There is little question that automation and digitalisation are going to have a major impact on the way people work. An analysis of 750+ occupations in the US estimates that up to 45% of all work activity could be automated now, with currently demonstrated technology1.

A recent MIT/Deloitte research drawing on more than a thousand interviews of CEOs globally and across industries shows that 90% of executives believe their businesses are being disrupted or reinvented by digital business models, and 70% believe they do not have the right skills, leaders, or operating structures to adapt2.

It has been long argued that leaders at all levels need to be more digitally savvy going forward. They need to capitalise on the value-adding potential of digital for their sector’s product/service/customer experience. They need to be able to use data and analytics to inform their day to day business decisions. But more fundamentally, some argue that companies that rapidly adapt to digital business models don’t just “do digital” but “act digital” and practice an entirely new model of management3.

In response to these new leadership capabilities, the approach to developing leaders in organisations also needs to adapt. But is digital technologies the solution?

Today’s digital learning landscape

The promises of digital learning are enticing: it enables higher levels of engagement and participation; it’s a faster and more flexible way of reaching out busy and globally dispersed learners; the content can be structured to respond to the specific needs of individuals within a large target audience; finally, its cost effective. Unsurprisingly, the potential of digital technologies applied to professional development appeals to learning and development professionals.

However digital learning tools are not new…

What is new and (potentially) disruptive with digital learning technologies is the fact that the content of learning is moving to the cloud. With integrated cloud-based platforms, mobile learning – which can be tracked back to the 1980s4  – becomes truly mobile and allows access to multiple devices and teaching environments. Moreover, the content is also often generated, shared and continually updated by the users themselves5. Mobile learning is per excellence the “just-in-time, just enough and just-for me”6 method of learning.

A generation divide?

As a McKinsey research suggests, millennials feel the greatest level of comfort with digitisation. They are used to mobile phones and PCs and they demand more digital learning, whether its e-leaning courses, virtual classrooms, massive open online courses (MOOCs), simulations or gamification7.

In stark contrast, a survey carried by Citrix found that although digital transformation remains a hot topic, more than 25% of board-level executives in the UK aren’t sure why organisations find digital technology important8

What then?

In its 2016 report on executive education drawing on a survey of 350 c-level executives and senior HR and L&D practitioners, The St Gallen University has revealed two main take-aways on the use of digital technologies in executive development: (1)- technology-based learning cannot substitute but instead requires C-level commitment; and (2)- technology cannot substitute designing of a clear L&D architecture and operating traditional learning formats9.

Clearly, the number of organizations that rely on LMS, MOOCs, e-learning, virtual classrooms, simulations, gamification and other forms of digital learning will only continue to grow. At the same time, L&D specialists are still struggling to get the results they seek from digital initiatives, particularly at senior level.

To help business and HR leaders shed some light on this growing area of interest, Accelerance aims to publish a white paper on the use of digital technologies in executive development (which should be completed by April/May 2017).

If you would like to contribute to our research study consult our website

1Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation, McKinsey Quarterly, November, 2015.

2G. C. Kane, D. Palmer, A. N. Phillips, D. Kiron and N. Buckley, “Aligning the Organization for its Digital Future” MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte University Press, July 2016.


4Kukulska-Hulme, A., Sharples, M., Milrad, M., Arnedillo-Sánchez, I. & Vavoula, G. (2009) Innovation in Mobile Learning: a European Perspective. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, 1 (1) 13-35.

5Benson, A., Gast, A., van Dam, N., (2016) Learning at the speed of business: what digital means for the next generation of corporate academies. McKinsey&Company

6Traxler, J. (2007) Defining, discussing and evaluating mobile learning: The moving finger writes and having writ . . . The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 8 (2).

7Benson, A., Gast, A., van Dam, N., (2016) Learning at the speed of business: what digital means for the next generation of corporate academies. McKinsey&Company

8“Digital or Die – A Citrix manifesto for British businesses”, A whitepaper by Citrix

9Guttman, G., Ruigbrok, W., (2016), The St. Gallen Executive Education Report.