GE chief urges caution over online courses

The vice president of multinational finance giant GE has raised doubts about the success of online training programs, insisting they can’t replace face-to-face courses.


According to Susan Peters, head of GE’s leadership development globally, companies are mistaken in “believing you can move leadership development to online and virtual training”.


“We have not given up on face-to-face,” Peters told The Australian Financial Review ahead of her speech today at the World Human Resource Congress in Melbourne.


Peters said GE is becoming increasingly focused on training “intact teams”, whereby existing teams do week-long training together.


The company is also encouraging its leaders to use left and right brain thinking through a series of controversial creative workshops, such as putting on a performance or cooking.


“After they do the creative workshop, they learn to respect the skills or perspectives of people in the group,” Peters said.


“It’s tempting to go virtual because it’s less expensive by a lot, but learning from each other is as significant as learning from the content.”


However, online training programs are becoming increasingly popular, not only among companies but among universities.


In the past week, two major Australian universities flagged their intentions to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) in a bid to extend their reach globally.


The University of Melbourne will offer free online courses after partnering with US company Coursera, while the University of Queensland plans to offer MOOCs in the next two years.


Australian start-ups are also tapping into the trend. Pro Training Programs, founded by Cameron West, is an online database of sport and fitness training programs.


West doesn’t believe online training programs are inferior to face-to-face programs, claiming they can often provide a greater level of peer-to-peer learning.


“I haven’t seen all the different training programs online – there’s a lot out there that’s not particularly as good – but I don’t think you can’t get more out of online delivery,” he says.


“There’s obviously a lot of training programs that have developed their communities around the training resources – online communities where people can connect with each other.”


“So in some respects, [online training programs offer] more opportunities to connect.”


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