In 1971, Robert J. House shared his Path-Goal Theory.

Basically, it means that in order for leaders to be effective, they need to encourage and support their students so that they feel comfortable in the learning environment. The very technical definition is here.

This theory is valuable for eLearning designers because it identifies four leadership behaviors, which can be harnessed to motivate learners. This also means that since a learner’s performance can be motivated and influenced by the course and its leader, the course administrator and eLearning designer should work together to effectively cheer learners on.

All of these factors work together to create a “path” toward the learner’s end “goal.”

Now let’s look at the four essential behaviors of Path-Goal Theory.

The Four Essential Behaviors

Within Path-Goal Theory, there are four key behaviors that must be addressed for effective training.

Supportive: Support both within the course and from the instructor (via in-course positive reinforcement and commentary from the course administrator)

Participative: The course and instructor are interactive and involved with the learners, and learners have a voice (a survey reviewing the course helps you gather this feedback)

Directive: There are clear objectives and instructions for learners (objectives are listed before learners begin any modules)

Achievement: Learners are challenged to do their best and are motivated to achieve the course objectives (Don’t talk down to learners—create a positive environment for learners)

Specifically for a blended learning setting, designers should consider tying in this theory so that both course materials and the instructor are working together to create a well-rounded educational experience.

Path-Goal Theory at Work

So what does this theory look like when put into action?

In this example from Penn State, a department head uses Path-Goal theory when trying to figure out how to deal with financial cutbacks.

Rather than laying off employees, the leader uses the theory to examine the situation in a way that would not only save the department from layoffs, but that would involve subordinates in coming up with a solution. By tapping into the behaviors mentioned above, they were ultimately able to cut expenses and keep employees in tact—and the whole team grew stronger as a result.

You could create a similar simulation within a course, too—find ways to empower learners to think of themselves as problem-solving leaders.

Path-Goal Theory: A Path to eLearning Goals

Think about this theory and other adult motivators when creating your next eLearning course, and you’ll be on the path to achieving your eLearning goals. See what we did there?