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Training leadership techniques digitally

Expert interview with communication designer Tobias Bertenbreiter


The amount of pressure faced by managers is increasing all the time. The tough labor market and economic crises—not to mention the New Work movement—are constantly presenting them with new challenges.

Promote a strong, positive leadership culture in your company by training and developing your team. Having the right leadership techniques is crucial to leading your company into a successful future. In this expert interview, we’ll explore whether and how you can train leadership techniques digitally. Get valuable tips from an eLearning expert and benefit from both his experience and that of his satisfied customers.

Tobias Bertenbreiter—Specialist in learning design and digital learning


Tobias Bertenbreiter studied communication design at university and has many years of experience working in international agencies. From his Master’s degree onward, his work has focused on creating high-quality learning content, and he has drawn on this wealth of expertise to found the eLearning agency Breed.design. 
Together with Frieder Barth and his eponymous FRIEDERBARTH training institute, he has also created the Brainfood Academy, which offers eTraining in all key areas of on-the-job education, either with ready-made standard content or a customized solution tailored the specific company.


Digital knowledge transfer vs. human leadership techniques

Mr. Bertenbreiter, leadership is all about interpersonal communication. How can such a intrinsically human topic be taught digitally? 

Managers have very busy schedules. They often lack time for their own further training, even though this is hugely important. eLearning is very flexible and offers learners a high degree of self-determination—both in terms of the timing and the pace of their learning. 

The multimedia nature of eTraining courses makes them engaging and motivating for learners. The Knowledgeworker Create learning content management system in particular offers us many opportunities to keep learners interested through gamification and other forms of interaction when creating eTraining courses.

Another advantage is that courses are always current. The world of management is very agile and ever-changing. But eLearning courses can be updated or added to much more quickly than other training media.


Applying leadership techniques learned digitally in the real world

How do you ensure that the leadership techniques learned digitally are successfully applied in everyday working life and that theory is put into practice?

We work a lot with practical examples in our eTraining courses and integrate checklists and guidelines that help learners to apply the content in their everyday working lives (e.g. when conducting staff appraisals). The eTraining courses should not be thought of as purely theoretical learning modules, but as practical training courses that take the learner on a journey, encourage them, and actively challenge them. 

One example of this is the digital coach for scenario-based learning (Knowledgeworker Coach). This tool helps us prepare learners for specific situations in a gamified way, and they can try applying the knowledge directly in a practical context.


Are your customers still skeptical sometimes? After all, there are already plenty of well-established traditional management courses. 

There’s still skepticism towards digital forms of learning. However, the pandemic has brought about some changes and people are slowly starting to come around. Digital learning is becoming increasingly popular, even in more conservative companies. To be fair, it must also be said that teaching leadership and leadership techniques is, of course, more difficult than simply imparting knowledge—because it involves a change in behavior.

Many companies are now seeing the benefits of eLearning. It’s more cost-effective, flexible and scalable. So while there is still skepticism, it’s significantly less today than it was five years ago.


The right eLearning methods and formats for managers

What do you pay particular attention to in your content to ensure you teach leadership techniques effectively?

As I said earlier, practical relevance is very important to us. We also use gamification and ask lots of engaging questions. The content has to have a methodical structure and be didactically effective. 

When it comes to training leadership techniques, the content has to be really efficient. We get straight to the point and keep it short and sweet so as not to waste managers’ valuable time. This is not always easy, as we don’t know what prior knowledge each person has. But it’s also where my business partner’s expertise comes into play. Frieder Barth and his team are experienced leadership trainers. They know exactly what the target group needs. 

Digital learning formats offer many opportunities to explore the full depth of a topic. This means that learners can decide for themselves whether they want to delve deeper into certain areas or not. Of course, we also always provide sources that learners can use to deepen their knowledge if necessary.


Do you also take advantage of adaptive learning?

We implement adaptive learning mainly via our learning paths. We offer custom learning paths for different target groups. Our content for managers is considered micro-training, with an average duration of 15 minutes. These chunks can then be combined depending on the learner’s prior knowledge and objectives. 


The right design for digital learning content

Apart from really good learning content, what else do you think is important when teaching leadership techniques digitally?

Based on my 20 years of professional experience as a designer, I can say that good design is often underestimated. Just think about what eLearning looked like in the early 2000s. Much of it was simply not done well and it put many people off to this day. In addition to methodical didactic preparation, I believe that good design is crucial for motivating learners. I therefore consider good design to be essential for eTraining courses.

I would also advise against relying solely on video-based content. The risk of learners switching off and only consuming passively is too high. Video can be one element of the media mix, but the content should still encourage learner engagement so the knowledge really sticks.

It may sound contradictory now, but we have had the best experience in terms of sustainability with blended learning offers. Depending on the situation, eTraining can be used to bring everyone up to the same level of knowledge, as a starting point, or a learning objective check. Face-to-face workshops can then address more individual topics that are difficult or impossible to cover digitally. In my view, blended learning is the best approach to imparting knowledge in a sustainable way anyway.


Evaluating the success of leadership training

How can you measure the success of digital leadership training?

It’s not easy. It’s about more than simply imparting and testing knowledge, it’s also about changing behavior. Traditionally, the first step is to record learning levels and measure progress. What we can also see on our platform is: Where are learners struggling? Which questions are frequently answered incorrectly? Or which questions are always answered 100% correctly. This enables us to quickly assess which questions are too difficult or too easy. Knowledgeworker Create also offers a comprehensive range of learning analytics to help measure learning outcomes.

When it comes to blended learning approaches, there are often surveys to see where learners stand after several weeks or even months. This is done on the one hand through self-assessment and on the other through 360° surveys, observations by managers, etc. These measures are usually carried out internally by the companies themselves.


Advantages of digital training for managers

What are your arguments for convincing companies to train leadership and leadership techniques digitally? 

The biggest advantage is still the cost reduction. The cost per learner is much lower than for face-to-face workshops alone.

Self-determination is very important in the context of management. Learners decide for themselves when they have time to work on the topic. They can adapt the course to their own learning pace and benefit from the flexibility.

Keeping content current is very important for many of our customers. Working with Knowledgeworker Create enables us to react very quickly to new developments and update content quickly. 


What advice would you give companies that want to train their managers internally? 

Very traditional: Start with a needs analysis. What do they actually need? Concentrate on the topics that are really important. Use this to develop a tailor-made program that responds to the group’s needs and utilizes practical methods—for this, you’ll need experienced trainers or learning designers. 

And very importantly: Keep asking for feedback from your learners. It’s the only way we can learn from mistakes and optimize learning opportunities.


And the Brainfood Academy provides companies with precisely this type of content, using practical methods, created by experienced trainers and learning designers?

Exactly. We have both the technical expertise and the digital and methodological skills to train leadership techniques digitally.


You can create eLearning content yourself, buy it pre-made, or have it created by professionals

Creating learning content yourself, buying it pre-made, or having it created by professionals. What do you think is the best approach? 

In my view, the ideal solution is always customized training. However, this is also associated with higher costs. So if you buy off-the-shelf solutions, they should be of high quality. In the end, however, it is not an either/or question. Combine the different options. Buy off-the-shelf solutions and combine or supplement them with customized training courses. We also give you the option to make specific adaptations to our standard training courses. For example, we can integrate your corporate design or incorporate practical examples that are specific to your industry. The end result: Cost-effective yet individualized training. 


The role of corporate or learning culture in digital training

I have another question that is currently on the minds of many personnel developers: How important is the corporate or learning culture to successful leadership training? 

I think it’s extremely important. In my discussions with many different companies, it has become very clear that digital offerings will struggle if there isn’t an open learning culture. The managers—right up to the executive board—must be behind it. Otherwise, training measures are unlikely to be successful. In my opinion, it is very important that there is company-wide acceptance that learning time is working time. After all, learning not only advances the individual, but the entire company. 

Accompany the introduction of digital learning opportunities with a campaign and communicate the reasons behind it. Set an example yourself and embody the learning culture.


eLearning software for training leadership techniques

How important is the quality of the eLearning software to successful leadership training?

I’ve been working with Knowledgeworker Create for a very long time and am a big fan. Of course, the design is somewhat limited in places. But the speed with which you can produce content definitely makes up for that. Another factor not to be underestimated: The content is responsive and works on any output device.

I think the software is very important. Particularly in terms of speed and output quality, but also in terms of interactivity and media options. If the content is going to be translated into a large number of languages, a simple localization process is extremely important. Knowledgeworker Create is definitely leading the way there.


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A look into the future

How do you think management training will develop going forward?

Acceptance of digital media for education and training will definitely continue to increase. Immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality will certainly become more important. As will the area of adaptive learning. Developments in the field of AI in particular will give this a further boost. The content will then not only adapt to the learner’s level of knowledge, but also to their individual learning habits and learning styles. I have a positive outlook on the future of digital learning and am very excited about what the next few years will bring.


The bottom line.

Digital leadership skill training is best delivered using a blended learning approach. High-quality learning content, professional software, and a positive learning culture are important for successful development. Compared to traditional classroom training, eLearning is cheaper, more flexible, and faster. You do not have to create the learning content yourself. You can buy and customize off-the-shelf solutions from the Brainfood Academy, for example. Digital learning content will continue to gain importance in the training of leadership techniques. As will immersive technologies and AI-based adaptive learning. 

Nadine Pedro
[Translate to English:] Nadine Pedro, chemmedia AG
Nadine Pedro
Senior Marketing Manager

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