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Best Practices for Retail Onboarding with Blended Learning

Training someone to fly is a multi-dimensional task. Pilots don’t just read a manual—they sit in classrooms learning aerodynamics and weather, studying FAA regulations in books or in eLearning modules, flying virtual airplanes in a simulator, and of course getting hands-on training up in the air with an instructor.

For retail employees, the stakes aren’t quite as high, but a blended learning approach is just as important for them to be effective in their roles. The onboarding  they receive should – like flight training – be instructional rich and experientially diverse: it should give learners practice performing mission-critical tasks, allow them to ask questions and explore the subject matter at their own pace, and ultimately give them a firm footing in the landscape of resources they’re going to need on a day-to-day basis. New hires will need to draw on their product knowledge, social skills, sales techniques, and proficiency with the point-of-sale application at the cash register; and they’ll need to shift from one skill set to another seamlessly.

Components of Blended Learning

Combining instructor-led training with asynchronous eLearning isn’t a new concept. But the training industry has added much to the diversity of training modalities. Complex blended learning programs in the corporate training space may involve components like:

  • Instructor-led training
  • Virtual instructor-led training
  • Job shadowing
  • Social learning
  • Mentoring
  • Immersive technology
  • eLearning
  • Job Aids (SOPs, checklists)

Creating a diversity of experience within your training is an effective way to create more complex memories and associations between ideas and concepts. Consequently, these memories are more easily retained and recalled. The best learning solutions call for more than a well-rounded experience. So, the underlying learning strategy and learner path are paramount.

There isn’t a wealth of empirical research around the most effective blended learning strategy, compared to traditional instructor-led synchronous models, but the University of Tennessee found marked improvements after adding blended components to their Physician’s Executive MBA program [1]. After integrating eLearning, social cohorts, and scenarios with immediate feedback, they saw a 10% increase in learning outcomes.

Updating your Single Modality Training

There’s been a dramatic increase in the use of blended learning techniques over the last few years, as training technology makes blended learning easier to implement. A study by Training Magazine found a 34.6% increase between 2017 and 2018 of total training hours devoted to blended learning compared to single modality solutions [2].

If you’re considering training content conversion, then register for our upcoming webinar. Dr. Kate Worlton-Pulham will discuss how to maintain the best aspects of instructor-led training in your eLearning course.

Tips for Retail Onboarding

If you’re having trouble adding diversity to your learning experiences, here are examples that work for onboarding retail associates:

360° interactive video

Before your new hire’s first day, provide a virtual walk-through of their work environment with a 360° interactive video. If they’re working in a storefront, give them a quick tour of the register, stock room and product sections. This works well for site indoctrination, and has applications for training around visual merchandizing and product displays.

3D Models

Product training is critical for retail associates. So, it shouldn’t be limited to time on the job. 3D interactive models can be used to familiarize new hires with products, features, and function. For seasonal employees who are expected to be effective quickly, you should push this mode of training before their first day on the job, and then integrate the material into their ILT curriculum.

Social learning

Group your new hires into cohorts based on their start date. As they work through training content together, they will have the opportunity to practice critical behaviors like overcoming objections, challenging perceptions, or cross-selling.


Use your more experienced salespeople to training your new hires. This promotes the transfer of the tribal knowledge that often goes beyond your training content. Moreover, the social influence of modeling will help shape your new hires’ behavior. In this case, you also need to consider training and performance support for your mentors. Though your mentors are more experienced, it’s also important to provide the resources necessary for them to be effective in their role as teachers – compared to effective individual contributors.


When you need to change employee behavior in a few targeted areas, single-modality training or even microlearning may suffice, and it may be more cost-effective as well. But when you’re shaping critical behaviors for global change, or when you need to prepare employees for a complex and unfamiliar environment, blended learning is the answer.


[1] University of Tennessee

[2] Training Mag Report