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Is Blended Learning Old Hat?


Kay Baldwin-Evans, VP of Research at global online learning provider, SkillSoft, suggests that blended learning is now so widely used that it’s old hat.

According to SkillSoft, the most advanced learning organisations are now focusing on do-it-yourself learning; ensuring that their employees have the right tools to be able to blend learning options themselves - allowing them to learn informally, on-the-job and at the actual point of need.

Historically, learning professionals have been responsible for blending learning options, but just as celebrity chefs have made cooking more accessible to us lesser mortals, developments in e-learning technology have opened up self-service learning to employees. This also frees-up learning professionals to concentrate on developing higher-level strategic training for their organisations.

The general consensus about what constitutes blended learning is that it’s a mix of classroom-based training and e-learning. There’s no doubt that this works; e-learning now forms an integral part of training programmes across the majority of sectors - either as a pre-requisite to instructor-led training or as a stand alone option to prove compliance and/or knowledge transfer. But is blended learning alone sufficient in the quest to build employee competencies and improve productivity?

The Senior HR Pro’s Perspective
To establish this, over a twelve-month period, SkillSoft conducted in-depth, face-to-face interviews with a number of senior HR professionals across Europe. Research participants were identified by Dr. Jens Maier, chair of the European Foundation of Management Development. All interviewees had responsibility for global HR strategy - overseeing the translation of the needs of the business from the boardroom to the HR function.

Trends, Innovation and Best Practice
The study’s purpose was to identify emerging trends, innovation and best practice in learning and development, focusing on how large, complex organisations currently use blended learning to manage and extend the skills and competencies of their employees and examining the depth of and the degree to which new technologies might alter the scope of people development in the future. Organisations participating included AstraZeneca, Atos Origin, BAE Systems, Barclays Capital, Hilton, Holcim, IBM, Royal Bank of Scotland, Schlumberger, Shell and Zurich Financial Services.

Self-Service Learning
The move towards self-service learning – or the employee pull of resources was evident in almost all the organisations we spoke to. Each of them already adopts a blended learning approach, but the majority also have, or are moving towards a total mix of delivery tools for their training.

Consequently, it was no surprise to see the responsibility for the development of skills and knowledge shifting inexorably towards the employee. Larger, global organisations are making a heavy investment in training and ensuring that many forms of learning are available to allow their employees to develop and add value to the organisation.

Experiential Learning
Also evident was an increased emphasis on experiential learning. This was a development strategy adopted by a number of those who participated in the research. In essence, these organisations had realised that for some of its senior managers, neither traditional nor ‘e’ forms of training were sufficient to give them the depth of skills they needed in certain areas. As a result, there appeared to be a trend of training senior managers through experience. There was evidence of job shadowing, functional swaps and the movement of managers to countries where the cultures were vastly different to their own.

Knowledge Sharing
Additionally, there was a recognition amongst the HR professionals involved in this study that knowledge sharing amongst employees was vital to the organisations capability and its ability to achieve its goals. This was particularly true in highly competitive situations and in instances where there were a limited number of ‘experts’.

To facilitate the spread of knowledge throughout the enterprise, many of the organisations had introduced specific processes to ensure it happened. These typically included fiscal rewards or enhanced promotional opportunities for sharing knowledge. These organisations also spent considerable resources ensuring that the knowledge was stored where it was easily accessible.

Case Study: IBM
IBM is a good example of this. The organisations Business Consulting Services has over 50,000 employees globally and specialises in high-end advice coupled with a strong delivery capability. Effective collaboration is key. In the highly-competitive consultancy market knowledge and experience are critical and the company’s vast knowledge bases are as important as formal education to employees. However, making time available for learning and development brings with it significant cost implications – in terms of lost business opportunities as well as the cost of the actual programmes.

To address this, IBM is moving more of its classroom-based interventions into less time-intensive blocks; either converting them into e-learning modules – which cuts down the time considerably and allows people to access them when they need to – or moving them into lunch-and-learn sessions where virtual technology is used to discuss a particular topic. This allows IBM to deliver what would have been a full days course in six sessions running over a six-week period.

A particularly innovative way IBM is disseminating knowledge is via job-specific or issue-related ‘knowledge cards’. Consultants refer to them when needed so that instead of having to trawl through a variety of databases to relevant information there are direct links to follow. For example, IBM has a comprehensive set of management development offerings for its customers.

The related ‘knowledge cards’ display direct links to the high-level message; the more detailed message; how the programme is typically delivered; case studies of where particular solutions have been implemented; contact details for consultants who have been involved in similar projects and any other reference points that might be relevant. The cards are an invaluable resource and the time and effort they save consultants is considerable.

This article is drawn from a 20-page management summary of SkillSoft’s research, which also includes best practice case studies and extensive quotes and comments from the participants themselves. TrainingZONE readers can request a copy of the management summary free of charge – in hard copy or pdf format - by emailing Kay Baldwin Evans at [email protected]


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