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Nigel Paine

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Hybrid learning is just learning: Don’t fall for the fad


I am always struck by our industry’s capacity to create new shiny objects even if they are more fiction than reality! Almost every year a new fad seems to take root in our learning and development community. For example, eight years ago, I saw people earning money by claiming that mobile learning was something new and exciting when it was a technical issue of screen size management and adjustment. No one would now claim that such a basic process required dedicated specialists who focus on nothing else but getting learning on your mobile phone, but some people used to. 

Next came ‘brain friendly’ learning. The same products that had hitherto ignored the concept changed a few words and suddenly became super-charged and more effective with no evidence to support the claim. This was followed by analytics as a new buzzword that would solve all our problems. The fact that the same data, for the most part, that poured out of every online package was now recast into something special was quietly passed over.

Artificial intelligence, which was neither artificial nor intelligent, then became an essential part of all learning regardless of what it actually did or the value it added: no AI and you were behind the times. Again, there was no evidence to support this, and, meanwhile, the genuine players who brought new ideas and new products were crowded out by all the noise.

ALL learning, unless you live in the dark ages, is hybrid to some degree or another.

There are probably a huge number of buzz words that I have forgotten; ‘interactive’ came and went, along with ‘multimedia’ and then ‘online’.  Even the term ‘eLearning’ is meaningless in today’s complex talent ecosystems, but you still hear it bandied about.

We can smile about it and shake our heads in disbelief as the herd instinct kicks in and we all run off in one direction or another, but there is something more serious going on. The avoidance of good fieldwork. The gathering of evidence that helps build appropriate and focused learning for an organisation and its people.

This hard, necessary research is instead replaced by a rush for a quick and easy solution.

What is hybrid in hybrid learning?

The same logic applies to hybrid learning. I am inundated with offers to attend webinars or purchase expertise about building hybrid learning. The problem is that ALL learning, unless you live in the dark ages, is hybrid to some degree or another.

Every online resource, group huddle, and asynchronous exploration is an element available for building appropriate learning. The danger is we go for the formula once again. Add a bit of this, a dash of that, and always have double this ingredient compared to that ingredient and success is guaranteed. The problem is that an inward focus on someone else’s models or assumptions is a de-focus on what you need to do in your own organisation and with your own people, to be effective.

We need to be evidence-based practitioners who acknowledge scholarship before slogan,

Five essential tips

1. Avoid fads, fashions and formulas

Or at least ask for the evidence of effectiveness. Start with the end in mind. What do you want to see changed in your organisation, permanently? This is about behaviours and culture. Work back from there. What needs to be done to deliver those changes?

2. Do your fieldwork

Understand what is really going on and explore and challenge what appears to be the case. An intense focus on what our people need to be effective may or may not require any learning at all.

3. Get at the underlying issue

Ask ‘why?’ then ‘why that?’ and so on, until you understand the root cause or at least get close to it.

4. Forget the nonsensical idea that learning happens in a vacuum

It happens in context, and you need to understand that context and build in the light of that context.

5. Consider the wider picture

Never ignore the cultural, political and social aspects of what goes on in organisations. They will, at least, condition the effectiveness of what you do, or they could completely obliterate it or enhance its impact. 

There’s no magic button

Learning is complex and the relationship between knowing, doing and behaviour is non-linear – and there is a mass of research to support this. We know from the 1960s that there are conditions for effective behaviour change and organisational transformation, but we still rely on magic buttons that will solve the problem without having to think too deeply.

Sadly, to understand the what and the why of any organisation requires deep thinking, and the search for evidence to support your conclusion.

A call to evidence-based action!

It is easy to poke fun at the ludicrous evidence-light claims about learning effectiveness. But there is something serious that underlies this. Other practitioners are far more like evidence chasers when they choose new products or processes. They are practitioners; they are proud of their own professionalism and want to do their job better and achieve better results. I would like that attitude to be firmly ensconced in the learning and development profession. 

We need to be evidence-based practitioners who acknowledge scholarship before slogan, work both in and on our organisation, and try to understand what goes on holistically. Learning is a frame through which to look at business needs and behaviours, just as marketing or finance are alternative frames.

We will not be up there with the C suite having the learning frame taken seriously unless we have a profound understanding of what is required to move a particular organisation forward. While we are still trying to garner praise by delivering phoney solutions that inevitably fail because they are delivered in a vacuum, without paying enough attention to the context, we will remain on the margins.

Hybrid learning is simply learning. The mix of elements is determined by the context of the organisation not by someone’s ridiculous formula that has, in many cases, little more than a novelty to recommend it.

Do not fall for the formulae. You are far better than that!

Interested in this topic? Read 'Why it's time to reconnect with the fundamentals of L&D.'

One Response

  1. As ever exceptional insights.
    As ever exceptional insights.

    We say – without, I believe, understanding the truth behind the statement – that one size does not fit all and yet we continue to laud the quick fix and the silver bullet.

    Nigel is right – do the fieldwork and understand what the change is that you want to enable, before designing a formulaic solution designed by someone with a product to sell.

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