Driving Digital Development

Add social learning elements to your digital leadership development efforts to drive behavior change and business impact.

In late 2019, only a few of our customers wanted our virtual instructor-led solution for developing great leaders. But beginning with the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, 100% of our clients needed virtual learning.

We recognized that there were other ways to provide leadership development beyond instructor-led training. We embarked on a project to provide a digital learning solution for leaders that we call the Last 8% Academy.

Last 8% moments are the more difficult decisions, tasks, and conversations we face. We are all pretty good at the 92% when everyone is getting along and we are meeting our goals, but when the stakes are high, when there is tension and emotions get triggered—the Last 8%—most people either avoid or make a mess of those situations.


The Last 8% Academy comprises six modules over a six-week period, which a cohort goes through together. It initially included these digital elements:

  1. Each week, four to five short (4 to 7 minutes) microlearning, app-based videos were released. These contained the core content of the program: insights, strategies, stories, etc.
  2. Weekly worksheets reinforced the learning from the videos.
  3. A weekly “walking” podcast (15 to 20 minutes) helped get people to move more (so many of us get stuck in Zoom/Teams meetings all day). The podcasts focused on applying the learning for that week’s module.
  4. An online community offered a place for participants to post their successes, challenges, questions, etc.

The three learning methods (video, worksheet, podcast) served the different ways people learn. This leadership development program was a digital experience that put control of the learning in the hands of the learner. So they were able fit it into their schedule (i.e., they could binge watch all four to five videos at once, or watch one per day. They could go for a walk with the podcast at lunch or listen to it on the weekend).

We planned to create interaction among the cohort members with the community. We posed our own questions and shared our own posts with fun videos and stories to create engagement.


We were excited about this approach. Then we came upon some concerning research:

  • Some 52% of people who register for an eLearning/ digital solution never even look at the courseware (elearningindustry.com).
  • A whopping 96% of people never finish a digital course (elearningindustry.com).
  • Learning without accountability is ineffective. When you study on your own, the retention rate of the content is only 28% (Josh Bersin, 2019).

For anyone in Learning and Development (L&D), these are not surprising statistics, but they are depressing when you are developing a self-study digital solution. In addition, we weren’t able to create a lot of traction or engagement with people posting in the community. Anyone who has tried to create an online community won’t be surprised by this either.


That said, there was some good news in the research on learning engagement and retention:

When digital learning is combined with social learning, where people discuss how they are applying the content, interact with others, share challenges and successes, and are held accountable, retention goes up to 69%, according to a report by Josh Bersin.

We had a decision to make: Do we add social learning components to our digital offering? This is not as simple a decision as it sounds. It meant that rather than have a purely digital solution that was essentially “set it and forget it”—meaning it’s easy to manage and highly profitable—we’d need to add elements that involved humans interacting with each other and a facilitator. This involves more administration and cost.

Our goal in building leadership training is to drive real behavior change and transform how leaders coach, engage, and develop their teams. Given that, we decided to add the following two social learning components to the Last 8% Academy:

  1. One-hour virtual live classes every other week. In these classes, the cohort comes together with a facilitator, and they discuss successes, challenges, and applying the learning in a group setting of 10 to 20 people. Breakout rooms allow people to share their experiences and coach each other.
  2. We set them up with a peer coach, another participant from the cohort. For people who are not experienced or comfortable with peer coaching, we designed Module 2 to focus on how to be a great peer coach.

One of the powerful things about adding peer coaching is that people get learning and practice coaching they can apply in all aspects of their life— influencing peers, parenting, etc.—whether they are a formal manager or not.

People either have a live class or a peer coaching session in each of the six weeks. These two components create real accountability. People don’t want to show up to the live classes or their peer coaching without having completed the content for that work. They feel part of a community and they don’t want to let others down.


To date, we have observed the following:

  • People are completing the videos, downloading the worksheets, and listening to the podcasts.
  • We are getting 80% turnout to the last live class.
  • Many people are continuing the peer coaching beyond the six weeks.
Bill Benjamin is a training and leadership expert; a partner at the Institute for Health and Human Potential (www.ihhp.com); and a contributor to The New York Times best-selling book, “Performing Under Pressure.”