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Study Reveals Best Practices in Blended Leadership Development

A new study from learning industry analysts Bersin & Associates reveals that blended learning is an ideal solution for leadership development initiatives. In the study, participants focused on best practices that helped ensure the success of their blended leadership development programs. They also revealed that offering leadership development through a combination of online and in-person learning both reduces the time required to deliver the learning and allows the learning to reach a larger audience.

According to Chris Howard, principal researcher for Bersin & Associates, people generally assume that e-learning alone is only useful in specific areas, while it must be blended with in-person training in other areas. “We were interested in finding out how it applies to leadership training, specifically knowing that a lot of times the audience or leaders in companies are middle-level to senior-level managers,” he said. “We were interested in knowing whether companies can successfully leverage the capabilities of online training into an audience that is filled with Type A personalities who may not sit in front of a computer for very long.”

Bersin & Associates worked with Ninth House Inc., a leader in blended leadership development, to develop the study. Organizations from multiple industries, from financial services to sports and entertainment, ranging in size from 4,000 to 120,000 employees took part in the study, Howard said. After speaking with the learning executives responsible for leadership in nine different companies, Bersin & Associates put together the research from a best-practices perspective.

One key to success is not to rely on e-learning alone to ensure successful leadership development. In fact, Howard said, focusing exclusively on self-study for leadership training was the least successful method. “Companies that tried that found it to be a failure,” he said. “The audience is not one that can get engaged for any period of time in front of a computer unless you blend it with other delivery formats.”

The main key to successful blended leadership development, according to the study participants, is to ensure that the content is high-quality and engaging. Howard said that Ninth House courseware fits this bill well, encompassing video, gaming and scenarios. He said, “The participants found that for the self-study portion that they did do, they felt like that was a key component of it—having very high-production-value self-study courseware that could keep the interest of this audience that they were trying to address.”

After the training, the most successful leadership programs included follow-up to determine how leaders are doing and to coach them through any difficulties. For example, Howard said, the National Basketball Association (NBA) followed up after its leadership development program to determine whether leaders were applying what they had learned on the job.

According to the study, the time required for leadership training can be reduced by 50 percent to 60 percent by using a blended learning strategy. Howard said that although successful programs didn’t eliminate the time spent in the workshop, they did reduce it. “It wasn’t a matter of doing everything online. It was, we don’t have time to take people out of the workplace for two to five days, but we can take them out for a day or a day and a half,” Howard said. “By leveraging the capabilities found in the Ninth House courseware, we can do that. We can get them online, they can take it at their leisure for two or three weeks, and then they attend the workshop.”

In addition to reducing classroom time by delivering some portions of learning online, blended leadership development initiatives can also ensure that learners come to class more prepared. “When they went through the high-end e-learning and then came into the classroom, people were just so much better prepared for the material, and they were ready to jump right into the role-plays and the scenarios,” Howard said. “So they didn’t spend a day or two days covering that material. They came in better prepared; they came excited about what they were going to participate in, with thoughts of how they could apply it to their everyday workplace.”

Unlike many other e-learning programs, where completion rates range from 20 percent to 40 percent, completion rates for the online portions of blended leadership development were quite high for study participants, ranging from 75 percent to 95 percent. “The challenge with e-learning a lot of times is just getting people to take it,” Howard said. “But what we found was that by structuring it around the program like this, participants were quite successful at getting people to attend and participate, and the learners indicated a pretty substantial level of satisfaction with the programs that were being offered.”

According the Jeff Snipes, founder and CEO of Ninth House Inc., the findings of the study were a revelation for many of the participants. “It was a breakthrough for them,” he said. “They always thought the classroom was good for leadership skills and online was good for referenceware and technology skills, but the ability to actually have a high-quality design with blended application to develop leaders at all levels of the organization really changed their whole paradigm around how they were going to deliver learning inside the company.”

Howard agreed, and said other participants indicated that they would use the blended model for other kinds of programs. The companies profiled in the study were very innovative, he said. “These companies were doing really neat stuff, and most of them structured the programs themselves,” Howard said. “They came up with their own ideas for how to put them together. A lot of these people had backgrounds in this style of training, so they knew some of the fundamentals that made these programs successful, but were determined to leverage online capabilities to get the benefits that you typically find in them.”

For more information on the study, visit http://www.bersin.com.