Date: April 2020 | Autho(s): Dorette Lochner

Online courses in leadership and communication skills - turning a challenge into an opportunity

HR development experts and training providers are increasingly asking themselves how they can replace face-to-face seminars with effective online training courses.  In our experience, there are four key aspects to making the most of this opportunity:

1. Getting participants involved

Getting learners involved is one of the most decisive factors in ensuring successful learning. Learning through active participation has been shown to achieve longer-lasting results than simply listening to a trainer talk.

For online courses, this means trainers need more than just a sound knowledge of their subject. They also need to be familiar with the methods that are best suited to online environments – and they need to be able to apply these methods in a way that enables participants to get actively involved without being distracted by the techniques themselves.

This is no easy matter, but with practice it can provide participants with an enjoyable and successful learning experience.

2. Establishing trust

Fostering trust and openness is particularly important when it comes to training soft skills. That’s because participants will only open up and input their ideas and experiences if they feel they are in a safe space. People often ask us how it is possible to create an atmosphere of trust without even being in the same room. Can trust really be established remotely?

We are convinced that it can. Successfully building trust within a group essentially depends on participants perceiving the right attitude and level of interest from the other members of the group. In principle, this requirement applies just as much to an online training session as to a real-world seminar.

Trust grows quickly if the trainer succeeds in using suitable questions and exercises to encourage the first few participants to open up about the problems and challenges they are facing. The more reserved members of the group will then follow their lead. This applies equally to face-to-face training and online courses.

3. Ensuring practical relevance in the learning environment

The closer the training context comes to real life, the more effective the learning experience. When it comes to leadership and communication training, this raises the question of the contexts in which people actually interact with each other in their day-to-day work.

The more people collaborate in online spaces, the more important it becomes to develop the skills to tackle challenging conversations online – from feedback to job interviews. Our experience suggests that communication skills in online settings are currently something that many specialists and managers are particularly keen to learn. Allowing people to practice these skills in situations from their real-life, day-to-day work is particularly important and also achievable online.

4. Making training courses the right length

Last but not least, it is important to consider what length of training is acceptable in both real-world and online settings. Face-to-face soft skills training courses typically extend over an entire day or longer. Devoting this unbroken period of time to training is important, because learning social skills is about more than just acquiring knowledge. It also involves reflecting on your own attitudes and emotions, practising dialogues and processing feedback. That takes time and a certain amount of mental space and flexibility.

To achieve comparable learning results online, it is necessary for the course to extend over a similar unbroken period of time. A two-hour training session will not produce the same depth of learning as spending an entire day together. Even a series of two-hour online modules cannot replicate the intensity of a whole day.

That's why we have put together online training courses that have enough of a dynamic, captivating structure to comfortably take participants through an entire day. The secret to making this a success is to keep people on their toes by switching between online and offline phases. Activities can include participants calling a partner to interview them by phone while taking a stroll, breakout groups, warm-up challenges set by the trainer, roleplay sessions, case work and periods of individual reflection, all tied together with a varied series of techniques to visualise the training content and lock in successful learning results. The excellent feedback we have received from participants suggests that this approach works.

Trust us: it's amazing what you can achieve online!