The benefits of blended learning and how to develop the right mix

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4 November 2021
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

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Traditionally, the only real option for workplace learning was to do it in person. As technology improved, things began to shift towards e-learning, virtual classrooms, gamification and online Learning Management Systems, but face-to-face remained many people’s preference for authentic and effective learning experiences.

Covid-19 created an intensely fast, yet necessary, jump to entirely virtual learning. It’s a stroke of luck that Zoom, Microsoft Teams and all the other similar video conferencing platforms are now of a high enough quality for learning to continue remotely. Due to the global lockdowns, 79% of L&D professionals said their organisation have been decreasing their use of instructor-led training (both face-to-face and virtual),1 which means there would have been no formal learning occurring in many organisations without virtual capabilities. If this had all happened even just a decade ago, it would have been a very different story.

Now that workplaces have started reopening, L&D leaders have a decision to make. Virtual training surprised many by being a successful and positive experience for participants and their organisations, saving time, bypassing a lot of logistical headaches and is available anywhere. So, what does this mean for the future of learning?

Some organisations will make the choice to return to the ‘good old days’ of entirely face-to-face training. Of course, they say the classics are classics for a reason, and at Speak First we’ve always championed in-person instructor-led training, but as we look ahead to the post-pandemic learning landscape, there are many innovations which can improve the learning experience. New programmes will benefit the most from a blended approach, mixing and matching multiple types of learning interventions to perfectly fit the participants’ and organisation’s needs.

 

The anatomy of blended learning

‘Blended learning’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days but is often misunderstood. At its most basic, it’s a design approach which uses more than one type of learning intervention in the same course or programme. Most typically, it utilises both face-to-face and virtual sessions, but it can also be any combination of e-learning, coaching, buddy groups, podcasts, videos, reading, practical experiences and much more. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s just about in-person and virtual.

One of the most interesting aspects of a blended programme is what occurs outside the formal sessions. Once upon a time, learning was limited to a classroom environment, but now it’s grown far beyond that. A well-crafted programme can create a learning journey that constantly builds knowledge and develops an experience for participants.

Pre-programme work, for example, may ask participants to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire of their existing abilities, begin thinking of real-life examples they’re willing to share, or to watch something that introduces the topic.

Work or activities set in-between formal sessions ensure learners have opportunities to apply and continue developing what they’ve been learning, creating a constant and joined-up experience between the classroom and their day-to-day jobs.

Post-programme work – which can be anything from reflecting on their progress with their manager, 1:1 coaching, or longer-term refresher sessions – means learning doesn’t suddenly stop at the end of the formal learning sessions. Learning should always be an ongoing and constant part of work and an organisation’s culture.

 

Advantages over a traditional programme

70% of learning occurs through practical application and on-the-job experiences, 20% happens through social interactions, and just 10% of learning comes via formal education. This is called the 70:20:10 Model (we’ve written more about it here), and it makes it clear that, regardless of whether they’re in a physical or virtual classroom, learners need time to try out what they’ve learnt. For this reason, the blended approach opens the door to more opportunities away from the classroom.

It’s also vital that an L&D programme recognises and accepts that some concepts take time to learn, and people will take time to internalise new techniques and models.

Many courses which were traditionally always one or two full days have now, mostly by necessity, have been converted into a series of 90 minute or two hour Zoom sessions. You may question the justification of this loss of learning time, but ‘Zoom Fatigue’ is a very real thing. While you could reasonably ask people to spend several hours focussing in a classroom environment, attention spans are significantly shorter online.2 There’s a point at which spending longer on Zoom delivers diminishing returns.

This, therefore, leads to a problem. The full day’s training would be a mix of theory, discussion and practice. In a shorter session, practice time is limited – and here, the need for blended programmes becomes clear. Theory can be shared through pre-event activities and the formal session can offer opportunities for discussion and feedback.

However, blended programmes shouldn’t be seen as merely a substitute for face-to-face instructor-led learning. They can deliver many new opportunities – with or without in-person sessions.

Everyone learns in different ways. Some enjoy interacting with an expert facilitator, some prefer hands-on experiences, others want to read, watch videos or listen to podcasts. Some people process best when discussing a topic with others, some benefit from hearing other people’s experiences before talking about their own, and many have no preference, instead benefitting from a variety of approaches.

Each learner is unique and will approach their organisation’s L&D offerings looking for something to benefit them. Blended programmes can create a holistic learning environment around an organisation, over time establishing an entire learning ecosystem, where occasional formal learning is backed up by constant on-the-job practice, mentoring and coaching, giving employees ample opportunities to learn the skills they need in a way that clicks for them.

 

The logistical conveniences

Group learning experiences are brilliant, but it can be tricky to get everyone in one room or video call together. If you’re trying to cater for a large workforce, with multiple sites or time zones, it’s often a herculean task to get everyone in one place at the same time. Even smaller teams may struggle to ask everyone to take the same time off for training.

This is one of the many benefits of adding non-synchronous interventions to a blend – things like videos, podcasts and articles, which don’t need to be done at a specific time. They can be watched at any time, at an individual’s own pace. If needed, they can be translated to help bring a global team all onto the same page, without worrying about time commitments.

 

Use your expertise to develop the perfect blend 

We’ve written before about the role of consultancy in L&D. Managers and leaders may think they know what they want, but as an L&D professional, you know what they need. There’s a difference between saying “we need to sell more” and understanding where the real weaknesses lie and how to solve it.

When they ask you for a short e-learning video because it saves time, you should be ready to counter with the benefits of blended learning programmes. You need to be confident and able to show why blended is the best way to meet their needs and deliver a return on investment.

It should be an easy argument. 93% of companies believe personalised learning helps improve organisational and individual performance,3 and in another recent study, over 80% of companies say they’re working to improve the personalisation of their L&D offerings.4 The majority of L&D professionals said that their learning and development priorities are currently focused on rebuilding and reshaping their organisation after a turbulent couple of years,5 making this the perfect opportunity to embrace a new style of individualised learning.

Blended solutions are the perfect formula for simultaneously focussing on ‘perishable’ skills (related to specific jobs that may have a finite shelf-life) as well as developing a workforce with ‘durable’ and transferable soft skills for now and the future. You just need to put it all together for your organisation.

 

A well-designed blended programme will use the right mix of interventions, in-between and follow-up work, tailored to address the priorities and culture of the organisation and its learners, rather than relying on generic solutions. This allows you, as an expert in both L&D and your organisation, to create the perfect learning experiences for your people and address the real, underlying needs.

 

Read more about our Learning Solutions and our approach to developing the best training for your people. 

 

1 LinkedIn Learning (2021) Workplace Learning Report 2021

2 Bailenson, J. N. (2021) ‘Nonverbal overload: A theoretical argument for the causes of Zoom Fatigue’. Technology, Mind, and Behaviour

3 Brandon Hall Group (2021) State of Learning Practices Study 2021

4 Brandon Hall Group (2021) Upskilling and Reskilling Study 2021

5 LinkedIn Learning (2021) Workplace Learning Report 2021