Blended learning – creating a successful concoction

Many readers may think that blended learning is simply the combination of online digital content with face-to-face training, and at face value it is just that.

However, the real challenge is designing a blended programme that works and delivers real business benefits. That takes some serious instructional design and means going back to the basics of needs analysis. Without understanding the learning objective, it is impossible to design an effective programme. Whether the objective requires sharing information, the development of knowledge, the fine tuning of a skill or a change in thoughts and behaviour, dramatically influences the type of elements used.

Take this programme for example. It looks like a well-balanced programme, utilising a wide range of digital resources, along with some elements of instructor-led training delivered online.

However, if I now tell you that this is a programme designed to train geographically dispersed marketing teams to deliver an online pitch to customers about a software product along with a demonstration, and that they have no prior experience of doing this, you’ll see that it’s missing some critical elements in the training. What do you think is missing?

That’s correct. There’s no opportunity to practice and embed the new knowledge and skills. Without repeated practice, the learners will not be confident to deliver a great pitch, and rather than freeing Account Managers to drive new leads and increase sales, the rate of closed sales, as a result of poorly presented pitches, will fall. The learning and business objective will not be achieved.

So how do we make the blended programme work?

Simply, we need to build in opportunities for review and practice, and for reflection. There must also be an opportunity to engage with and learn from others, the learners’ peers or the tutor, and to add competitive elements to promote participation and completion.

Now check out the revised programme.

You should see that we previously thought that the original elements represented a good blended programme. But when you look more closely, those elements simply delivered information. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a very important part, but without all the additional elements, the programme simply will not work.

The programme elements shown in orange are all activity based, involving sharing thoughts, working collaboratively with other learners and practice.

You’ll also notice the duration of the programme. The development of skills and capability cannot be achieved overnight or more precisely by a one-off face-to-face training session. The learner must have time to assimilate the information, convert that into attained knowledge and use that to hone new skills to deliver excellent results. That’s why the programme lasts over 9 weeks.

So, whenever you design a blended learning programme, think carefully about the objectives and use the power of collaborative tools such as Workplace by Facebook, Yammer and so on, to build in effective social learning and practice.

This article was written by Pete Simpson, Managing Director @ Amphigean.