Developing emotional intelligence skills through online learning

Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 there has been a revolution in online learning, which is continuing even as the UK opens up again.

Training is slowly returning to the old classroom style workshops although this is restricted due to the challenges of social distancing and using shared training materials that require continually disinfecting.  There remain traditional financial considerations of time out of the business, costs, travel, overnight stays, etc., and these will continue to have an impact on training delivery.  

Executives and HR professionals are anxious to make sure staff remain engaged and productive, are able to cope with change and can survive to ensure they are delivering the results that the business needs.  How any training intervention can add value to an organisation or contribute to profitability will always be important considerations. 

Changes in behaviour concerning attention spans, ways that information is delivered and changes around learning need to be considered and these are driving the requirement for short, snappy, relevant and engaging content.

Online learning is a developing global industry growing at 5% year on year 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 can easily use this method of teaching.  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.   This is especially true of training programmes that were hastily concocted by trainers and training companies caught off-guard by the first lockdown.

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 constructed using high-definition video with crisp audio supported with well-made training activities, exercises and quizzes.   Good courses are continually updated as techniques improve, and further methods of presentation become available.  Quality courses incorporate closed captions for the hard of hearing and accessible PDFs for people with visually-impaired disabilities.

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.  

Online courses covering soft-skills can be effective as they are more impartial and impersonal. However, emotional intelligence and leadership can’t be developed just by watching a few video lectures!

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. 

The latest research and new evidence can be easily incorporated into an 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. 

The timeframe for working through a course will vary from person to person dependent upon their skills, experience and circumstances.   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 managers.  Ideally, a follow-up phase to reinforce the material and new ways of thinking is built in.

Training emotional intelligence online

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

There are a few stages involved in learning emotional intelligence through any training intervention.

Insight – first, the learner identifies areas where their emotional intelligence can be improved and where they have the desire to improve them.

Assessment – these are built into courses to highlight areas of emotional intelligence for attention and to focus on.  Assessments increase self-awareness – a core component of emotional intelligence.  Simple assessments are helpful, but there are a variety of scientifically valid and reliable assessments available online that can complement training, although these will increase costs.

Instruction – online emotional intelligence courses provide learning about the topic providing in-depth knowledge.

Application – learning is only the first part of the journey.  In order to truly practice and improve emotional intelligence, the learner needs to apply what has been learnt in the real world.  Practice makes perfect!  Any useful online course on emotional intelligence provides practical activities that can be employed in real life situations and integrated into normal working activities.  These enable the learner to apply what they have learnt, reflect and build confidence in their capabilities so that they quickly become second nature.

Without all these components, an online course merely becomes a distracting series of informative presentations.

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.

Recently, The Institute of Leadership and Management have made the transition into approving 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 – hidden costs

The costs per person of emotional intelligence training delivered through an online approach are extremely 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.

The author of this article, Robin Hills, is managing director of Ei4Change.  Ei4Change is a Lancashire based company teaching a range of online emotional intelligence courses to 250,000+ students in over 190 countries (June 2021).  Ei4Change have a range of emotional intelligence online courses approved by The Institute of Leadership and Management.  Further details about the range of online emotional intelligence courses can be found here - courses.ei4change.info