“Just dumping textbooks onto smartphones is a dumb way to develop managers”: CMI report urges employers to rethink digital learning

97% of UK managers spend at least one day a year on digital learning

79% say their organisation is not ‘realising digital learning potential’

37% say learning ‘not aligned with organisational objectives’


8 December 2015


Employers are at risk of making tech-savvy managers ‘switch off’ from learning new skills with dated digital technologies, a new report published today [8 December] reveals.

According to the findings of a Chartered Management Institute (CMI) survey of 1,184 UK managers, nearly all (97%) spend at least one day a year developing skills through digital learning. However, four in five (79%) managers believe that their organisation is not ‘realising digital learning potential’ of smartphone and tablet web-enabled apps they now take for granted. Seven in 10 (69%) perceive cost-cutting to be the main reason why their employers opt for digital learning, compared to just two in 10 (20%) who believe it is used to improve the quality of teaching. More than one in three (37%) survey said that the courses are ‘poorly aligned with their organisation’s objectives’.

The new report, Learning to Lead: The Digital Potential, was authored by CMI and Oxford Strategic Consulting.

Commenting on the findings CMI’s chief executive Ann Francke said:

Many employers need to rethink how they go about helping their managers learn new skills. Just dumping textbooks onto smartphones is a dumb way to upskill managers. Managers want personalised bite-size content, to share knowledge and learn from connected peer networks, to ask questions and get feedback in real time. Why? Because it’s now part of how we work and live.”

Counterintuitively, the report finds that younger managers are more likely to opt for face-to-face training, attributed to current e-learning materials falling short of the expectations of managers used to high-quality smartphone apps. The report, however, shows the potential for firms getting such advanced apps right. Younger managers express a clear preference for more advanced digital training approaches, such as gamification.  Those under the age of 35 are more than twice as likely (41% to 16% of those aged 55+) to find games and apps useful.

Three-quarters (73%) of managers want to see digital learning become more personalised by using adaptive learning technologies, with content and approach tailored to personal learning style and progression. Access to a network of peers is also considered a must, with 58% of younger mangers wanting to see better networks become part of their learning. Just 20% report that the digital learning they have undertaken is accredited.

Ann Francke added:

“If we want better managed and led organisations then we need accredited digital training that doesn’t make managers switch off. There are plenty of examples of companies doing it right. Corporates like BP and PwC are using ‘real-world’ learning programmes. And CMI’s ManagementDirect gives managers the power to build their own learning experiences.”  

The report’s lead author, Professor William Scott-Jackson of Oxford Strategic Consulting, concludes:

The control and content of leadership development is increasingly exercised by leaders themselves at all levels, bypassing L&D experts within their own organisations.  Successful L&D professionals will respond by providing guidance for self-directed learning, ensuring that high-quality content is easily accessible, building new ways to help ‘do’ leadership as well as learning it and providing accreditation for a wide variety of journeys to leadership capability.  This is a great opportunity for professionals who can adapt but suggests a career change for those who can’t!

Learning to Lead: The Digital Potential is available for download from www.managers.org.uk/digitallearning or get involved with the discussion: @cmi_managers #MgtDigitalLearning

The report includes recommendations for employers and managers*, as well as case studies from BP, PwC and the NHS.



Further information:

For further information, interviews or case studies please contact:


Notes to editors

*For organisations

How managers learn to lead has been transformed by the rise of digital, but maximising its potential demands a fundamental shift in how organisations approach management and leadership development.

  • Align development to strategy – realising the potential of digital learning starts, like any successful management and leadership development, with aligning development to the organisation’s strategic aims.  Ensure senior management and work to achieve line manager buy-in. Monitor business needs as they develop and ensure that management development stays relevant as strategy evolves. 
  • Define what managers need to succeed – provide clear descriptions of the capabilities required of managers in different roles. Employees should be able to tick off their acquisition of skills, knowledge and experiences to meet the organisation’s requirements and the requirements for their desired career path.
  • Recognise learning with professional accreditation – use accredited digital learning that gives managers the chance to achieve formal professional qualifications. Blending the flexibility of digital learning with accredited development routes can give learners a clear focus and, by providing recognition of what they have learned, reinforce their confidence and performance.
  • Enable and empower – employers should facilitate learning and development in the widest sense but pass control to the learner and their line manager. Enable, guide and support learners, providing clarity about requirements and expectations so that learning remains aligned to organisational needs, but being flexible about delivery.
  • Select and signpost appropriate resources – the internet offers endless resources, but quality is paramount. Give leaders and managers easy access to curated, approved tools, processes and knowledge sources.
  • Engage employees – actively encourage employees to use what’s available. Build in ongoing ‘marketing’ of what’s on offer, showing how resources can be used in practice to keep them at the forefront of employees’ minds.
  • Support social – set up and facilitate social networks and forums for leaders/managers, whether internal and external to the organisation such as sector-based and professional networks.
  • Measure impact and build on your successes – measure learning through outcomes including accredited online learning, qualifications gained, and improvements in capability and experience, rather than inputs like time on courses or training spend. Assess learning and development in the organisation regularly to identify trends and usage of the tools you’ve provided and how managers and leaders feel they are developing.  Explore the use of sentiment analysis (e.g. www.theysay.io ) to help assess the impact of learning. Over time, build on your approach to develop a true learning culture that continues to support the organisation’s strategic aims.
For individuals

The rapid evolution of digital technology is set to continually shape and reshape how managers learn their profession. A pro-active approach to your own development is essential.

  • Take control – ultimately, you need to drive your own learning and development. It is your capability at stake and your career. Be active in assessing what you need for your success, the styles of learning that work for you, and finding ways to learn and develop.
  • Engage your line manager and L&D colleagues – they have the expertise, facilities and tools (and perhaps the budget) that you will need for your development at work. Show how your proposed development supports business strategy, not just personal goals, to win support.
  • Seek quality – to identify the best learning resources, consider whether the development opportunity is credible, accredited and whether it suits your learning style. Will learning be purely self-directed, or will it provide the structure you need, for example through defined modules or e-learning journeys?
  • Prepare for the moment of need – arm yourself with resources that can provide quick access to practical guidance at the point you need it.
    • Seek curated, credible guides. ManagementDirect provides easy access to highly practical knowledge and guidance, carefully selected by CMI itself.
    • For fast point-of-need help in dealing with specific tasks and new situations, leadership apps may help. These are changing all the time – again, look for those recommended by your organisation or a credible authority.
    • For the development of deeper, more complex social skills and attitudes, develop your social networks using tools such as LinkedIn to build a network of trusted advisors. Be prepared to contribute as much as you learn.
  • Actively seek and experience new challenges – network with new groups and new people, both online and face to face, to expose yourself to new perspectives and fresh ideas.

Track your progress – monitor your progress and identify any gaps in your learning by recording your activity. This can also be the basis for demonstrating your commitment to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to your current or potential employers or accrediting bodies – showing just how much you’ve developed.  CMI’s online CPD system or other processes can help you define your learning objectives and track progress.


About CMI

  • The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) is the only chartered professional body for management and leadership, dedicated to improving managers’ skills and growing the number of qualified managers.
  • Our professional management qualifications span GCSE to PhD equivalent levels, including the unique Chartered Manager award, which increases earnings potential and improves workplace performance.
  • We provide employers and individual managers with access to the latest management thinking and with practical online support which helps them embrace change, create high performing teams and keep ahead of the curve.
  • With a member community of 120,000+ managers and leaders, we promote high standards of ethical practice through our Professional Code of Conduct, and help managers build their expertise through online networks, regional events and mentoring opportunities.

About Oxford Strategic Consulting

Oxford Strategic Consulting is an Oxford and GCC based consultancy that specialises in building human capital across the GCC and Europe. With teams in Oxford, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, our experienced HR Directors, subject matter experts and researchers combine international best-practice with GCC-specific knowledge to conduct human capital research and implement practical and bespoke people solutions.