If valued incentives exist for desired behavior, training that enables such behavior is likely to succeed as well.

Although the reasons are not always obvious, behavior happens for a reason. People show up at work for a variety of reasons, but it is safe to assume that most people would not continue to appear if they were not paid.

Many people receive a fixed amount of pay for the hours they work. They will not make more money immediately if they do a better job, and they will not receive less, unless they are fired, for doing a poorer job. So, for these people, pay is an incentive for being present and for doing a minimally acceptable job—and not much more than that.

Fortunately for employers, other incentives exist:

  • Approval and compliments
  • Respect and trust
  • Access to valued resources—tools, people, a window with a sunny view
  • Awards
  • Increased power and authority
  • More desirable or interesting assignments

Because these incentives are usually given as a result of desired behavior, and are usually offered in a timely, reinforcing manner, they can and do affect behavior in profound ways. If valued incentives exist for desired behavior, training that enables such behavior is likely to be successful as well.

A partnership between management and training is critical for success. Management’s role is to provide a learning and performance context that results in a workforce willing to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. Training is responsible for enabling willing workers to do the right thing at the right time, to see opportunities, and to be effective and productive. The outcome is a win through a willing and able workforce.

When incentives do not exist or rewards are given regardless of behavior, personal goals take precedence. For many, behavior-determining goals may become:

  • Reserved effort—doing nothing or as little as possible
  • Increased social or free time
  • Avoided responsibility
  • Avoided accountability

Management may complain that employees are uncooperative, unprofessional or, in some other aspect, the cause of operational failures. Seeing this as a performance capability problem, management might order new training. Unfortunately, skill training for employees who lack incentive makes little, if any, impact.

Fix the performance environment

Electronic learning, or e-learning, may offer a means of improving the performance environment when positive incentives are absent. Some ways to foster a better environment, include:

  • Consider training managers on how to motivate employees, seek input, build teams or provide effective reinforcement.
  • Consider providing meaningful and memorable experiences through interactive multimedia to help employees see how the impact of their work determines the success of the group and ultimately affects their employment.

These solutions may be the most cost-effective means of getting the performance needed, and they can increase the effectiveness of training subsequently provided to performers working in the improved environment. Remember, incentives need to be provided for the people receiving the training on how to provide incentives to others, or those taking this training will also fail.

In the past, one way to generate these experiences is by mixing e-learning with other types of training. This is not always the answer, however.

Blended training solutions

Blended training solutions mix e-learning with classroom instruction, field trips, laboratory work and other learning opportunities. These solutions bring together students for face-to-face interaction that can provide a nurturing environment for learning. Many experts believe that the learning process is fundamentally a social process. Observing others, explaining and questioning can all be helpful experiences when other learners are working close by and at similar levels, have time scheduled for learning together and are as concerned with the depth of knowledge gained as they are in developing proficiency as quickly as possible. In general, however, this is more of an educational model than a training model.

Nevertheless, just as it is important to provide incentives and guidance for job performance, it is also important to provide encouragement and support for learning. A well-nurtured learner is going to do much better with

e-learning or any other learning experience than an isolated, ignored learner. Learning is work too—although with well-designed learning experiences, people do not mind the work, even if they should happen to notice it. Incentives, rewards and recognition facilitate better learning just as they do any other performance.

At one time, blended learning was more critical because computers and other instructional media were expensive and difficult to provide. Good interactivity was difficult to build, and the media used were often slow and of low fidelity. These problems have been overcome.

Blended training solutions are once again in vogue. The reason, in many cases, seems to be that e-learning is not working as well as hoped. Adding more human interaction to the experience is a quick and easy way to overcome some of the failure. It is perhaps too often argued in hindsight that e-learning just is not up to the challenge.

E-learning is not the best solution for all learning needs. Few would argue against human interaction during the learning process, but it is unfortunate to turn to blended learning as a coverup for a poor e-learning situation. Many of the advantages of e-learning are lost in blended solutions, including scheduling flexibility, individualization of instruction and low-cost delivery.

Blended solutions can be great. When well done, they can accomplish what no single form of instructional delivery can achieve. When done poorly, they stack e-learning failures on top of the disadvantages of other forms of instruction—and that is not a win.

Reprinted with permission from the book, Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning, published by John Wiley & Sons Inc. (2003).