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Blended learning – a learning revolution or an over-hyped buzzword? – feature

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This feature article was provided by Karina Ward, Marketing Communications Manager at NETg.


Buzzwords are funny things. For organisations involved at the cutting edge, they can be as infuriating as they are mouth-watering. Because just as every buzzword - referring as they do to something fresh and new - energises and excites us, so their potential leads to their misuse, which in turn causes our customers to start to doubt that potential.

Let me give you an example. The world of learning is currently in the midst of just such a tug-o-war over the term ‘blended learning’ - high hopes and gnashing of teeth in equal measure. So what is the problem and is there anything we can do about it?

‘Blended learning’ can refer to a huge range of training. In its broadest form, it describes a programme that incorporates more than one form of learning. For example, an Excel course delivered via e-Learning and ILT. Simple enough so far. The difficulties start to surface thick and fast, however, when we look at the claims being made for this type of training.

It is said that this huge and loosely defined umbrella term is the ultimate training experience: the way to deliver training to your employees that will transform the effectiveness of your organisation and the loyalty of your people. Sadly however, this is far easier said than done.

An intelligent blend of learning content and delivery techniques does indeed offer enormous potential. Unfortunately though, the variety being experienced by too many companies today is less a true blend, and more a crude bundle. Simply lumping together more than one type of training will not revolutionise the learning experience. Why would it?

But if the right kind of blend can fulfil the hype surrounding the broader term, how can companies find it? The answer lies in three simple words: prescribe, deliver, evolve...

It’s universally accepted that each of us is different, but it’s a truism that’s rarely fed directly into how we’re trained. Turning the learning vision into reality means understanding the aspirations, learning styles, and learning needs of every employee and ‘prescribing’ a learning programme to meet them. Marrying these corporate and individual factors isn’t easy, but for successful corporate learning it’s absolutely critical.

While one person might learn best, for example, in a classroom environment, another might find it more profitable to study alone. One person might prefer to be regularly tested, while another might enjoy most success from assessments only at the end of a course. One type of skill might, on the whole, be more effectively transferred in a classroom, another by using a computer. In fact, there are a huge number of variables that make up the learning preferences of individuals, and it’s understanding them that is the key to uncovering and realising the real benefits of blended learning.

The second key to success is delivery. To successfully unlock and expand employee potential there should be consistency across every phase. That means that delivery of training should come from exactly the same source as the prescription. This is important not only to ensure that your corporate learning vision is accurately reflected at the training coalface, but also - at a more granular level - to ensure that the type of content is consistent.

In other words, whether learning IT skills or business and professional skills, and whether learning primarily through textbooks or mainly via e-Learning, the content must be seamless. Many organisations rely on different providers for different skills. Others rely on different providers for varying delivery mechanisms of the same skill. Unfortunately, both scenarios can significantly reduce the potency of the training.

The final stage in creating and providing a successful blend of learning is a recognition that learning must be a lifelong activity. Change is the only constant. That means that the skills and competencies of your workforce need to be constantly evolving. By assessing and supporting learners before AND after training, organisations can identify where learning styles have changed and where learning needs have shifted. By tying this information in with developing corporate goals, each individual training programme will be continually growing and adding value to the business.

So, the right kind of learning blend can live up to the claims made for it. But now is the time to make sure that we all understand the difference between an intelligent blend (prescribed, delivered and constantly evolving) and a crude bundle. And the sooner we do that, the sooner we can all stop worrying about buzzwords and start focusing on providing outstanding learning.

Karina Ward
Marketing Communications Manager
NETg

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