Avatars Meet Face-To-Face: Learning Leadership Online: A Thematic Analysis of East-African Perspectives

Lorraine Ann, Zahra Aziz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Within education, the online forum is becoming a preferred mode of study across the globe and the COVID-19 era highlights its importance. Research around online education has concentrated on the USA and Europe, and this study sought to redress the Western bias by exploring and comparing the perceptions of six post-graduate East-African students and lecturers at Pan Africa Christian University in Kenya on learning leadership online versus on-campus. It is debatable whether leaders are born or made; however, post-industrial theories embrace the concept that leadership is teachable. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed, using a top-down approach, from a critical realist perspective. The results show that participants’ leadership ideals synthesised Afrocentric perspectives of communality, with Western ideals of transformational and servant leadership. Furthermore, there are differences between perceptions of East-African students and lecturers on online leadership learning. Students preferred the online avatar experience, whilst lecturers preferred on-campus or blended methods of leadership studies. Face-to-face connection was deemed important by students and lecturers but impeded by the inability to see facial reactions using the current online platform. This exploratory study gives insight into an East-African experience and sends a clear message to Kenyan institutions to invest further in video technology. Future research could include a longitudinal study of destinations and successes of Kenyan University online leadership alumni. The impact of the global coronavirus pandemic, with lockdowns and social distancing, further underlines the importance of ongoing online leadership research and education across the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-28
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Leadership Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • online leadership learning
  • leadership training
  • cross-cultural leadership perspective

Cite this