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Francis Marshall

Cegos (UK) Ltd

Managing Director

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How to use elearning effectively for soft skills development and CPD


Francis Marshall looks at e-learning’s role in developing soft skills and for continuing professional development.

E-learning has come a long way in the past decade. While it may not have lived up to its initial hype, creating somewhat of a Marmite effect with users either loving or hating it, it is now one of the most important means of learning across the world today. Cegos’s 2012 annual European L&D survey, one of the largest of its kind, shows that in the UK, 53% of learners are now using pure e-learning and the response to it is very positive.
So what has changed? Firstly, L&D professionals have got better at ensuring e-learning is tailored to users' needs with the focus firmly on the learning experience rather than on the technology itself. Also, e-learning is no longer being seen as a replacement for traditional learning techniques but as a complimentary tool sitting alongside other interventions such as on-the-job training, coaching and mentoring – all ensuring that the essential human touch is not being lost.
"The learning environment must be stimulating, with modules actively engaging the senses. Of key importance is ensuring that there are some elements specifically designed to make e-learning a successful interaction."
Whilst once rooted in compliance, health and safety and IT skills training, people are now increasingly using e-learning to brush up on their soft skills and as an integral part of their continuing professional development (CPD).
In fact, across virtually every industry and profession e-learning programmes are being used as a key component in the development of management and personal effectiveness skills with areas such as leadership, time management, communications, team work and client care all lending themselves well to e-learning.
The move is being driven largely by cost and time savings – we all recognise that there is less time to learn than ever before and training budgets are still being stretched to their limits.
But of equal importance is the fact that learning inside and outside of the workplace is now very much a self-driven activity. E-learning is indeed in tune with today's self-driven learners. This is because it puts the power and control firmly in the hands of its users by enabling individuals to pick and choose programmes that fit their specific development needs – a key benefit for achieving CPD goals.

Professional skills

One of the key questions today is how can we make e-learning for professional skills more effective? First, there is the need to ensure that it is being used for clear development objectives and that for each course taken there is an understanding of how it will make a difference to the individual’s role, the organisation, their colleagues and customers.
There is also the need to make e-learning fun and engaging. The learning environment must be stimulating, with modules actively engaging the senses. Of key importance is ensuring that there are some elements specifically designed to make e-learning a successful interaction.
For example, the use of video or a simulation, instead of the traditional role play exercises that are used in the classroom, have an integral role to play here. It is also important to build in knowledge checks. Ideally these should be scenario-based so that the learner thinks about their response and applies it to their own workplace situation.   
Remember, while new developments such as gaming, online quizzes and 3D simulation have a role to play, it is important that such interaction remains focused on the subject matter and that technology isn't being used for technology's sake.
Also, the learner must know what is expected of them when undergoing an e-learning module and that assessment and feedback mechanisms should be in place so that the user never feels alone.

Outcomes and results

As with all training tools and their use for developing soft skills and for CPD, there needs to be a focus on outcomes and results rather than time spent training. What were the tangible outcomes of the professional development? Questionnaires built into the e-learning which make the learner reflect on the training programme he or she has undergone can be a helpful tool here.
Also, from an organisational perspective, linking e-learning into individual performance measurement systems will not only result in more robust measurement but also more personalised learning and support in career development.
Without doubt, e-learning can help people get a head start in completing their annual CPD. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is a good example of an organisation that is empowering its members in their learning and development of key management and personal effectiveness skills through a dedicated training platform with e-learning programmes which help count towards CPD. 
Earlier this spring, Cegos entered into a joint partnership with RICS to deliver 17 skills bundles with e-learning modules covering finance, business planning, client care, communication and negotiation, team working, leadership and managing people. These are currently being incorporated onto the RICS online training academy platform and are being targeted at both existing RICS members and graduates preparing for their APC (Assessment of Professional Competence) certification required for RICS membership.  
Through this initiative, RICS members will gain a minimum of three hours of CPD from the courses. While RICS doesn’t prescribe a set number of hours of CPD, at least 20 hours of learning per year is considered the minimum appropriate amount.
With demand for e-learning for professional skills development continuing to rise, this type of partnership model has the potential to be rolled out across many industry sectors where professional skills development and CPD are high on the agenda.
While e-learning will never replace traditional techniques, it has certainly come a long way in the past decade and has proven itself to be a valuable tool for the development of both hard and soft skills. What does the future hold?
Francis Marshall is managing director of Cegos UK, part of Europe’s largest learning and development provider. In addition to his responsibilities as MD, Francis is an NLP practitioner and is active as a senior level consultant within the fields of management, leadership and executive coaching. For further information visit

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Francis Marshall

Managing Director

Read more from Francis Marshall

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