Meet your people where they are: How to run hybrid learning solutions

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19 May 2022
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

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Hybrid training is yet another new frontier for L&D teams around the globe, coming with its own array of opportunities and challenges for learners and organisations. It’s hardly the first new approach to work and learning since the start of the pandemic, so you’d be forgiven for feeling a sense of fatigue. What makes this one stand out is that all the signs suggest that hybrid work, and therefore hybrid learning solutions, are here to stay.

Change, whether carefully planned or an unexpected surprise, is never a reason to stop focusing on your people’s development. From upskilling your workforce to improving their job satisfaction, workplace learning is a constant necessity. So, it’s crucial L&D professionals understand how to utilise hybrid learning most effectively.

Everything from where the participants and trainers are and how everyone interacts must be considered. The training content itself should also be tailormade to fit the new style. This can feel overwhelming at first, but luckily, we’re here with our guide for doing this right.


What makes hybrid learning special?

A hybrid learning session is where some participants are together in-person while others join remotely. The trainer will likely be in the room with in-person participants, but they could equally facilitate remotely. This may sound complicated, but with the right setup, it can open a lot of doors and create a unique learning experience for participants.

More and more organisations are adopting hybrid working since the Covid-19 lockdowns. The forced office closures showed the benefits of remote working – everything from a better work/life balance, ability to hire talent regardless of their geographical location, lower costs and so on. Now many areas have reopened, not every organisation can, or wants to, completely part with their physical offices. Increasingly, these businesses are recognising how hybrid working lets them keep many of the advantages of working from home. And once you’ve got a hybrid workforce, hybrid learning is the next logical step.

It allows for learning to reach your entire team, regardless of whether they’re in the office or work remotely. It can bring together multiple teams across different offices or help those with flexible work hours join in without completely changing their schedule.

This helps create a genuine learning ecosystem in your organisation, meeting your people where they are and without forcing them into a specific location. This helps hybrid organisations keep adhering to the 70:20:10 rule of learning, creating opportunities for formal and social learning regardless of where they’re working.


The logistics of hybrid learning

The big advantage of hybrid learning is also one of its main challenges – getting a disparate group of learners all participating together. When organising training, think carefully about how everyone’s going to be set up. Not just where they are but how they’re going to join in.

How the trainer and in-person participants are set up makes the biggest impact on the feel of the session and affects how people interact. Is there just one camera and one microphone in the room? Is there one big screen to see virtual participants? Or does everyone have their own individual device to see and be seen? Similarly, are the remote learners all at home or is there a larger group attending together?

Technology is always going to be a defining factor here. Giving everyone their own camera, microphone and screen generally gives the most intimate and personal feel, but will also be the most expensive and complicated to achieve.

If you see hybrid learning being a long-term future for the organisation, then it needs the right equipment to function. Of course, organisations don’t have unlimited budgets so taking time to find the best balance between resources and feel is important.


Creating one united group

Perhaps the biggest risk in hybrid learning is in creating two groups – those in the room with the trainer and those joining remotely. The L&D haves and have-nots. If too much of the training focuses on those in the room, or there’s a lot of physical interactivity which is inaccessible virtually, it creates an unfair balance.

Trainers need to spread their attention evenly, despite it feeling much more natural to make eye contact and talk directly to people in the room with them. They must remember to keep looking at the webcam too. Where you put cameras and screens can either create a focal point or be easily overlooked, and your remote participants will feel it and this affects their experience.

Hybrid learning should create opportunities for people to share learning equally, no matter where they are. Don’t let people feel that the in-person group is getting any extra or preferential treatment, or for the remote group to become disinterested. The trainer needs to listen to everyone and interact with everyone. Make sure they’re not exclusively asking people in the room for their opinions or examples. Using people’s names can help people feel included so trainers need to be well-prepared and plan activities that engage and involve every participant.

his becomes an even bigger issue if the same people attending a programme are always in-person and the same people are always remote. For a one-off course, some people will be in the virtual group and others physical and that’s just what it is. But, over a longer period of time, do your best to mix this up. Getting a trainer to go to other locations, or alternating the time or day of the training, can create opportunities to rotate groups and experiences.


Adapting the content

Just as training content had to be changed and adapted when things went from in-person to virtual, hybrid is its own style with its own methodology. Treat it as such.

Consider how to implement interactive elements. When everyone’s in a room together, or everyone’s virtual, it works easily enough, but designing content for the mix can feel much less intuitive. For starters, make sure nothing in the course can only be done physically or virtually.

Some courses might lean more one way or the other, such as Presentation Skills, where standing up to speak is central to the training. In this case, the trainer can use both groups to showcase skills for in-person and remote presentations, with all participants able to give feedback regardless of where they are.

As for group work, in-person sessions are straightforward and virtual groups utilise breakout rooms, but combining these creates a unique situation. If everyone has their own device, it’s possible to put people into groups no matter where they are. If not, virtual breakout rooms for some and paring up participants in the same room can work, but don’t let this be their only interaction with other learners. Keep conversations free flowing, with everyone able to chime in – this means clear communication with remote participants is absolutely crucial.


Be prepared to be flexible

It’s important to accept that your first hybrid learning programmes probably won’t be perfect straight away – and that’s okay. Creating a new method of learning, particularly when it involves using technology in new ways, can take time to get right. You should do everything you can to avoid those teething problems, but it’s how you respond to them that will really make or break the hybrid approach for your learners.

Have an agile attitude, accepting that things may need to quickly change. Have backup plans ready for any foreseeable issues, such as setting up a conference call if the Wi-Fi drops or emailing participants the slides in advance in case there’s trouble with visuals. Think about the potential weak links and be ready with solutions. Have technical support available to assist for the first 20 minutes.

Naturally, you won’t be able to predict (or fix) every issue. Your participants will be forgiving of unforeseeable problems if they can see you’re doing your best to solve them. Even if that sometimes means saying there’s nothing you can do immediately but you’ll make sure to fix it before the next session.

Moreover, don’t be afraid to try something new. Both in the hybrid arrangements and in content. This will probably start as a new experience for many of your people, so you’re in the freeing position of not being tied to particular expectations or anyone challenging you for changing company traditions. Not every idea will be the best, but experimentation can go a long way to finding a long-term solution that works.


Communicate clearly and confidently

Clear communication is always a central facet of how to run any effective project. For L&D, you need to make sure all learning designers, trainers, participants and organisers are on the same page. When creating hybrid experiences, this means making sure everyone understands the rules and expectations.

Before the session, tell participants how everything will work, including: how everyone can join in; which devices are being provided and what should their bring themselves; how everyone will be seen and heard; whether they’ll be on mute the whole time; how they’ll be able to ask and answer questions; and what to do if they experience a technical problem. Collaboration and opportunities for sharing ideas with other participants should be a major aspect of your learning solutions, so don’t overlook the importance of explaining this in advance. It will also give learners more confidence heading into the session.

This need for communication begins in the planning stages. When organising the training, be the expert. Whether people are hesitant to try something new or over excited and rushing ahead, do what you need to do to get things right. As the L&D professional, you’re both the one people look to for guidance and the one that they’ll look to if it goes wrong. So, step up and take responsibility for the success of the training.


Seek out feedback

This is advice we often give, because it’s so fundamental for creating the best possible learning solutions. Feedback offers insight into participants’ experiences and lets you keep tweaking and making improvements.

After every training session, create genuine opportunities for people to share their thoughts. This goes for participants, trainers and anyone else involved in the training. Some of this will be formal, such as post-course feedback forms, and some will be informal, for example asking your tech team how everything went.

When analysing feedback, listen to everything but don’t make any knee-jerk reactions to it. It’s been said that people are good at saying how experiences make them feel but aren’t always great at recognising why or finding solutions. Just because one person wanted fewer images on the slides, doesn’t mean they speak for everyone, they may actually be saying they want deeper content or a faster pace. Take note of feelings and whether people ultimately felt the course was helpful, don’t get too bogged down in the other details.

Hybrid learning won’t be everyone’s preference, especially at first, and that’s not a problem. There are many different types of learners with different favourite ways to learn. Keep listening to feedback and see what patterns you find. Additionally, keep track of who was in-person and who was remote. If the experiences and reviews differ wildly, you’ll know you haven’t got the balance right.

Hybrid learning sounds complicated, but once you’ve found a setup that works for your people and resources, it’s just a matter of perfecting it. It’s worth the time and effort as it really does let you meet your learners where they are. Just make sure you recognise it as its own style with its own needs and communicate properly with everyone involved.


For more information on running great training for your teams, take a look at our Learning Solutions.