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Creating the Perfect Blend


Tim Drewitt, Director of Balance Learning looks at the key components that will optimise any blended learning programme.

In 2003, nearly 100 training managers provided us with their own definitions of what blended learning means. From these opinions we distilled the following definition:

Blended learning programmes utilise various learning assets and methods to create an integrated, coherent, practical, stimulating and engaging learning experience, making the best use of mode, method and media to suit the learning outcomes and to appeal to people with different learning styles and time and location constraints, including measures of success and the achievements of results.

This definition comes very close to providing an overview of the “perfect blend” and could be used to benchmark both current and planned blended learning programmes.

I like to use the term “output orientated training” ie what we to teach people to enable them to succeed in their role. After all if we require blended learning to be efficient and effective, in the shortest time possible, it has to deliver greater returns back in the workplace, it has to be practical.

A starting point is to work out what behaviours are required. This should focus on the “doing” aspects, rather than theory and general principles. When we know what people need to do to be successful, we can structure activities that focus the mind of the participant and those around them on achieving the required goals.

We should develop work-place activities that guide each participant through the new behaviours they need to exhibit. These activities must be relevant to each individual if they are to be readily adopted. It should be possible to use a mixture of guided practice suggestions, open-ended assignments and reflective exercises to stimulate the transfer of learning and, most importantly, to measure it.

The Building Blocks for Success
Typically inputs will focus on two areas—the skills and underpinning knowledge required to be successful back in the workplace.

The underpinning knowledge is fundamental to the programme’s success. If the programme is to remain efficient, it must help the participant to minimise the amount of time in learning mode, and the trainer to maximise the returns from any face-to-face contact.

The starting point for any blended learning programme should be self-reflection and an assessment of prior-knowledge using surveys and pre-assessments. Knowledge gaps should be clearly pinpointed and optimal learning paths clearly mapped out.

The methods used for this depend on how technology-savvy the business is, the resources available and known learning styles. The current trend is to use online learning for this phase—online surveys and e-learning courses—but paper-based assessments and workbooks can be just as effective.

It is important to remain focused on delivering knowledge outcomes and stimulate the mind of each learner to move to the next practical step. Post-testing is a critical step in any blended learning programme. If it is to be regarded as a learning journey, where each component builds on the preceding one, leading to an ultimate goal, there should be sign-off points along the way to motivate the learner and monitor an individual’s progress.

Practice Makes Perfect
It is rare for knowledge alone to be enough to enable a participant to perform successfully on the job. Regardless of the topic, some form of skills practice is required. Not only should participants be able to rehearse and model best practices in a safe environment, they also need to relate the knowledge to their specific work environment. And where that knowledge has been provided by a generic training resource, it needs to be translated into each participant’s own “business language”.

But participants do not want to spend too long doing this, as time away from the workplace is costly in real terms. They do not want to be lectured to, but immediately provided with numerous opportunities to build the skills required. The learning must come alive for each person if they are to answer the “what’s in it for me?” question, and establish the desire to implement the learning back in the workplace.

Selecting the method here is generally much easier. If we are looking to reduce the time spent in instructor-led training but still concentrate on skills development, we will achieve our efficiency goals, whilst recognising the effectiveness of face-to-face training. One-to-one coaching is also an option for more niche training solutions, and virtual classrooms can be used in selected circumstances; but there is still a key role for the classroom in blended learning programmes.

After the skills have been developed and rehearsed, they need to be transferred back into the workplace. But, in those first few days after a classroom course, it is often all too easy to slip back into old habits. Online scenario-based testing provides a valuable service in developing each participant’s ability to process new information and determine the best course of action to take.

All these possible elements of blended learning have associated measurement mechanisms. If we recall the importance of training outputs, we need to provide regular measures of progress, both in terms of the knowledge and skills acquired, but also to demonstrate improved performance back on the job. Surveys, assessments and reflective journals all serve this purpose. More than other forms of training, a coherent blended learning programme will remove many of the barriers to evaluating the effectiveness of our learning solutions.

When a systematic approach is taken to developing a blended learning programme, this methodology can be applied to most training requirements. Selecting components that are well-suited to the task in hand provides a consistent approach; by including measurement within each module, these solutions remain closely aligned to the business requirements.


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