If you look around a classroom training session or a company town hall, you will realize how diverse the current workforce is. This diversity comes with its perks and challenges. Diversity is great for any organization. It keeps innovation flowing and ensures check and balance. In terms of generational differences, diversity in age group can mean varied learning styles and preferences.
Imagine having boomers, Gen X-ers and millennials in one classroom; the boomers wanting a traditional facilitator-led training, Gen-Xers pining for a structured agenda and millennials preferring a fast- paced multimedia- rich approach. How does a learning and development team honor these differences and provide a training that caters to all of these types of learners? Blended learning is the training industry’s answer.
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning has become the new norm in learning and development. Almost every training includes a form of traditional instructor- led training and self- paced training, typically enhanced using a combination of videos, audio, infographics, mobile learning, gamification and social learning.
Technically speaking, blended learning is defined as “ a series of content blocks sequenced to create learning experiences” (ASTD). However, blended learning has gone from simply arranging these different types of learning within a training program to selecting the most appropriate training strategy and technique while ensuring that training objectives are met and organizational goals are achieved.
Requirements of Blended Learning
In order for blended learning to be effective, the learning and development team must first understand the business side of training. The team needs to understand not just the training objectives, but most especially the bigger reason for the training requirement: the organizational goals.
For example, a learning and development manager should ask:
- What are the organizational goals and strategies for the year?
- How does the training support these goals and strategies?
- How will this be measured to check that return of investment is achieved?
Blended learning thrives in a collaborative space. Social media and mobile devices make it possible for learners to consume knowledge, share and gain insight from experts and one another, take assessments and provide real time feedback about the training content and program. Integrating a well-designed, maintained and monitored social learning page into blended learning can work wonders in raising learner engagement and contribute to the overall success of a training program.
The learning and development team also needs to be trained in modern instructional design. This includes understanding the technology behind forms of training (i.e. social learning, mobile learning, gamification, and virtual reality). Choosing the incorrect type of learning to blend together can be catastrophic for the success of the training program, so knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of each type is fundamental in delving into blended learning.
Creating blended learning is a project that needs a project manager. The individual that is responsible for implementing a blended learning program is called a learning experience architect. His role is to continuously improve the learning experience through design and implementation, balancing the business requirements of stakeholders and providing the needs of the learners.
This job requires knowledge in training design, content development, training facilitation, curating content and other specialized learning and development skills. The learning and development architect must have the ability to coordinate with stakeholders about the business of learning, assess how well the delivery technologies and instructional strategies are working, and look out for trends in the learning and development industry.
Concepts in Blended Learning
To understand blended learning, it is helpful to group concepts into strategies, techniques and technologies.
Instructional strategies are the general approach to providing the training need-- they are the foundation of the approach that you will then complete with a host of techniques and technologies to arrive at your instructional objectives. In other words, instructional strategy is based on the basic characteristics of the nature of the learners and the training content.
Some examples instructional strategies are task-based learning, game-based learning, social collaborative learning, problem-based learning, project- based learning, inquiry- based learning and cased- based learning.
Instructional techniques is aligned to the strategy, and primarily can be considered as peers of each other. That means it’s possible to replace one technique with another, and the result of the training should be consistent (despite a huge difference in experience). Instructional techniques outlines the approach on the learner’s journey through the blended learning program.
Some examples of instructional techniques are lectures (either recorded or streamed in real time), brainstorming between learners, job simulations that include role play and immersive learning), gamification that include leaderboards and badges, case studies that include examples demonstrating the key points and moderated discussion boards (live and online conversations).
Selecting a set of technologies will be based on the assessment and evaluation requirements. It can also be determined based on when, where and how learners apply the skills or knowledge covered in the training; dispensing learning should be as natural as possible.
Some examples of instructional technologies to choose from are knowledge and content distribution, communication and interaction, social interactions, collaboration and community, assessment and evaluation, immersive learning experiences and curation.
Blended Learning Readiness Assessment
A lot of organizations get attracted to the idea of blended learning because they believe it will revolutionize the way they train or instantly improve the number on the learning and development team’s scorecard. However, it is always wise to make an informed decision before implementing blended learning in any organization.
Here are some questions that you can explore to see if blended learning fits your organization:
- How does your organization envision training in the future?
- How does globalization and mobilization change the behavior of your learners and affect your content design?
- What are the possible barriers to a successful training program in your organization?
- Has blended learning been used in your organization? What was the outcome of the blended learning programs? What challenges did others have in implementing blended learning in the past?
- How do you define a successful blended learning program? How will you measure its success?
Overall, blended learning is a powerful way to deliver training in a way that captures many different types of learning audience. Success in implementing a blended learning program depends on the team’s full understanding of blended learning concepts and the organization’s preparedness.