Robin Hills, Emotional Intelligence Facilitator and Coach, Ei4Change

Developing Emotional Intelligence Skills Through Online Courses 

There has been a quiet revolution in learning over the last few years with online courses becoming increasingly popular. This has taken a dramatic upturn since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and is set to continue apace over the coming months.

Post-pandemic training will not return immediately to the old classroom style workshops due to the challenges of social distancing and the use of shared training materials that will need continually disinfecting. These are questions that need addressing alongside the traditional financial considerations of time out of the business, costs, travel, overnight stays, etc., which are also set to change noticeably.

Many trainers, coaches and facilitators are scrabbling to recuperate lost income by quickly adapt to delivering online. They are starting to use Zoom and webinars for live sessions and making recordings that they hope will act as an alternative. The quality of the audio and video range from acceptable to truly appalling.

For these reasons, changes are going to have to continue to take place around how training is delivered.  Whatever these are, it is important that any training intervention can be shown to add value to an organisation or to contribute to profitability.

Now more than ever, executives, leaders and managers are feeling the pressure to make sure staff remain engaged and productive, cope with change and survive to ensure they are delivering the results that the business needs.  Changes in behaviour concerning attention spans, ways that information is delivered and changes around learning need to be considered which drives the requirement for short, snappy, relevant and engaging content.

Online learning is part of a developing global industry growing at 5% year on year and expected to reach $300 billion by 2023.

The Benefits of Online Learning

When facts, information and data need to be delivered in a uniform manner and can be disseminated quickly and easily to many people, e-learning supports the development of skills that require teaching.  However, much computer-based training and e-learning has a well-deserved reputation for being dull and uninspiring, with high rates of drop out and low completion rates.  

E-learning does not have to be another form of “death by PowerPoint”.  Advances in software means that inspiring, engaging content can be developed easily that use animation and interactions.

There are many good quality online courses available covering every topic imaginable.  Most were published long before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19.  These are made in high-definition video with crisp audio supported with well-made training activities, exercises and quizzes.  Good courses are being continually updated as techniques improve, and further information becomes available.

Courses are available online around the clock from anywhere in the world meaning that learners can get their training wherever they happen to be. They can learn at their own pace, at whatever time suits them and they can review and revisit the material many times.

Good online courses have built-in methods to test the knowledge and understanding of learners. Gamification of online learning means that progress is automatically tracked and rewarded. This encourages the learner and can be seen by those organising the training.

Soft Skill Development and Online Learning

Can online learning be used to support personal development in areas such as leadership and emotional intelligence?

When you look at these soft skills - how to build relationships with people, how to listen, how to be empathetic, how to develop resilience, how to ask great questions, how make quality decisions, how to conduct difficult conversations, how to manage conflict – information and frameworks offer some insight and understanding.  However, new knowledge alone is not enough to change behaviour or develop leadership capability. This is why these soft skills are often the hardest to improve.

People are getting more used to using the web, applications are improving day-by-day. Online courses covering soft-skills can be effective as it’s more impartial and impersonal. However, emotional intelligence and leadership can’t be developed just by watching a few video lectures!  For many people, learning is about dialogue and practice with other human beings. It is particularly relevant in the development of emotional intelligence and leadership. This vital component is missing from a purely computer-based e-learning training package.

Certainly, people can understand the basic subject matter, they can learn how people can develop these skills and they can review real life examples where people have improved their capabilities. Pure e-learning, itself, is not appropriate nor good enough and will not have the impact and outcomes expected and so will, in effect, be a waste of money.

Beyond pure e-learning are blended e-learning and instructor-led online courses. These are evolving and becoming more widely accepted as a good way to incorporate e-learning into personal development.

Rising to the challenge of using the medium of online learning, revolutionary methods are being incorporated into packages that focus on each individual learner to work on and around the specific issues that they are facing relevant to them within their workplace.

Several highly effective advanced behavioural techniques can be utilised in online courses that challenge thinking and generate alternative strategies. Learners can build their leadership and emotional intelligence skills by identifying and replacing unhelpful thinking patterns and habits through graded task assignments incorporating planning and goal setting. These can be supported further by psychometrics and one-to-one coaching delivered live or virtually.

Training Emotional Intelligence Online

Emotional intelligence can be defined as combining thinking with feelings to make good quality decisions and to build authentic relationships.

To be as applicable as possible, online learning in the area of emotional intelligence needs to blend in some form of individual assessment, investigation / observation and coaching.

Crucially assignments incorporated into online courses are designed to integrate into the users’ normal working activities so that new habits quickly become second nature. These assignments can be supported with coaching online or offline.

The timeframe for working through a course will vary from person to person. Completion can be expected to be a few weeks with progress reviews that reinforce the material before moving forward. These reviews can be at any time. Any insights and learning can be utilised as a coaching catalyst and a framework for discussion by management. Ideally, a follow-up phase to reinforce the material and new ways of thinking is built in.

New evidence and the latest research can be easily incorporated into online course to ensure that the most recent and most up to date information is presented.    

Live well-planned webinars and discussion forums, also, help learners to share experiences and learn from each other. One advantage here is that people can learn about the issues and challenges associated with the assignment in different countries and in different cultures.

Recently, The Institute of Leadership and Management have made the transition into accrediting online courses in recognition of the importance of this evolving training intervention. The online course curriculum is mapped to their exacting standards to provide effective leadership learning and an ongoing commitment to continue to develop and to inspire others to achieve excellence. Substantive courses meeting these criteria can be recognised as a pathway grading to Associate Member or Member providing learners with professional recognition related to their leadership learning.

Proceed with Caution – Trainer Experience

Emotional intelligence is a complex construct that encompasses every aspect of life (and business), incorporating disciplines such as wellbeing, resilience, mindfulness, decision making, interpersonal relationships and human factors, to name only a few. Emotional intelligence is fundamental to all learning and development. It is a subject that is continually undergoing qualitative and quantitative research supported by positive psychology and neuroscience.

Delivering emotional intelligence training online to reduce costs can be done efficiently and effectively. However, it is worth noting that this is often a topic that is often covered very superficially as a bolt-on to leadership and management and other personal development programmes.

To really develop emotional intelligence the applicability in business at every level and in pragmatic ways needs to be understood and reinforced. Also, training online requires a different set of skills to training in live workshops.

Proceed with Caution – Hidden Costs

The costs per person of emotional intelligence training delivered through an online approach are very attractive when compared with either coaching or traditional training. It is worth repeating that emotional intelligence cannot be developed with pure e-learning and without the right levels of support. People have good intentions, but these can be derailed by life events and by people who have low levels of emotional intelligence.

Blended learning, incorporating quality personality and behavioural assessments (such as the EQ-i 2.0) and live workshops (in whatever future format these may take), is immensely helpful to build upon the knowledge and skills acquired through online learning. However, the best intervention to enhance online emotional intelligence training is coaching delivered individually online or offline ideally supported with a psychometric, and this will involve extra costs.

Training emotional intelligence online gives a good return on investment, when managed appropriately, giving perceivable benefits in a matter of weeks, through improved job retention, reduced stress levels and improved performance results.

Robin Hills, Emotional Intelligence Facilitator and Coach, Ei4Change

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