Blended learning spices up the training mix

A survey conducted this year by Training Magazine and Balance
Learning finds there has been an upsurge in the use of blended learning.  Here’s what the result mean

Organisations are embracing blended learning, and they can now cater for
individual learning styles and offer a more in-depth training experience as a
result.

These are the findings of the latest survey from Training Magazine, run in
conjunction with blended-learning publisher, Balance Learning.

A total of 173 questionnaires were completed online and from the June
edition of Training Magazine by a range of business and training professionals,
representing organisations with more than 1.95 million personnel between them.

Of this total, more than 1.1 million work in organisations that currently
use blended learning, and nearly 500,000 are employed by organisations that
plan to use blended learning in the future.

A wide range of organisations were represented, including Government and
services, finance and banking, manufacturing, education, IT and technical
industries Yet despite this diversity, all of the respondents had focused
opinions on the definition of blended learning.

Mixture

Nearly all the replies to the question ‘How would you define blended
learning?’ were based around the idea that "it is a mixture or combination
of different training media used to deliver a full training experience".
Many respondents believe that its use is to "match preferred learning
styles" or "to deliver training by the most appropriate method".

The majority of respondents indicated that they believe it employs
traditional methods of training, such as face-to-face training, with
technology-based training, such as online delivery. One respondent’s
definition, that "blended learning is the provision of complementary
learning content to the same audience in more than one media to meet common
learning objectives", stood out in particular as a good summary.

Interest in blended learning is on the increase. In response to the question
‘Are you currently using blended learning?’, 55 per cent said they are
currently using blended learning within their organisations, while 27 per cent
are planning to do so.

The survey also explored the challenges to introducing or using blended
learning programmes. We asked you to indicate the most common barriers, from
cost of development through to poor line management support. Of those
organisations that currently use blended learning, 68 per cent said the key
challenge to its implementation was the cost of its development (which is
reflected in the drive to develop materials in-house) while 45 per cent feel
that organisational culture issues were the key challenge when it was being
introduced.

So, what is blended learning being used for? An overwhelming 73 per cent use
it for business-specific training. More than half of blended-learning users
also use it to learn management skills (58 per cent) and IT/technical training
at 54 per cent. Organisations new to blended learning also have plans to use it
for a wide range of IT and technical skills training, and similar levels plan
to use it for personal effectiveness training and management skills training.

The majority (79 per cent) of organisations that currently use blended
learning are combining the existing training resources they have to deliver
their programmes.

More than half (59 per cent) are currently developing new purpose-built
resources and events in-house, and only 27 per cent are looking externally to
supply resources for programmes – although a relatively healthy 40 per cent of
organisations indicated that they are developing resources from a mixture of
in-house and external resources.

Readers seem to be taking a mix-and-match approach to sourcing the
individual components for their blended learning programmes. An overwhelming 79
per cent indicated that they design and host the face-to-face components
in-house, whereas only 38 per cent source and deliver this training externally.
A preferred option is to have face-to-face training designed externally but
hosted internally, with 42 per cent indicating this.

When it comes to sourcing the components currently provided through
e-learning, the components tend to be more equally sourced and delivered.
Nearly a third (32 per cent) have generic off-the-shelf e-learning designed and
hosted externally, and 32 per cent have it designed externally and hosted
in-house. Just over half (51 per cent) indicated that customised e-learning is
more likely to be designed and hosted in- house, which fits the requirement for
its use in business-specific training.

Looking ahead to the future, it seems the current preferred option for
designing blended learning components in-house will continue. A whopping 87 per
cent of current users plan to design and host their future face-to-face
classroom events in-house. Accompanying collateral, such as workbooks, will
also be designed in-house, with 73 per cent indicating this is their intention,
and 83 per cent developing follow-up assignments and activities in-house.
Custom e-components of blended learning will also be developed in-house by the
majority of current users (62 per cent).

However, organisations see the benefits of buying off-the-shelf generic
e-learning packages, with 40 per cent citing that they will have it developed
externally and hosted internally, and 39 per cent indicating they will have it
developed and hosted externally.

Over the past year, the training and HR community has started to recognise
the value of individual learning styles. As last month’s Analysis revealed
(Training Magazine October 2003), training is shifting from a top-down
intervention, to learning which focuses on the individual and team as an
ongoing process.

Matching

The use of blended learning plays a part in this trend, our survey reveals.
Organisations use it because they have recognised the importance of matching an
individual’s preferred learning style with the appropriate training delivery.
This was the feedback from 80 per cent of current users, who state this is why
they use it, and 74 per cent plan to for the same reason.

The survey also reveals a desire to deliver more individually-tailored
training solutions, with more than 70 per cent of organisations which currently
use blended learning stating that this is why they use it.

By employing more targeted techniques, organisations are also keen to
improve the efficiency of their training, with 62 per cent saying that it will
improve the learning rate, while 59 per cent said it will help them exploit the
investments they’ve already made in re-usable training resources, and 57 per
cent said they are too short of time to use purely classroom events.

The target audience for blended learning is junior management, and the
majority of organisations use blended learning to train middle or junior
management staff, with 67 per cent using it to train the former, and 64 per
cent the latter. It is also popular for training team leaders and supervisors,
with 62 per cent of respondents using it for this group, while less than half
currently use it to train senior management.

We asked readers to indicate which skills are most important to the delivery
of blended learning. Three-quarters of all respondents indicated that the most
important skills a blended-learning trainer requires are a mixture of
understanding the training needs of the audience and how they prefer to learn,
and how best the components of the course can be blended to give maximum
delivery. Less than 40 per cent of all respondents indicated that specific
skills related to the ‘e-component’, such as IT skills, course-authoring skills
and online tutoring knowledge, were important attributes to be found in
blended-learning trainers.

The use of blended learning looks set to increase. Nearly 25 per cent of
current users estimate that more than 50 per cent of their total training
(blended and non-blended) will be delivered using these methods. More than
one-third believe they will be delivering more than half of their total
training provision through blended learning methods by 2005.

There is a drive to evaluate blended learning, with 95 per cent currently
evaluating it or planning to evaluate it in some way. The most popular way to
evaluate blended learning is through paper-based evaluation forms, with 73 per
cent of current blended-learning users citing that they use this method.

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