by Jennifer Gibson

In our series, “Blended Learning: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in High School” we’ve explored how our high school experience demonstrated best practices for blended learning. Ensuring that elements of Structure, Support and Accountability are built into blended programs is critical for overall success. In this fourth and final article, we’ll discuss what accountability means in terms of blended learning and how to build it into your programs.

When you think back to high school there may have been lots of reasons why you made the effort to do you work, complete your assignments and get good grades. Maybe you were driven by a reward system and good grades meant privileges – like getting to drive Dad’s car on your Friday night date. You may have had your eye on a college scholarship. Perhaps you were a sports star who needed to maintain a minimum GPA. Or maybe you were motivated by not wanting to disappoint your parents and face the consequences of punishment if you slacked off (the category I fell into). Regardless of your specific motivation, the consequences of not doing the work kept you going. You were held accountable.

But were you the only one being held accountable for your learning success? What about your parents? What about your teachers? What about your principal? They too had a significant stake in your success. This shared accountability ensured that your progress was continually monitored and evaluated. If you started to slip, it was pretty much guaranteed that some sort of intervention would occur to get you back on track. Notice the emphasis on the word shared.

When we become adults, the emphasis on accountability for learning is diminished. We know we need to learn. We know we should learn. And we understand how learning can help our performance and our careers. We make goals, we join programs and we start out with the best of intentions… Then life just gets in the way. Unfortunately, more often than not there isn’t an intervention to get us back on track. Everyone else is just as busy as we are, and our lack of participation and completion in learning initiatives fades into the background. Sure it may rear its ugly head during the occasional 1-1 with our manager or get mentioned in passing during a performance review, but rarely does it result in a consequence significant enough to spur us into action.

Now please don’t think I’m suggesting you start threatening to fire people who don’t complete learning programs. Requiring the completion of learning initiatives as a condition of employment is an HR Pandora’s Box, and motivating by fear creates an uncomfortable working environment. For our purposes we are going to focus on best practices for shared accountability that won’t cause HR anxiety attacks or drive employees away.

Learner Accountability
In previous articles, we discussed how structure and support can be provided through a schedule and syllabus. These can also be leveraged to monitor and track ongoing learner progress. Whether using an LMS or manually tracking progress, you can incorporate “triggers” for completions or learning activities, such as:

  • Successfully completing a test or knowledge check
  • Turning in an individual assignment or group activity
  • Reporting completion of activities to the Program Manager
  • Sign-off or approval by a manager who has reviewed assignments or verified completion of activities

Producing frequent and regular progress reports will show if there are learners who are falling behind and allow actions to be taken to confront learners – in a supportive way – and discuss what’s causing their progress issues and how they can get back on track:

  • Email reminders
  • Personal phone calls
  • Group “check-in” sessions

At the beginning of the program, ask learners to sign a Commitment Letter that outlines the program benefits, program requirements, expectations and consequences of non-participation or non-completion. Some of the consequences could be:

  • Charge back for the cost of the program to their business unit
  • Charge back for the cost of the program to the individual learner
  • Ineligibility for awards, such as a Club trip
  • Establish program completion as a goal for a performance review or contingency to qualify for a bonus
  • In our previous article, we talked about using the buddy system. Not only will this provide learners with support, but it can also help keep them accountable to one another
  • Distribute cumulative progress reports to all participants, which can often spur friendly competition (Be sure to check with HR for any privacy restrictions that may prohibit information from being shared)

Manager Accountability

  • Have managers attend program kick-offs so they know what’s expected of their employees
  • Ask managers to co-sign the Commitment Letters with their employees
  • Distribute program progress reports to managers on a regular and frequent basis (Be sure to check with HR for any privacy restrictions that may prohibit information from being shared)
  • CC: managers on email reminders to their employees
  • Include managers in conversations with employees who are falling behind or not participating
  • Include managers in group check-in sessions so they can hear if employees are having any difficulties
  • Host group calls with participants’ managers at intervals throughout the program and review employee progress (this can sometimes spur friendly competition!)
  • Charge back the cost of the program to the manager’s budget for employees who don’t complete the program
  • Establish employee program completion as a manager performance goal or contingency for bonus

Executive Accountability

  • Ask an executive(s) to “sponsor” the program and include them in the program kick-off so they can speak to the benefits the program will have for the employees and the organization
  • Have executives send emails to participant group at regular intervals to encourage and motivate. This also demonstrates to participants that executives are keeping an eye on their progress.
  • Distribute program progress reports to executives on a regular and frequent basis. Executives typically have a lower tolerance for frequent emails so establish up front what will be acceptable (Be sure to check with HR for any privacy restrictions that may prohibit information from being shared)
  • For employees who don’t complete, charge back the cost of the program to the executive’s business unit

Building shared accountability into your learning programs can significantly improve program participation and completions, thereby maximizing impact the organization’s investment in learning.

What other ways can you build shared accountability into learning programs? Have you participated in a learning program where shared accountability contributed to your completion? What are some reasons why organizations may not leverage best practices for shared accountability in their learning programs?