How to teach soft skills with eLearning
How to train power skills with eLearning
eLearning is known for delivering effective specialist training to employees. After all, interactive online courses are the best way of preparing and delivering specialist materials. But hard skills aren’t the be-all and end-all in the workplace: According to the latest eLearning BENCHMARKING study, 96% of companies today consider soft skills to be just as important as hard skills. Communication and leadership skills are in particular demand. The good news is that eLearning is also good for teaching soft skills, saving you time and money! More than half of companies already teach their employees soft skills through a combination of face-to-face learning and eLearning (blended learning).
This article explains why soft skills are so important for the success of your business, the 10 soft skills your employees need to master in order to work together in a professional manner, and what tools you need to deliver soft skills training sessions through eLearning.
The difference between hard skills and soft skills
Hard and soft skills are, so to speak, the yin and yang of day-to-day working life. While hard skills simply denotes all the specialist skills that employees accumulate in the course of their career, soft skills are particular traits and skills that are not part of specialist knowledge.
Hard skills can be proven through diplomas, certificates, language skills or technical expertise, for example. The words themselves indicate the meaning of the phrase: Hard skills are concrete and tangible. Examples: School diplomas, academic degrees, language skills, training completed or software knowledge, for instance.
Soft skills, on the other hand, refers to personal qualities, character traits, behaviors and attitudes, which go far beyond learned specialist knowledge. Because they are almost impossible to measure, they are known as “soft” skills. They can be divided into three categories, however: Methodological, social, and personal skills.
These help learners to solve problems, perform tasks or acquire the skills they need. So they also form the basis for acquiring new hard skills.
Examples: Perception, self-management, tolerance for frustration, discipline
Improving interactions with colleagues. These determine how friendly and sympathetic employees are perceived as being by their co-workers.
Examples: Emotional intelligence, empathy, teamworking skills
These relate to you as an individual and your goals, and are therefore the major factor in how effectively you work.
Examples: Self-reflection, self-confidence, passion, curiosity
Like yin and yang, hard and soft skills are by no means mutually exclusive, but complement one another, and even where they are unevenly distributed, with good training they can combine to form highly competent employees.
Why soft skills are so important
Both technology and the workplace are changing at an increasingly furious pace. Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork and World Economic Forum Council member, currently estimates the half-life of acquired skills at five years. This means that a specialist skill someone acquires will only be worth half as much in five years’ time as it is today. This figure varies from sector to sector of course, but is essentially realistic: Employees today must be able to adapt quickly and acquire new knowledge every day to keep up with developments. This makes soft skills all the more important. Unlike hard skills, they are permanent, long-lasting, and universally applicable to everyday work. If you have employees who are adaptable, have initiative, use their time effectively, and are able to take a creative approach to new tasks, you and they will be able to look to the future with confidence.
The 10 key soft skills for successful employees
The list of soft skills is long. However, there are some core skills that will help your employees succeed regardless of their position in your company. Below is a list of the most sought-after soft skills:
Although communication skills is a term that is often overused in job advertisements and applications, it has a clear meaning: The ability to formulate messages clearly and meaningfully, to put arguments across clearly and objectively, and correctly interpret other people’s words and non-verbal signals.
Whenever people work together, they have to cooperate. This includes the ability to compromise, to provide help and support to others, and to respond constructively and respectfully to criticism or differences of opinion.
Despite all the talk of efficiency, work is ultimately always about the people who do it. So it’s important to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes and try to understand and appreciate their thoughts and feelings. Empathy and the anticipatory reactions that go along with it ensure the well-being of colleagues.
People who have a high level of initiative are able to make decisions quickly and work independently and autonomously. This involves taking personal responsibility for their actions as appropriate.
This does not mean the ability to win every discussion. Rather, it is about being able to put across opinions, goals, and views objectively—even in the face of opposition.
Anyone who takes a positive approach to new tasks will always tend to find it easier to tackle the challenges involved energetically.
People who know how to channel and balance stress will be better able to handle any stressful situations that arise in everyday work. But it’s always important to know your limits and be able to communicate them.
This is not about adapting yourself as an individual, it’s about being flexible enough to adapt quickly to new work situations and challenges and to change your previous behavior or approach to work.
Even the best work is of little use if it isn’t finished on time. However, if you have the skill to manage time and processes and where necessary prioritize, work will run smoothly and be stress-free.
Large and international companies in particular often have a workforce from a wide variety of nations with different backgrounds and mindsets. Intercultural skills make it easier to respect differences, be alert to individual characteristics, and take them into account where necessary.
Delivering soft skills training courses with eLearning
Although soft skills are closely linked to our character and are often acquired between early childhood and adolescence, they can still be taught and developed in adulthood. Similarly to specialist skills training, courses can be taken on topics such as time management, presentation skills, or how to handle conversations with customers. As long as you have the right tools and take a multimedia-based, interactive approach, these topics can be easily delivered via eLearning. Below are three different types of delivery.
Teaching soft skills with online courses
In many cases, soft skills are just as easy to learn as hard skills, but require more frequent interaction. Since professional eLearning tools incorporate a wide range of media and interactive features, online courses can be an excellent way of teaching soft skills. eTraining courses are particularly effective at raising awareness of the importance of specific soft skills and thus motivating learners to deploy them in their day-to-day work. They can be used to teach the fundamentals of taking a creative approach, visual thinking, time management, presentation techniques, and similar topics, for example. They are also good for practicing how to handle customer criticism appropriately or prevent social engineering. Regular repetition of courses (annually, for example) will reinforce soft skills in your employees’ minds and ensure they are easily able to access them in their everyday work. Features such as single- or multiple-answer questions, matching exercises, picture selection, gapfills, open questions and dialog questions allow learners to play an active role and learn new behaviors through interactions.
Soft skills training with Knowledgeworker Coach
Employees from sales, distribution, customer service, and accounting often find themselves facing difficult and challenging situations. Here, it’s important to be fully prepared and to respond in such a way that those concerned and the customer are given the best possible service and are satisfied at the end of the conversation. This is where Knowledgeworker Coach comes in:
Knowledgeworker Coach is an interactive behavioral trainer that prepares your employees to handle specific situations and conversations in a business environment. They receive communications training to help them handle sales, requests for advice and emergencies, for example, and you can provide them with information and develop their empathy to enable them to react appropriately to customer complaints. Knowledgeworker Coach ensures you provide your employees with the highest quality of support—even in difficult situations. It allows you to portray specific conversations and situations, and changes them dynamically depending on the answer selected by learners. Learners see the facial expressions of the other person or changing scenarios, for example, that allow them to understand how the answer they have chosen alters the course of the conversation. Direct feedback gives the exercises a realistic feel and ensures that training has a long-lasting effect. Videos can also be easily integrated into coaching and create an authentic—and thus more effective—learning environment. At the end of the exercise, learners are given detailed feedback, explaining which reactions influenced the conversation and how. In this way, your employees learn directly from their experience and from any mistakes (keywords: worked-example effect).
The interactive coach not only helps your employees optimize their communication skills, it also heightens their awareness of the situation in question and improves their analysis and reactions.
Teaching soft skills with blended learning
Blended learning is currently the form of training used by the greatest number of companies to teach their employees soft skills. It combines the benefits of analog face-to-face sessions with the flexibility of digital learning. This allows the benefits of each form of learning to be taken advantage of, while compensating for their disadvantages. In the case of soft skills training, for example, the underlying theory can be taught in an online course with learners trying it out in practice later at a practical, face-to-face session. This not only makes learning more effective for everyone involved, but also offers more flexibility in terms of where and when people learn. Learning to take a creative approach, effective time management and communications are natural choices for this form of training.
The best way of organizing blended learning is to use a learning management system (LMS). This is a learning platform that centralizes training. It enables you to organize learning activities (both online and offline), design online courses and roll them out in segments, measure learning outcomes, and network participants and lecturers with one another. In addition, it makes all learning material available, enables learners to exchange ideas and allows binding deadlines to be agreed.
The bottom line
While hard skills provide employees with a foundation, soft skills determine their potential, namely how effectively they can apply their hard skills they already have or how well they can learn new ones. This makes it all the more important to train soft skills regularly. Professional eLearning software enables you to deliver the relevant skills in the form of interactive online courses. Behavioral trainers can even simulate dynamic conversations. This allows companies and learners to take advantage of the manifold benefits of eLearning for soft skills training.
You may also be interested in the following articles
Scenario-based learning: Successful skills training
Arguments for eLearning: How to convince management and works councils
The secret to the perfect online course
Image source: Jacob Lund/shutterstock.com