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Mar 12, 2014 Jennifer Hofmann

Getting Managers Engaged in Virtual & Blended Learning

  • “I can’t let my manager catch me reading at my desk.”Balancing the pieces of blended learning
  • “I don’t feel like I am working if I am learning outside of a classroom.”
  • “How do I stop getting interrupted for ’just one thing'? It will only take a minute?’”

I’m sure one or all three of those comments are very familiar to you. It’s a common lament.  Employees feel they are not given the time to fully participate in virtual learning from their desk; and when they try, they feel guilty or are constantly pulled away by their managers for more ‘important’ tasks.

I think this is one of the most persistent issues facing potential online learners today. If they were in a traditional classroom away from their desks, the time could be dedicated to learning and their managers and co-workers wouldn’t necessarily be able to interrupt them.  Instead, when participating in a virtual classroom at their desk, they are often constantly being interrupted and the learning therefore becomes marginalized.

Jane Bozarth agrees.  In an article published by the eLearning Guild titled, “Nuts and Bolts: Getting Management Support for Training,” she states:

“When developing and launching a new training initiative – traditional classroom, virtual classroom, asynchronous, or a mix – or suggesting a training solution for an individual worker or group, it’s vital to gain management commitment. As with so many issues in training and development, this is another of those ‘easier said than done’ challenges.”

I’ve always jumped on the ‘blame the manager’ bandwagon for this one.  If they valued training, they would let their employees learn, right?

But now I’ve come around to a different perspective. Many of those managers haven’t ever participated in learning from their desks, and don’t understand how to support the process for their employees.  Just as participants need to “learn how to learn online,” managers may need to be taught how to help their employees maximize the experience.   

I suggest a short (30 minute) virtual session to introduce managers to virtual and blended learning at your organization.  The agenda can include topics like:

1. Why virtual learning at our organization? 

  • A short video from a highly placed executive advocating the process can be very impactful.  Also discuss the Return on Investment (ROI) by discussing links to overall organizational goals.  Bozarth recommends,

“Make an explicit link between your training and your marketing materials and the organization’s mission, vision, goals, and values.”  

2. What does virtual and blended learning look like?

  • A job aid with definitions of technologies, expectations of how employees will use the technologies, and an emphasis on the fact that self-paced learning is as critical to the curriculum as live virtual learning. 

3.How can you support your employees while they learn at their desks?

  • Brainstorm best practices with the attending managers, and send it out as a take away.
4. How do you know that learning is happening?
  • Plan for two short conversations with the employee, at the beginning and at the end of the training initiative.  The first conversation is to ensure your commitment to the employee’s training program, and what you expect the employee will be able to do when training is complete.  The second conversation occurs after the training, discussing the success of the program and getting feedback about how to improve the experience moving forward. 

5.  What are your questions?

Typical questions (and potential answers) include: 

  • Is virtual learning as effective as the classroom?

It can be, if fully supported.  The Training Department has a responsibility to create and deliver relevant content that is engaging and supports an obvious business need.  It’s the manager’s responsibility to ensure that their employees are enrolled in the appropriate programs and then provided the opportunity to be successful.

  • What’s the difference between a webinar and a training program? 

A webinar is meant to inform. It is usually short, often has a very large audience, and is often recorded.  The learning impact of watching a recording is often equivalent to attending a live event, so immediacy is necessarily required.  It can be viewed at a later time, but should be scheduled to ensure completion.

A training program is meant to provide a change in knowledge, skill, or behavior that can be immediately transferred to a job.  It may be multiple sessions, have a smaller audience, and the recording (if there is one) does not provide the full experience.  Participants are expected to be fully engaged and present, and are often asked to practice new skills and collaborate with peers.

  • How can a manager maximize the investment of training?

If employees are enabled to fully engage in the training when it is scheduled (whether live or self-paced), they are able to fully take advantage of the value of the content more quickly.  If they are interrupted constantly, or feel they need to do the work on their own time so they can get their ‘real work’ done, the training will be at the end of their priority lists.  After all, with constant interruptions, doesn’t it feel like it’s the last priority for their managers?  The best way to maximize the investment of training is to allow the employee the time and space to learn the content, regardless of the matter of delivery, but especially in the case of virtual and blended learning.

A final way to ensure you have management buy-in throughout the process is to make the managers responsible for part of the evaluation.  In a virtual classroom or blended learning scenario, it’s not reasonable to expect the trainer to be the final evaluator of whether a skill has been mastered. Who better to ‘sign-off’ on course completion than someone who can observe the outcome of the training? 

For example, the ASTD Infoline "Ensuring Learning Transfer" suggests that managers ask questions immediately after training such as, "What was the most valuable thing you learned?" and, "What help to do you need to implement what you learned?"  Then, several weeks later, have a planned discussion and ask about whether the training has been applied and if it has helped.  These simple conversations, consistently conducted, will demonstrate to the learner that the training was important, and also helps validate the manager's investment in the program.

When designing a virtual and/or blended program, it’s important to get the managers involved early, especially if it’s the first program of that type in your organization.  If you can get managers to support employees’ learning by means of virtual and blended learning programs, and understand how it can benefit them, the entire organization will profit from those programs.

If you skip this step, your learning initiative just might experience a failure to launch.

Here's a way to avoid that dreaded "failure to launch." Check out our Blended Learning Design team workshop and discover how you can earn your Blended Learning Design Badge by clicking on the graphic below.

Blended Learning instructional design workshop badge


Published by Jennifer Hofmann March 12, 2014
Jennifer Hofmann