Today is National Online Learning Day—a celebration of virtual education for school-aged children. When this was established in 2016, no one could have imagined the dramatic surge in online learning for both kids and adults.

Fast forward to 2021 and the pressures of an ongoing pandemic.

Leaders have discovered that a good majority of professional development opportunities are now available online. Instead of a gradual shift based on convenience, this trend was a crisis response based on germ containment. Baptism by fire, as they say. The point is, virtual leadership education is now plentiful, and it’s also likely to stick around long-term.

Given that reality, I’d like to share a few of my findings from 18 months of delivering virtual leadership programs and getting feedback from my participants. Here are four things I’ve discovered that leaders want most in their online development programs:

1.     Presentations that have been customized for a virtual environment.

What works in a typical face-to-face training course may not be effective through a computer screen. I know firsthand that moving from onstage to online isn’t a direct translation. It takes plenty of planning and creativity to engage remote participants in meaningful ways. Leaders want programs in which the virtual presenters know how to provide solid content and an exceptional audience experience.

2.     Quality content, not bells and whistles.

There’s a tendency for some virtual instructors to rely on bells and whistles—gratuitous polls or silly games. And while I get that we could all use some levity right now, I have heard from many leaders who have a strong preference for powerful content, not fancy delivery formats. They want instructors who understand the specific challenges they are facing and provide actionable strategies, as well as time to reflect or practice the new principles. Real substance is the key.

3.     Plenty of opportunities for engagement and interaction.

Leaders want courses that give them the option to engage with other leaders rather than simply listening for several hours. Being able to interact with others will help them uncover fresh perspectives and explore new thought processes. I’ve seen remarkable examples of growth when participants get the benefit of hearing about others’ experiences (positive or negative). These information exchanges have helped to shorten learning curves and advocate for the notion of built-in “thinking partners.”

4.     A wrap-around approach to leadership development.

While virtual development might seem like a quick fix, applying the lessons learned takes time and practice. Leaders want continuity and opportunities to practice and discuss what they have learned. With that said, the programs that deliver the highest value often include a separate coaching component or small group follow-on discussions.

A simple yet effective technique that has helped my participants to keep their learning concepts top of mind is committing to reconnect with their virtual thinking partners from the course. When they follow up with each other regularly for “how’s it working?” conversations, they extend the benefits of the learning process.

I count myself fortunate to be interacting with leaders every day. It allows me to pay close attention to the issues that are plaguing them and their teams. It also gives me the opportunity to provide “just in time” coaching or counsel that can be particularly helpful in uncertain times with constantly changing variables.

The good news? I may be able to help you, too.

I’ve been hosting targeted sessions on LinkedIn Live every few weeks. These forums allow me to talk directly to leaders on the front lines, find out what challenges they are facing right now, and provide some “just in time” solutions. I hope you’ll make plans to join me for those and use this information to supplement your virtual development efforts.

Now that we’ve all become part of the trend toward virtual education, I’d like to wish each one of you the very best on National Online Learning Day.

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Until next time,