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Everyone knows that several people pulling together in the same pre‐agreed direction are going to triumph over a group of hastily assembled, unrehearsed individuals. If you don’t believe us, try being on the side of a ragtag collection of individuals in a tug‐of‐war against eight well‐trained people pulling on the other end of the rope – you soon end up face down in the mud!

Similarly, your digital learning strategy is far more likely to succeed if managers, learners, and everyone involved are all shooting for the same goal.

Getting Managers Onside

You can leverage hierarchical relationships to motivate people; the idea is to help staff members understand how important the training is, for their teams and their personal goals.

Involving managers from the start

Skills development is a key managerial goal. As we discuss in Chapter 4, telling people what’s at stake in a training program is essential.

Ask line managers to talk about the context of the training and explain why the program is so important. This kind of communication increases motivation, because the information given directly relates to the learner’s daily experience in the workplace.

When you involve a manager in defining concrete operational objectives, you automatically make the learning process more meaningful. One classic method is to begin the training program with a discussion between the staff member and the line manager on how the training can help the former achieve his own objectives. You can also build this step into the program at a later stage by having people present what they’ve learned to their managers.

These kinds of opportunities give line managers a more hands‐on role to play in the training process.

Supplying a clear target to aim for the traditional process of manager

Supported training support is sometimes artificial, because certain managers see training as a waste of time and money, with benefits that are hard to demonstrate in concrete terms.
An extremely effective approach that goes beyond this traditional method involves assigning a concrete goal to the people involved in the training (such as a business plan, a list of objectives, a new strategy, and so on) and getting their line manager to check that learners have properly completed it. The manager finds himself or herself directly involved in the program and can check ‘on the spot’ whether the training has been of benefit to the staff member and the team.

The more useful the goals are to the managers, the more successful the method is. This type of approach is ideal in distance training, where alternating online learning and real‐life practice is easy.

We used the approach in a leading oil company to train managers to run annual appraisals; when the distance‐learning sessions were over, they each had to show their line managers a progress plan that they’d prepared for their staff, and the managers had to give feedback. The distance‐learning sessions had a 100 per cent log‐in rate.

By informing staff members that their manager is directly concerned by the results of the training or is taking part in the program, you cleverly and effectively ensure that the manager plays her coaching role well – a winning combination for all concerned.

Providing Mutual Support  with Peer Coaching

Many learners find that following a large number of e‐learning modules on their own is no walk in the park. Peer coaching can really increase motivation and ensure the success of your digital training program.

Peering into peer coaching

In peer coaching, learners help each other at all stages of the course, supporting and motivating one another and sharing experiences and best practices.

Here’s a simple example. Imagine that in summer you go to a public swimming pool every week to improve your swimming skills, because you want to make an impression on the beach; but when winter comes your motivation declines as the temperature drops. To motivate yourself you decide to go with a colleague or friend. And it works: when you commit to doing something with someone else, you’re two or three times more likely to go through with it.

Effective peer coaching ensures that the learning community carries on functioning long after the course ends, because people help each other put their newly acquired skills into practice.

Practicing peer support in blended learning

Experts have extensively tested the concept of peer coaching in blended learning programs. For companies who struggle to get staff to engage with distance‐learning programs, peer coaching seems to be an attractive option: it’s simple to set up, costs nothing, and encourages the emergence of a new learning culture.

A traditional blended learning program includes a session that allows people to determine what’s at stake, and then a distance‐learning component, followed by traditional face‐toface sessions. These sessions are followed by new e‐learning modules before learners put the new skills into practice.

The problem is that when the face‐to‐face step is over, learners find themselves alone with their learning modules and can have difficulty putting things into practice. As a result, the completion rate of the e‐learning section falls, and people can perceive the course as being less effective.

To avoid this issue, the trick is to set up peer coaching to allow learners to discuss the material covered in the modules and the lessons they learn as they put their acquired knowledge into practice.

In many such programs, people apply what they’ve learned more effectively in the workplace as well as a surprising number of peer coaching meetings long after the training course is over.

Grasping the Power of the Group

In essence, you can see motivation within groups as coming in two forms:

  • Extrinsic pressure: Derives from the group format: people want to fit in and avoid being rejected. As a result, getting a group to carry out tasks or follow e‐learning modules is more effective than asking individuals, especially when participants get feedback on group progress that they can compare with their own.
  • Intrinsic motivation: Derives from the pleasure of being part of a group, of taking part, and of gaining social status instead of working in isolation. People in groups can easily network, sharing information and ideas. They’re part of a unit that goes beyond them as individuals.

Using learning communities in a distance‐learning or blended learning program leverages both these types of motivation and significantly increases take‐up rates and training performance. Most classic blended learning paths tend to alternate two types of sequences: collective classroom events and periods when participants are expected to do their e‐learning alone. No prizes for guessing which type of activity they tend to prefer!

Creating learning communities

In a training path based on a learning community, training managers try to create a group dynamic from the word go. Experience shows that the best approach is to begin (where possible) with a synchronous distance‐learning event such as a Webex or virtual classroom. During this initial session, the trainer explains what’s involved, gives details of how to proceed with the program, and tells the participants what’s expected of them.

Then the trainer opens up access to an online community and launches a ‘supervised’ activity: participants are asked to post one of their hobbies to help them get to know each other better, to state what they expect from the program, and so on. The community allows participants to ask each other (and the trainer) questions relating to the e‐learning program.

This community dynamic significantly increases completion rates for e‐learning modules, but it plays an even more decisive role at the practical application stage. The trainer can ask questions via the platform such as: ‘what are the three key things you’ve been able to apply in your daily work?’; ‘What’s the main difficulty you’ve encountered?’; and so on. Then she can ask participants to respond to their colleagues’ posts. The group becomes a true learning community.

Putting skills into practice

The fact that the group has an online presence is really useful for learners, because it helps them put what they’ve learned into practice. The most active communities sometimes continue to function when the program is over.

To be continued…