Creating an asynchronous cohort-based leadership development program

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This week we spoke with Keith Meyerson, a seasoned professional in learning and talent, who brings a wealth of experience to the adventure lifestyle organization Powder. As a prominent figure in Powder, which owns and operates ski resorts and adventure parks, Keith is dedicated to inspiring individuals with incredible learning experiences. With a background spanning various organizations and consulting roles, Keith’s unique perspective and commitment to tailored solutions make him a valuable asset in navigating challenges within the corporate training industry.

How do you navigate the challenge of extracting maximum value from core-based courses, considering factors like participant rates and asynchronicity, especially when dealing with a diverse audience across multiple time zones?

Addressing this challenge became crucial in my current role, where we aimed for consistency in leadership and management behaviors across diverse business units in North America. With team members spread across multiple time zones, reluctant to leave mountainous environments for traditional classrooms, I sought to establish a common language and expectations for accountability and behaviors. 

Balancing the need for social and peer-to-peer learning while ensuring the transition of knowledge into performance was a complex but fascinating project. It required innovative approaches to incorporate practice, reflection, application, failure, and iterative learning in a distributed and asynchronous learning environment.

What innovative approach did you introduce in the leadership program?

The key innovation is in our technology. We use a combination of the LMS Brainier and the Al Coaching & Assessment of Bongo. This technology facilitated the replication of a classroom experience by allowing participants to upload videos in response to prompts or engage in activities related to the program. Participants could provide and receive feedback from peers, and an AI component enabled immediate feedback. With over 600 participants, the AI acted as a force multiplier, enabling personalized feedback that would be impractical manually. This approach maintained the essence of social and peer-to-peer learning while incorporating emerging technologies, creating an engaging and effective learning experience.

What results have you achieved with the leadership program?

We implemented the program in two phases, starting with a pilot involving three business units. Currently in its fourth module of an eight-module program, the pilot phase allows us to iterate based on participant feedback. This approach, though unconventional, ensures participant ownership and relevance to their day-to-day roles. Last month, we expanded the program to over 300 more participants, benefiting from insights gained during the pilot phase. 

Early feedback indicates participants’ newfound understanding of leadership concepts and their practical application. The program’s intentional design emphasizes active learning, reflection, peer-to-peer feedback, steering away from a checkbox mentality, and fostering a transformative learning experience.

How did your audience respond to the opportunity to be creators in the program, considering it’s an uncommon approach in the e-learning industry, particularly in leadership training?

The audience’s response varied based on their experience and expectations. Some were enthusiastic about personal development, while others initially questioned the need for the program, having managed teams for years. Surprisingly, even skeptics became the program’s biggest supporters, acknowledging newfound knowledge. 

The opportunity for impact resonated well, with participants delving into additional resources beyond the provided content. To accommodate this, we now aggregate relevant content for each module, allowing participants to explore further at their own pace. The flexibility of asynchronous learning aligns with the realities of a busy work schedule, and overall, the response has been positive, reflecting the success of this unique and participant-driven approach.

What lessons have you personally learned from implementing this leadership program?

Implementing this program with first and second-level leaders was a departure from my usual approach of starting with executive development. Creating a manager’s toolkit for the executive team was essential to keep them informed and supportive. Navigating their discomfort with not knowing everything before their teams was a unique challenge. 

From the learner perspective, we encountered resistance to recording videos for peer feedback. Adapting, we transitioned to AI feedback, creating a safer space for practice. These unexpected challenges taught me the importance of flexibility and ongoing adaptation in delivering effective leadership development.

Bonus track: What is your opinion on the future of e-learning? Do you believe community-first learning experiences are the future?

The future of e-learning depends on the context. It will always have a place in highly regulated industries for compliance training, HR, ethics, IT security, and fintech. However, the challenge lies in avoiding the “check-the-box” mentality. For effective learning, a blended approach is crucial. In our program, we combine knowledge delivery through various channels, hands-on activities for practice, and real-world application. 

While e-learning remains relevant for certain aspects, there’s a need for creativity in designing programs that truly understand how adults learn and go beyond surface-level assessments. It’s about challenging L&D practitioners to delve into the theory and application of adult learning for more impactful training experiences.