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Blending for success: Part two


In part two of his series, Robin Hoyle explores the important factors to consider in developing your blend and reminds us that a well designed blended programme mirrors the way we learn in real life.
I made a rather sweeping statement in the last article that learning is a social activity. Let’s unpack that for a moment. There are three things which underpin my assertion about learning and socialising. The first is that we often need change validated by others. The idea of learning as a route to enabling people to 'do things differently and do different things' implies a process of change which may be individual or it may be organisational/cultural.

So what do we do with the face-to-face course?

The social side of the change process is about feeling that the ideas are accepted by others and that the change activities are validated through that acceptance. One of the downsides of this is that trainers are in the role of 'sales people' for the information/behaviour change they advocate. Frankly, some trainers don’t feel that comfortable with this directive or persuasive approach, preferring a softer facilitation approach.
Where a change is not welcomed, sometimes this facilitative approach doesn't have the tools and techniques to change hearts and minds. In essence the social side of learning can undermine the change required if the general opinion expressed by the group is 'this will never work' or similar. Part of the socialising of learning is to gain group acceptance for the relevance, importance or simple workability of the changes proposed.
"I often think that learning happens equally where one or more learners reject the approach taken by another"
The social process relies – to an extent – on what’s in it for me.
The second idea is best captured by a quote from Brent Wilson. He said: A constructivist learning environment is, "a place where learners may work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their guided pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities.” This seems to me to create the idea that the group learn formally from the exercises and the input of experts and informally from the ideas and experiences expressed by other learners.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but whilst I am interested in role models and delegates on the course providing a positive quasi-expert input on certain subjects, I often think that learning happens equally where one or more learners reject the approach taken by another, especially where the set up of the exercise or event requires them to argue the case and justify their opinions.

Modes of delivery

The third compelling reason for the face to face experience is the practicing skills in a safe environment with feedback. We can break down most learning objectives into three areas: Attitude, Knowledge and Skills. It seems to me that attitude – changing people’s receptiveness to learn and their willingness to act differently after their learning process – needs a constant focus. This is the one area which cuts across all our different learning modes. Knowledge – learning facts, figures and procedures and being able to put them to use – can be addressed in many different ways – including elearning.
Despite over a quarter of century of a PowerPoint, we all have to come to the uncomfortable realisation that endless presentations do not help people acquire new knowledge. But is elearning any better? Yes if you can get people to use it, where there is a failure to address the motivation to learn, the elearning programme may be the best ever designed, but how would anyone know unless they are required and motivated to click on the icon?
"We can break down most learning objectives into three areas: Attitude, Knowledge and Skills."
Once the knowledge has been acquired (and possibly tested if you require everyone to be at a similar standard) then you may wish to move on to skills – starting with practice sessions in a workshop or classroom environment and moving on to guided and supervised practice as competence is slowly developed in the workplace.

In my model a blend may look like this:

In this example, the programme’s launch is designed to gain interest and to tackle immediate motivation. Using leaders, facts about the desirability of change and potential reward strategies, learners understand the process and its importance. The elearning is integral – learners must complete the elearning before attending the workshops, where through a series of role plays or practice activities the learners gain confidence. The work-based practice may involve projects or activities, supported by local facilitators or coaches, who may be line managers or specially deployed trainers.

The elearning element

I hope it goes without saying that the elearning element needs to constantly reinforce the motivation to learn. Its focus should be on creating an interactive, engaging and memorable presentation of new material. Preferably a learner’s route through the programme will be personalised, recognising knowledge they already have and supplementing it with highly relevant examples.
There are two other features of elearning which help cement the melange of ingredients in our blend. The first is the ability to track completion. The ability of elearning programmes to deliver a report on learner progress and completion – either via a learning management system or independently – is hugely useful in achieving our ‘level playing field’ of learner understanding. The tracking system can also assist with the engagement of line managers. With one of our clients, following up on tracking reports is not with the learners direct, but with their line managers – calling them to account for encouraging and enabling the learning to happen.
"Preferably a learner’s route through the [elearning] programme will be personalised, recognising knowledge they already have and supplementing it with highly relevant examples."
My first ever online programme used this facility to great effect.
Learners who hadn’t completed the elearning successfully, didn’t gain access to the workshop which followed it! This also benefits delegates and trainers by ensuring that the trainer can feel comfortable dispensing with those components of the workshop which are covered in the elearning. As well as freeing up the time in the workshop (and potentially shortening this expensive experience) it means more time can be made for the learning processes which can’t be undertaken online.
Let’s be honest when using the one course fits all approach – we’ve all been in a session when the trainer has run out of time and the skills-based exercise has had to be shelved so people could get home at a reasonable hour. This way, the experiential skills-based learning is prioritised upfront without compromising on the sound base of knowledge required for the skills to make sense.


The mix of elements within your blend may include workshops, elearning programmes alongside work-based implementation with support from other learners, facilitators and coaches. The important factor to consider in developing your blend is the role you expect each of these elements to play in the learning journey you have created and in achieving learning objectives in a logical sequence. I believe there are real advantages in creating a coherent blend of interventions. Most importantly, the well designed blended programme mirrors the way we learn in real life – matching our preferences and our needs more precisely than any approach based on a single mode of delivery.

Read Blending for success: Part one

Robin oversees all learning design activities within Infinity Learning and was nominated for outstanding contribution to the training industry in successive years 2006 and 2007. Robin has been a key speaker at the European eLearning Conference in Monte Carlo, Learning Technologies, Word of Learning, CIPD’s HRD conference, and the HR Forum. He has a BA Hons in Humanities (Drama) and cognitive psychology from the University of Huddersfield; a certificate in training and development (Institute of Training and Development - now CIPD) and a post graduate diploma in management from Leeds Metropolitan University. Read Robin's TrainingZone blog here

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