Blended learning tools provide an instructional designer with many options, but more choices can also be confusing. How do you determine if the blended solution meets your learning objectives? How do you know which modalities to pick? And finally, how do you know that your mix will work within the culture of your organization?
To start creating a blended solution, you first need to know what your goals are and what you want your employees to learn. Is the material strictly knowledge-based, such as company policies or history, or is it skill-based, such as learning how to use a new software program? Or, will the learners need to create something entirely from scratch or evaluate a product, process, or individual? These different types of learning are represented in Bloom’s taxonomy as different levels of the cognitive domain and include knowledge, comprehension, application, and other learning levels.
For EnVision’s clients, we recommend examining the learners when putting together a specific blend. Where do the learners work, and how easy is it for them to travel? Do they work in similar or different job roles? We also advise instructional designers to look at an organization’s budget and efficiency requirements.
Regarding the organizational culture, consider which training methods have worked well in the past, and management’s attitude toward training. Finally, it is important to consider whether or not the material requires peer interaction and facilitator feedback, which are best addressed with a classroom environment. Factual content can be learned via independent study, either reading or elearning.
Julie Young, now an EnVision consultant, oversaw development and implementation of a blended solution on talent management for a global biopharmaceutical company where she worked. The company wanted to support new employees and educate them in the company’s philosophy in talent management, as well as teach practical skills in delivering performance reviews and engaging reports in career development conversations.
The client wanted the learners to master both knowledge and skill-based domains. However, they also wanted to educate the new employees without investing in a series of lengthy classes, said Young. All potential learners happened to work at the same campus.
Because the company philosophy piece was knowledge-based, Young, together with the EnVision consultant partnering with her, decided to implement an e-learning module to address it. They determined that material such as background information and company philosophy would be addressed effectively by elearning, because these learning chunks remained consistent and did not require hands-on practice.
However, the client also wished this group of new employee managers to learn how to write and deliver a performance review, as well as talk with a direct report appropriately about compensation. For these skills, the new employees needed hands-on practice that only a classroom environment could provide.
Young, who delivered the training, states that the company wanted to be efficient with class time, especially given the fact that the number of learners would periodically vary according to the rate at which they were hired. The final product was a four-hour, half-day classroom session of hands-on skill building. “This was a much more efficient way of bringing people up to speed and onboarding,” said Young.
Alison McIsaac, an EnVision consultant, took both learning efficiency and effectiveness into account for her learning blend. As the project manager for a statistics course for a global pharmaceutical company, McIsaac helped to design and pilot the course. While classroom training comprised the bulk of the learning solution, independent reading and computer-based training also augmented the solution.
The learners included professionals from quality control, manufacturing, engineering, and other roles throughout multiple worksites. Prior to attending the 3-day classroom training, learners read a detailed process document and took a 30-minute computer-based training which introduced concepts, provided interactive learning with questions and answers, and assessed knowledge with a quiz. This prerequisite learning enabled the classroom training to focus on applying the concepts to practice scenarios that simulated the on-the-job experience.
As with Young’s project, learning efficiency proved to be an important factor in creating the blend. McIsaac noted that elearning reduces the amount of classroom training, which benefits both learners and employers, since a company loses money every day an employee is pulled out of his/her job. “For every hour you spend in the classroom, you want to maximize that time,” said McIsaac.
When basic concepts are self-taught initially, it also makes the classroom training more engaging for the learners, since there is less lecture and more practice. Interestingly, this particular blend also may prove more effective, because the instructional designer “plants a seed” with the elearning on which the classroom learning later expands, rather than overloading learners at the outset, said McIsaac. “The learners are much more likely to absorb small amounts at a given time,” she explained.
While a powerful option in the instructional designer’s toolkit, blended learning serves an organization best when it follows thorough analysis. The result will be a targeted, appropriate learning solution designed to grow the skills of the organization’s employees.
Through EnVision’s years of experience in planning, designing, developing, and implementing blended solutions, we have prepared a checklist and worksheets to support L&D managers and instructional designers in creating robust, well-constructed blended solutions.
If you would like a complete copy of our blended learning considerations and checklists, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.