Samantha Woolven December 23 2019

5 critical success factors of blended learning in the workplace

The success of any blended learning programmes relies on five important factors: time, valuing learning, encouragement, role-modelling and accountability.

Blended learning can make the behaviour change you need to see within your leaders stick, but it's no magic wand.

Success relies on five critical success factors, all of which require a conscious investment from you, your leaders, their managers, and the organisation as a whole.

So, what are these five critical success factors?

1. Time

One of the biggest things that puts people off doing any level of development or learning is the amount of time they fear it’s going to take.

It’s easy to do a one-day workshop and commit eight hours of your time because it’s just one day, but a blended learning programme might involve two hours of microlearning, a 4-hour face-to-face session, and then an hour a week over eight weeks. While you’re only asking for small snippets of time, you’re asking for quite a lot of them, and that can feel like a push. Yet this is the only way to build habits. You don't build habits from doing something twice in a 30 day period, but if you do it 30 times in those 30 days, then you're on your way. This is the only way to build habits that stick. A one-day workshop just doesn’t have the same effect.

Reducing this fear around the amount of time blended learning takes is really important. It’s easy for someone to feel victimised by the lack of time they have to do their job, and to see this as just another thing to add to the already burgeoning load - but to think like this is missing the whole point of blended learning. The whole point of blended learning is that it blends learning into everyday life, in a way that feels right for the learner. Blended learning allows leaders to take back control over their time, rather than feel restricted by it. 

2. Valuing learning

Valuing learning has to be at the forefront of your business because if you’re not learning and developing, you’re standing still. You won’t attract and retain the best talent because they’ll get bored, and you won’t retain your customers because they’ll move on to something that suits their changing needs.

This requires a shift in mindset from "I can't" to "I can".  It’s easy to be paralysed into thinking you can’t do something, but if you believe in yourself just a little bit and give it a go, and then another go, the more confident you become that you can do it. 

The first part of this is recognising that it’s ok to fail. When you're first practising a new skill you won’t always get it right, mistakes will happen - but this is how you learn faster. You’ll never become a better skier if you’re paralysed by fear of falling over. Knowing that failure is ok will encourage your leaders to keep going, and to pick themselves up when they fall.

A new buzzword in the entrepreneurial world is pivoting. You try something out and if it doesn’t work, you make a small change and try again. When that doesn’t work, you pivot some more and try again. As long as you learn as you go and you use those learnings wisely, then you’re getting something from it.

There needs to be a purpose behind the learning too. Your leaders need to know the value of the new skill; how it will make them a better leader, and how it ties in with the goals and values of the organisation.

There’s also a responsibility for the senior management team and the line manager to allow leaders the time and space to learn. It’s important for everyone to recognise that change won’t happen overnight and that leaders will need space to practice as they attempt to build new habits.

3. Encouragement

If you think of a toddler learning to walk; they take a couple of steps and the room is full of cheers, praise and happy smiles. They know they did something good, so they try and do it again, and this is the kind of environment we want to create for our leaders. The challenge is how you create encouragement that doesn’t feel trite or over the top, but that feels real.

This will be different depending on who is doing the learning. A group of programmers will need a very different type of encouragement to call centre operators, and what they need will be very different from what senior leaders need.

So the question to ask is: what does the learner need? Perhaps they need public recognition; to be praised and called out for their achievements in front of others. Or maybe they prefer to be taken to one side and recognised in private. If you don’t know what kind of encouragement works for your leaders, ask them.

4. Role-modelling

There is a lot more awareness today around different types of leadership, and expectations are changing. What that means is our current leaders haven’t had any role models. They have very different expectations on them that they weren’t allowed to have of their leaders.

This role-modelling is an important part of behaviour change. The majority of the way we take in information is non-verbal, so it’s not enough to just talk the talk. Line managers and senior leaders also need to be trained on what their team are going to be trained on so that they can role-model the behaviours too.

Part of the blended learning programme actually encourages learners to seek feedback from their line manager, and this is deliberate. It’s another way to get managers involved so as not to leave them on the sidelines when their team starts talking a new language.

The development of any blended learning programme should be done in partnership with the people within the organisation, so that they feel closer to it, can see themselves in it, and are able to role-model the behaviours.

5. Accountability

Blended learning enables participants to be more accountable for their own engagement with the programme. In a workshop, the onus is on the facilitator to nudge leaders towards new behaviours, but blended learning shifts this onto the participant.

If someone turns up to the face-to-face session having not done their microlearning module, they’re going to feel foolish. There’s a level of hand-holding that’s made easier by the automation of a blended learning system, but the responsibility still lies with the learner.

The elephant in the room here is, how do you persuade your leaders to want that accountability? The blended learning programme might offer timely reminders, but they still have to be motivated to do the learning.

The latest research says that feeling some level of progress is what motivates us the most. If someone does their homework and they tried a new behaviour out in their team and it went well, then it feels like a piece of progress. They practice a behaviour, it goes well, the dopamine hits, and this pushes them to keep going.

Blended learning doesn’t just mean combining different ways of learning. What it really means is blending the learning into your leaders’ day-to-day work. It gives them the freedom to ask, how can I make this work for me, in my life, in a way that feels right for me? That’s ultimately where the accountability lies. No one else can work that out for them, it’s your leaders’ prerogative to figure that out for themselves.


So, how can you get the most out of your blended learning programme and achieve the behaviour change your organisation needs to see?

  • Reduce fear around the “amount of time” blended learning takes
  • Give your leaders the time and space to try - and to fail
  • Deliver encouragement in a way that feels real to them
  • Role model new behaviours throughout the whole organisation
  • Support leaders to become accountable for their own blended learning journey

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