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Structuring the Blend


Robin Hoyle of ebc explains the five foundations for building a blend that works.

I think that these days we’ve started to lay the ghost of e-learning as the panacea solution. Some time ago lots of e-learning vendors trumpeted the end of the classroom and the development of the intranet or Internet as the route to corporate enlightenment.

Those of us with training and learning background were always sceptical of their claims and now even the most techno-friendly organisation has realised that online materials work best when combined with other forms of training intervention.

In fact lots of organisations are now actively creating blended solutions and we have some experience of what works and what doesn’t, the pitfalls to avoid and how a perfect blend can be created. So what are the lessons form the real world?

1. Link modes of delivery to the desired outcomes
This seems pretty obvious on the face of it, but how do you do it? The first thing is to recognise that unless the purpose of your development programme is IT skills, the computer is not particularly good at skills development.

What e-learning can do pretty well is deal with issues of knowledge acquisition – communicating policies, procedures and models of behaviour. That last point about models is potentially confusing. A simulation showing a video based interaction between colleagues or between a customer and an adviser may feel like we’ve avoided the need for the dreaded role-play, but you haven’t!

Unfortunately our customers don’t appear in front of our organisation with a handy list of multiple choice options pinned to their chest. In the real world we have to think on our feet in a way that the usual simulation with feedback doesn’t quite allow for. The focus of the online simulation is still knowledge even though we are creating a context for that knowledge to be memorable.

2. Context is important
That leads neatly onto my second learning point that e-learning works best when there’s a context for its completion. This context may be created through interactive, engaging methods of delivery – such as a scenario-type simulation – or it may be created by other interventions – such as a presentation by a senior figure or a team brief.

The context also extends to how we create the e-learning component of our blend. Perhaps the focus on providing information with limited chances to interact with the content is also changing. Setting people online problems – the solutions for which live on the corporate intranet – not only speeds up the development process but also creates skilled information seekers. It seems to me that this is an absolute requirement in these times of rapid change and information available at the click of a mouse.

3. Build in redundancy
If we say one size doesn’t fit all – and lots of training initiatives have this as their mantra, then we must build in redundancy. This means creating alternative ways for staff to get the same message. This may mean creating simulations with different routes depending on an individual’s role, or it may involve creating an e-learning module, a workbook and a face-to-face workshop with similar, overlapping messages.

Giving adult learners choice is crucial. If you think everyone will simply attend the face-to-face version think again. How many times have you had people pulled off courses because they simply don’t have the time to attend? Now you have an alternative.

4. The role of the trainer changes
This seems simplistic – moving from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side”, but in fact the focus should be on equipping trainers to be involved in high impact, skills based sessions making the most of what some will refer to as “face-time”.

If the workshop is merely another ‘death-by-PowerPoint’ session, perhaps the most effective way of delivering that content is via the corporate intranet. Face-to-face time should be spent on role-plays, problem solving group work and other interventions where the group is essential.

Trainers may be suspicious or resistant to this alternative role. Get them on board early – nothing jeopardises a blended solution more than trainers who fear that the “e” component might put them out of work!

5. Think beyond courses
The most successful blends don’t feel like a course at all. In fact the ongoing, continuous development process in which a learner selects from a range of options – workshops, action learning sets, accredited programmes – and which a bank of online resources support seems most successful.

The e-component of your blend becomes like the glue in the disparate parts of the process. It can provide access to information, just-in-time reinforcement messages, simulations, and remote communication with other learners or tutors and prompts to complete work-based tasks. Where these work-based tasks involve a line manager in supporting, coaching and signing off the outcomes – so much the better. Focusing solely on training courses can enable these same line managers to think that staff development is someone else’s job!

There are many other learning points about structuring the blend – from building learning communities, rewarding e-completion with access to the next stage in the process and devising object based programmes tailored to an individual’s needs. However, they are all built on the bedrock of these five points. I wish you well on building blends that work.


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