Eight ways to ensure blended learning is a recipe for success

blended-learning

Blended learning is now well established, but content is advancing and improving all the time. Lynsey Whitmarsh from Hemsley Fraser looks at eight ways to curate your learning content to guarantee the best mix for employees.

What’s the connection between Netflix and blended learning? At first glance, the US entertainment company which streams online movies and TV shows has little to do with corporate training. But it’s all about expectations. We live in an on-demand world, where the things we want are just a click away. And learning has to follow suit.

Blended learning is nothing new. L&D teams have always known that individuals might attend a face-to-face learning intervention six months before – or after – they experience any of the issues or challenges they need to learn about.

The first blended programmes incorporated e-learning, to inform delegates prior to the face-to-face aspect – and to give them reference materials that they could access as a just-in-time refresher when the issue or challenge arose.

This concept of pulling together different modes of learning – to improve effectiveness and the user experience – was sound.

However, in practice, people often felt let down by the e-learning courses, many of which were dull, unwieldy and prolonged. Essentially, the experience wasn’t great for the learner, which in turn had a direct effect on perception and uptake.

New to the mix

Today, a range of alternative resources are available including bite-sized pieces of learning, such as interactive activities that learners can watch, read or try – and micro-topic videos, which focus on specific business issues, offering key points and practical summaries.

This means that ‘next-generation’ blended learning programmes can now deliver an engaging, holistic, contextualised and organisationally-aligned learning experience that can drive the performance of your workforce.

Importantly, critical pieces of business information can also be included in the blend. For example, with an onboarding programme, you can cover core skills but you can also add a toolkit of relevant resources such as your HR policies and a welcome video from your CEO.

Expert input

Of course, there’s still a place for an engaging expert-led element. This will always be a core factor of blended learning. But the emphasis has to be on skills development, interactivity and networking, not chalk and talk.

The expert-led aspect should therefore be about bringing people together so they can practise their skills, get live feedback and be inspired by the facilitator and the other participants.

In today’s fast-moving business environment, the ability to quickly create effective blended learning programmes – with appropriate on-demand options in a choice of formats that will suit different learning styles – will be a major differentiator.

If your organisation can react and respond with greater agility than your competitors, you’ll have a distinct competitive advantage.

The problem is that too many employers are not equipped to do this. Some admit that it takes them six-eight weeks to create a blended learning programme.

To resolve this, L&D teams should conduct an honest analysis of their strengths and weaknesses, review the assets they have available and assess their blended learning capability. Here are the eight fundamental components you’ll need:

1. An accessible platform. Are all of your digital learning assets available in one place that individuals can access on-demand from any device?

The best learning platforms have learned lessons from Netflix and others about the user experience and how content is presented and organised. Make usability, and the learner experience, a top priority.

Don’t underestimate the importance of your platform’s visual appeal. Like an iPhone, it has to be intuitively easy to use. For maximum flexibility, it should allow you to include and manage other resources – from different sources as well as assets such as TED talks – and collaborative, user-generated content, such as organisation-specific ‘how to’ videos.

2. Curated content. Are your existing learning assets up-to-date and effective? Some organisations have too much content. It isn’t helpful for learners if they search for ‘coaching’ and get 45 results back.

Also, some of the content in large learning libraries has contradictory learning messages. Regularly refresh your assets.

Dated, grainy videos should be removed and you should sift out any resources that don’t provide a consistent learning message. Keep only those digital assets that are exciting and relevant, otherwise you’ll provide a disjointed and disappointing learner experience.

3. Easy searchability. Few people say: “I need to go on a time management course” but they might say “I’m under pressure and I’m struggling to meet my deadlines”. In other words, they’ll focus on the problem, not the solution.

So when you curate your assets, make it easy for people to ‘search for their problem’. Archive and index your content accordingly, so your employees can more easily find what they need.

4. Playlist functionality. In this context of learning, a playlist is a combination of learning assets that’s designed to achieve a specific goal. It could cover a certain topic or help individuals with their transition into a new role.

It’s effectively a ‘mini blend’ programme that you can very quickly create to meet the needs of an individual or a team. Over time, you can curate many different playlists of tried-and-tested assets and make them instantly available.

5. Rapid design capability. To design and create effective blended learning programmes rapidly, you need to be able to access a core of high quality content, knowledge assets and digital files, so you can pick which options will meet the need.

To make your programmes engaging, you need to consider how they will be introduced to learners, how the learning fits into the context of their roles and ‘what’s in it for them’.

6. Conducive learning spaces. When you bring people together, it’s important to provide an environment that will inspire them to learn.

That’s not necessarily a classroom with a theatre-style seating arrangement. Think through the furniture, lighting, equipment, layout and décor that will most appropriately bring your learning to life.

7. Virtual capability. For global employers and those with multiple sites, virtual training can replicate the benefits of face-to-face training without the participants having to travel. You can therefore bring together different people who may never normally meet due to their location.

Today’s virtual experiences include break out rooms, group discussions, peer-to-peer coaching and role plays, so you can deliver – and follow up – effective blended programmes that will engage the audience and reinforce the learning.

8. The ability to evaluate effectively. Your platform should provide analytics that will enable you to track and monitor which aspects of your learning blend are working (and what are not). This will help you to understand how learning is being consumed and the impact it’s having, so you can make more strategic talent decisions and refine your blended programmes in the future.

This is the specification you need for next-generation blended learning. If you can offer all of the above components – and if each fits seamlessly with the others – you’ll be equipped to quickly create and manage effective blended programmes. If you fall short in any of these areas, then rectifying those inadequacies should be a top priority.

About Lynsey Whitmarsh

Lynsey Whitmarsh is Head of Digital and Innovation at learning and development specialist Hemsley Fraser.
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