those ingredients alone would only add up to a better MOOC. We would also want to time the delivery of content to ensure proximity to real-world decisions that executives were making while boosting retention. Critically, we would connect participants so that they can collectively make better decisions and adjust course.
To get the most out of the cohort, we’d want to mix live and offline efforts to take advantage of both types of learning. We’d also like a guide who can help navigate the content, keep the cohort on track and motivate contribution.
All of these attributes add up to a powerful new way to harness social technologies to improve the depth of learning as well as business outcomes.
CorpU’s connected learning program brings together intellectual genius and real-world business results. It is a potent blend of new media, academic genius and 21st-century technologies that foster developmental growth of the community. Here’s what it looks like to transform Harvard’s Program on Negotiation to what we at CorpU call “connected learning”:
1. A five-week course is a guided, paced cohort (called a Guided Learning Journey) facilitated by a subject-matter expert.
2. Lessons are broken into 30 minutes per day, two to three hours per week.
3. Lessons include video lectures, case studies and research.
4. The course is endorsed by senior leaders who frame a business problem, challenge or initiative.
5. Participants read, watch and reflect, then discuss in live weekly forums.
6. Courses run five weeks on, seven weeks off, in sync with the quarterly compartments of business.
7. During time off, participants engage in informal learning situated in a virtual learning community of practice connecting with other participants and experts.
With this approach, you can deliver courses in a way that promotes sense-making, learning and “real-world” application by leveraging technology used by all employees every day. It enables a communication loop that cascades and links the various groups, subgroups and knowledge. Participants can engage in rich online dialog; attend live, virtual forums; reflect on comments and stories by subjectmatter experts; and think about how they may apply it in the context of their own job — adding significant value to the business.
For example, a course structure: “Watch this (video), then read this (document), then reflect (internalize), then discuss (contextualize), then break out (explore), then try (experiment), then report (synthesize), then meet (validate and socialize).”
Each week will have a purposefully sequenced flow of activities that: (1) introduces a concept; (2) presents some evidence that supports the concept; (3) helps participants internalize and contextualize the concept; (4) brings the collective wisdom/experience/genius of the cohort to bear on the concept; (5) summarizes and brings some action/ next steps to the concept; (6) links this concept to the next concept.
As exciting as this new way of expert content delivery is, even more exciting is the connected community of leaders all engaged on the same company problems and the same content. When connected, cohort members can stress-test each other’s ideas, recommend content to each other, and align communication across the enterprise. After the formal learning journey is over, virtual learning communities (VLCs) continue to interact with each other. In this way, the network can collectively stay on the cutting edge of practice and accelerate participants’ path to mastery of content.
Just as a connected network of leaders focused on the same content and the same company problems is better positioned to create relevant solutions, the CorpU technology platform is also designed to enable L&D professionals to keep content fresh and on-point. If course participants identify useful outside content or subject-matter experts with must-know content, L&D can integrate it into course content almost immediately. Participants can recommend reading and ask colleagues to comment. Current events can be seamlessly integrated alongside “greatest-hit” expert content to enable a constant evolution that makes content feel fresh as the day the course was first designed.
All this engineering is transforming the level of engagement that participants feel. So instead of getting 8 percent completion rates using the self-paced e-learning methods, “connected learning” is achieving 80 percent completion rates on its Guided Learning Journeys, while helping companies harness the collective genius that exists within their business.
CREATING BETTER OUTCOMES: MAKING BUSINESS IMPACT
Ultimately, moving to a connected learning model enables you to increase the value of your investments in learning and development programs by helping leaders learn at the speed of your business, cascade knowledge and solve problems faster. As a result, executive development is no longer a sideline that leaders fit in where they can. It is integrated into work and improves the enterprise’s ability to drive business outcomes.
—The author, Alan Todd, is CEO of CorpU.
THE BENEFITS OF CONNECTED LEARNING
>> Communicate their vision while connecting and managing the required changes to bring it to life
>> Get insights into different phases of change across groups
>> Communicate messages to direct reports as well as large groups
>> Gain knowledge and deal immediately with obstacles to achieving this vision
>> Share information and context
>> Communicate without limit at little effort or cost
>> Sense and understand obstacles
>> Coach teams and individuals through challenges
Technical/professional staff can:
>> Influence the nature of change and help shape its implementation
>> Receive messages in context
>> Access messages repeatedly as they move through stages in the change curve
>> Understand feedback issues and needs
>> Have direct communication line with project leaders
>> Reach diverse and dispersed audiences through a facilitated Cloud-based
Learning leaders can:
>> Find, develop and connect your organization to the best minds in the world
>> Benefit from increased participant engagement
>> Support different types of learners and facilitates repetition
>> Provide opportunities for “deliberate practice”
>> Drive behavior changes over the long term by focusing on competence, capability, coaching and community development
Strategic/business leaders can:
>> Build a learning culture
>> Evolve the solution, together
>> Speed up time to transformation
>> Increase engagement and belief in leadership
>> Create a change capability
>> Transform the organization
>> Cascade sustainable knowledge and organizational capability