How digital learning can really help leaders and managers

Leaders and managers are crying out for smart, personalized, blended, and digital solutions they can access on any device – wherever and whenever they need it. If they can’t find what they need in-house, they turn to Google. So, if you want to provide leaders and managers with learning and performance support that works, what does it need to look like?

leadership learning

In our recent leadership post, we served up some stats on the gap between what leaders and managers need to improve their performance and develop their skills, and the learning and development they tend to receive.

In this guide we’ll share advice on how to get your leadership learning aligned.

The gap problem: leaders are being let down by outdated learning

the gap problem digital learning

Good managers can make the difference to business success, with those who do well driving a 23% profit increase on average, according to BIS. Yet, whilst most organizations recognize the importance of leadership, and invest in management and leadership training, both BIS and Deloitte report on a management and leadership skills gap within organizations, with many concerned that their leadership pipelines are running staggeringly low.

So what’s going wrong? As we reported in our post here, a general mismatch exists between how leaders and managers access and use learning, and what’s actually being provided to them.

What do modern managers and leaders want?

According to Towards Maturity (TM), 65% of leaders lack the time for learning, and when they do seek help, it’s often at an immediate point of need. Frustratingly, 44% of those who seek help can’t find what they need. It’s no wonder 70% of leaders consider Google or other web searches as a key source of learning – but this often yields varying results.

Whilst face-to-face learning is still an option rated relatively highly by managers and leaders, and social learning is a definite must-do, calls are mounting for learning that supports leaders to do their job. Leaders need and expect instantly accessible performance support, which is where digital learning comes in.

Most leaders (75%) say online learning can enable them to do their job better and faster – Chartered Management Institute (CMI): Learning to lead. The Digital Potential.

According to CMI, leaders like online learning for three reasons: it’s convenient, it can be done anywhere, and it is self-paced.

Seven out of ten leaders and managers use mobile devices to access learning, either as a point of need or on the way to or from work (TM).

A huge opportunity is staring at training providers

Leaders are crying out for online learning and, in particular, mobile learning. Whilst some providers very much prefer the face-to-face approach, many do provide elearning solutions to leaders and managers. But 57% of directors don’t feel face-to-face learning is meeting their needs (TM). It is often long, “learning-based” rather than needs based, and not mobile.

Learning providers have a huge opportunity to win over leaders by tapping into a new space: short, relevant, needs-based support, available anytime, on any device.

But let’s not forget the development of long-term skills and behaviors. These personal skills are vital to the makeup of successful leaders and the development of future leaders. They take practice and are developed incrementally, with experience. Five-day workshops may provide a deep-dive, but then they finish. Development doesn’t.

So, how can digital learning best support both needs-based learning and long-term leadership skills?

Our guide to getting it right

Needs-based learning: get bite-size, get focused

The key to providing effective needs-based digital learning is to first identify the needs of your learners. If you don’t tap into what they need, and understand the context around those needs, you’ll probably miss the mark. So get researching.

The kinds of topics commonly searched for by leaders and managers are:

  • Handling difficult conversations
  • Performance management
  • Running meetings
  • Delegation techniques
  • Time management
  • Influencing others

Ironically, if leaders are too busy to learn, the first things to help them with are time management tools and resources. They won’t see this as learning if it’s helpful – it’ll just become part of what they do.

How should it work?

These have to be bite-size, multi-device resources. They can be accessed on the way to that all-important meeting. Think along the lines of short elearning:

  • Tips
  • Tools
  • Infographics
  • Demos
  • Diagrams
  • Videos

Here’s an example of a multi-device tip developed in Elucidat:

elucidat tips example

Make sure these supporting resources are well labelled and can easily be found – you may need to invest in a good modern LMS, such as Docebo, Cornerstone, LearnUpon, or a portal to house them.

Supporting longer-term skills and behavior development – go for blended

For longer-term skills and behavior development, blended approaches are your best bet.

In terms of digital learning, here are some ideas for what can work well:

Micro learning

Duolingo is an app that enables people to learn a language at their own pace, by working through incremental challenges. Think of your elearning as a way to build an individual’s leadership skills incrementally by delivering a smart mix of resources, challenges, and examples that get increasingly more sophisticated. Or as a modern way to deliver a course that taps into a self-directed learning mode.


To change behaviors and develop personal skills, we need to be stretched and challenged to apply our thinking and put learning into practice. Scenarios, games, and simulations are vital here.

An example of an ethical challenge game created for the OU, powered by Elucidat

An example of an ethical challenge game created for the OU, powered by Elucidat.

Polls and peers

Social and collaborative learning are must-dos for leaders and managers who often network to get answers, but also care about the opinions of peers. Within your digital learning, be sure to use social polling so learners can compare their views with those of their peers and experts, and learn from this.

elucidat polls feature

A polling results screen showing the learners view vs. those of other learners.

Scores and accreditations

“Line managers are twice as likely to be motivated by online learning if it leads to professional qualification,” says Towards Maturity. Make your elearning count with badges, competitive leaderboards, professional accreditations, and qualifications. Consider motivating learners along the way with shareable rewards that lead to a final qualification; much like those provided by good micro learning approaches.


Memorable, personal, and contextual stories make a huge difference to any learning. For leaders and managers who want to learn from each other, but who also want to learn from experts, capturing stories within your elearning is key. Whether written or recorded as video or audio, they don’t have to be expensive to produce. Release the power of stories from within an elearning course, and let them be used as resources in their own right.

utility warehouse stories video

Example of an expert view video, from a Utility Warehouse course

To bring this all together, portals or LMSs will be key. How easy your digital learning is to find is a big part of its success. See some thoughts on why you need an LMS.

For more ideas on blends and social learning, see our guides on how to create blends that work and 10 tips to keeping social in the mix.

Key takeaways

If you’d like to stay ahead of the game and deliver cutting-edge, digital, multi-device learning that meets the needs of modern managers and leaders, consider an authoring tool like Elucidat.

Johnson & Johnson Vision Care was able to double the amount of multi-device digital learning it delivered when it switched to Elucidat, and the company saw online learning increase seven fold as a result. It could help you to close the gap between learning and leaders.