What is blended learning
Blended learning is the combination of different learning methods, consisting of a mixture of traditional face-to-face learning, online or remote learning, as well on-demand asynchronous training.
Plenty of scientific research has shown that a blended learning approach has clear benefits, and early adopters of blended learning strategies have benefited from the power of combining the richness of experience that in-person training offers, with the richness of data and accessibility that exists with online remote training.
The COVID-19 pandemic expedited the transition to blended learning strategies for most businesses, and whilst many organisations are still scrambling to create quick-fixes to address this challenge, thought leaders in this space have flipped this challenge into an opportunity to overhaul a fundamental area that exists within all organisations that has laid dormant for so long.
Remote workforces, advancements in technology, and creative thinking have offered opportunities in the face of the largest challenge modern-day learning departments have been faced with, with more and more organisations adopting a blended learning approach.
With blended learning strategies on the rise, there is a clear shift in the landscape of training and development, with the L&D industry expected to be valued at $402 billion by 2025, according to certain reports.
What is a little less clear, is how to create a blended learning strategy that can reap the benefits that it so promises. Let’s take a look at some of those benefits and how one might go about creating an effective blended learning strategy.
What are the benefits of blended learning?
Increased employee engagement
Even the most enjoyable of activities can become boring if we are doing the same thing over and over again, with little-to-no variation. Learning strategies that are either all face-to-face, or all online, become monotonous and over time can fail to stimulate even the most engaged of employees.
By blending in-person training, you not only add variety to the way your learners engage with opportunities for growth, you also offer individuals the ability to find a learning style that is most suited to them. As we all learn in different ways, adopting a blended learning strategy creates flexibility within an organisation’s Learning & Development initiatives, accommodating for diverse workforces with different needs and preferences.
Increased learner retention
In-person training has long been the gold standard of workplace training and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. However, there has been one issue that has always been a thorn in the side of face-to-face training, and that is the issue of learner retention. Whilst employee surveys have cited the power and effectiveness of in-person training, scientific data has shown that without follow-up training exercises at set repeated times, any knowledge gained begins to exponentially fade over time.
The best blended learning approaches draw similarities with effective gym programmes by treating the mind as a muscle that strengthens with repetition. Challenging that muscle with variations of similar exercises and stretching its capacity under stressful or challenging conditions has shown to be a very effective method for improving skill acquisition.
Instilling repeated behaviours, by providing learners with follow-up activities at set times reduces the skill fade over time, as the learner masters the behaviour or skill through repeated practice. Blended learning approaches also scale the ability for trainers to give feedback, as communication transitions from a single event to an ongoing process.
We have already talked about how online resources can reduce skill fade in the weeks and months following a face-to-face learning experience, but the same tools can be used just as effectively to improve in-person training by engaging with employees prior to an in-person training session.
Effectively distributing learning material in preparation for an in-person training session is often hampered by two areas.
- Employees just don’t have the time
Employees are often squeezing workloads into shorter time frames prior to in-person training sessions, as they prepare to be out of the workplace for one or more days. This condensing of time around in-person training sessions results in employees not having the time to complete the pre-training workbooks and creates added stress for all parties.
- Inability to collect the data
When employees do have the time to complete pre-training materials, they are often done in isolation, and the trainer has limited understanding of both the individual and the group's level of ability and training needs.
Creating a blended learning approach where pre-training is seen as less of a lassminute.com exercise, and more of an ongoing assessment of employee ability, in-person training sessions can spend less time playing catch-up and more time focused on areas of specific learner needs.
The best blended learning approaches will use aggregated data from their online training platform to host sessions that target specific skill-gaps, where individuals with similar abilities for that particular area are grouped together.
Harnessing the Power of Data
In-person training can provide some unique insights into your workforce and generate discussions that can only exist when multiple people come together in one space. Acting on this data immediately is what the best in-person trainers do but capturing this data over longer periods of time becomes almost impossible for even the best L&D professionals.
Conversely, online training platforms can provide great objective data and store large amounts of it, but with little context. Aligning this data with clear improvements in performance, morale, and teamwork is often difficult and time consuming for organisations who are keen to measure their return on investment.
Blended learning approaches combine the best of these two areas. The latest technologies, such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can capture both objective and subjective data, and feed this into a more complete picture of both an individual’s talents and competencies, as well as an organisations, at a more aggregated level. Harnessing data this way allows organisations to streamline their L&D efforts, and focus on what their organisation is most in need of, offering the best opportunity for maximising returns on investment.
Developing Self-Determination Skills
Finally, adopting blended learning approaches has been shown to improve skills related to self-determination, as high-performing employees seek out learning activities that offer them the best opportunity for growth. Retaining the best talent has become more and more important in such a competitive job market, and by offering a blended learning approach, organisations are able to show their own talent, as well as the job marketplace, that they are committed to developing their employees into stars of the future.
Implementing a Blended Learning Strategy
Creating an effective blended learning strategy is a challenge that requires an investment in time, money, and the development of new skills and roles within organisations. Only those who are committed to this new way of training will see the outcomes that they desire.
For organisations at the beginning of this journey, the first step is an honest assessment of your current training practices. Understanding where your strengths and weaknesses lie will help you shape a blended learning strategy that can target those weaknesses, whilst ensuring that your strengths are not hindered or diluted by the adoption of new practices and technology.
Quick-fixes or an over-expectation of results in the beginning will also be the undoing of some organisations who will lazily adopt a blended learning approach to stay on trend with the market. Without clearly understanding the magnitude of such changes, and the advantage of getting it right, they will instead make hasty judgments without doing their homework, leaving themselves frustrated when it doesn’t work out.
Transitioning from the status quo always takes time, patience, and courage. Implementation should be seen as an opportunity for learning, by testing out what does and doesn’t work for your own organisation, as mistakes will no doubt be made along the pathway to success. It will be the organisations that adopt a mindset of patience, and who are not afraid of trial and error, that will be the ones who create effective sustainable blended learning strategies that will empower their people for success.
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One of the first things you can do to implement a successful blended learning strategy, is to use a platform that makes digital training and capturing feedback easy.
Our award-winning learning platform empowers organisations like yours to create digital learning experiences that feel like real life.