Gold blend

Stephanie
Sparrow reports on why Churchill Insurance has opted for blended learning

Blended
learning looks set to be one of the fastest growing learning methods according
to a recent survey in Training Magazine, conducted with Balance Learning.

Defined
as “a provision of complementary learning content to the same audience in more
than one media to meet common learning objectives”, more than one-third of
organisations believe they will be delivering more than half of their total
training provision through blended learning methods by 2005.

Its
variety and flexibility are appealing to major organisations such as Churchill
Insurance, part of RBS Insurance.

“Blended
learning seems to be the way to go,” agrees Stuart White, e-learning designer
and developer at Churchill Insurance, “because it combines learners’ preferred
methods with efficient ways of conveying facts.”

The
Bromley-based insurance group is about to embark on two pilot courses, both
involving blended learning, this Spring. They are aimed at junior managers and
newcomers, and course numbers are expected to average 10 junior managers a
month, with 50 newcomers on the separate induction course.

The
design and flexibility of blended learning are most appealing to White as they
replace the en bloc nature of some courses, allowing the training to become
more learner-centred.

“We
are very excited here, because we think the blended learning projects will fit
in with the way our people are learning,” he says. “People have to be trained
in the way that’s better for them.”

The
Churchill Insurance approach to blended learning will use e-learning, classroom
learning, role play and tutor groups. These methods are ‘blended’ into one
package, and replace a more strictly defined e-learning course and a previous
two-week long classroom session.

“If
you were to take a vote among most people about their preferred method of
learning they would say: ‘the classroom’, because of their memories of school,”
says White. “However, the problem with classroom learning is that it is linear.
Learners move from a to z and you have to go at the same speed as the class.
Typically, the class works at the lowest speed because you don’t want to lose
those who are picking it up more slowly.”

Part
of the appeal of blended learning is that offers flexibility and can save time
and travel costs. This is particularly crucial for Churchill Insurance, which
has 40 sites nationwide.

“We
can run several sessions in the classroom, say for an introduction and for
‘washing-up’ sessions [on the closing points] at the end,” says White. “A
two-week course will now be run over three weeks but only six of those days
will be spent in the classroom in Bromley, instead of a two-week block with
us.”

This
means the rest of the time can be spent back at the learners’ office, picking
up on e-learning. Which begs the question: why not just use e-learning and drop
the classroom element? White is clear on his answer.

“We
found that e-learning worked well for us, but that some people missed out on
the interaction which classroom training and role plays can bring, ” he says.

He
believes that e-learning has a defined purpose. "It is good for conveying
factual information and allowing learners to be tested.”

He
believes is important that this learning is supported and makes sure that
experts are available by e-mail or phone. Learners are tested at the end of a
course, and if their marks are unsatisfactory, they are expected to work
through the material again until they ‘pass’ and so are ready to move onto the
next part of the course.

The
e-learning element gives Churchill this flexibility because it carries no extra
cost, and the company is writing its own modules for the blended learning
courses, using material from in-house experts.

He
believes that blended learning gives organisations the potential to tailor
their training efforts to meet business objectives and culture. “By using
blended learning, we can be sure that the business drives what we need to train
people in,” he says.

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