The term “blended learning” was originally used to describe a hybrid method that linked traditional classroom training with e-learning activities. But the arrival of the Internet further changed the way people learn.
Blended learning has since evolved to refer to a much richer set of learning strategies and dimensions, involving a wide variety of tools and support systems. Today, it is regarded as the way forward for effective corporate learning because it harnesses three key areas:
The need for interactivity
Interactivity has become the norm of daily life. People share knowledge and other information through informal interactions via social networking platforms such as Whatsapp, WeChat, Viber and Instagram. These platforms can also support corporate learning.
The need for intensity
What is learned yesterday becomes stale today and outdated tomorrow. It is vital for the pace to be intensive, so that learners can be sure that what they are learning is always up-to-date and relevant.
There is a strong correlation between intensive multi-dimensional learning environments and financial success.
The need for integration
Companies must provide “workspaces of the future” that optimise how knowledge is transferred and shared — cutting-edge networking and productivity tools like Dropbox and Google Drive that package together computer-based work, collaboration and performance support tools.
There is no cookie-cutter process to establish and run an effective blended learning programme, or any learning programme, for that matter. Every plan has to be customised to the specific needs of the industry and company.
The significance of having a realistic and relevant programme that exactly suits a particular company cannot be underestimated.
That said, companies can apply some basic rules even before delving into industry- and company-specific customisations:
Be focused on purpose
“What’s the overall training objective?” Although this is a fundamental question, some organisations get distracted from their objective in their attempt to make each learning programme as interactive and interesting as possible — blending classroom teaching with virtual exercises and discussions on social media.
A programme is considered successful only if at the end of it, the organisation is evaluated to be true to its objectives and there are sustainable results.
Hence the organisation needs to keep its key objective top of mind. Is the training objective to convey knowledge, change perspective, or impact certain skills or behaviours?
Be consistent with reality
Blended learning is meant to enhance the learner’s experience, not to complicate things. Hence, authenticity and consistency is crucial when an organisation is mixing various learning systems.
Attention must be given to creating and delivering materials that are consistent and applicable to employees in their daily operations.
The learning environment should reflect the complexity of the environment and challenge each learner’s thinking. With the classroom — virtual or otherwise — echoing reality, it can only serve to deepen the understanding and application of the learning.
Be interested and active
While traditional learning programmes require active input from the bosses, this is even more so for blended learning programmes.
Without the leaders’ active involvement, blended learning programmes can be easily deemed as just another company policy for staff to follow.
But when leaders actively engage their staff — particularly via the very blended learning channels being promoted — they communicate the company’s commitment to improving and growing itself, as well as their belief in their very own programmes.
These positive vibes will increase interactions between people, understanding between departments and greater cohesion within the company.
Emergency Medical Services Corporation (EMSC), a provider of medical care services to over nine million patients per year in the United States of America, ensures that its vice-presidents sit in on their e-workshops. Employees have commented that it “adds value to the program to see their leaders take time out of their schedules to attend the courses”.
Be flexible and inclusive
The start-off point and pace of learning for every employee is different. Studies have shown that the best learning method for each person varies. Thus, to demand that every employee learns at an equal rate is unrealistic — and unreasonable.
If participants are given the flexibility to plan and pace their own progress, it will optimise their own learning and increase effectiveness of the blended programme. Hence, blended programmes have to be designed to accommodate various learning styles.
To drastically reduce procrastination — a very real potential problem — constantly checking on and tracking the participants is recommended. This can be achieved through creating multiple intermediate checkpoints throughout the entire syllabus, each to be accomplished within a reasonable timeframe. This will help participants learn at their own pace, yet not compromise on the time-frame required.
Besides following these basic guidelines, companies will need to actively implement their programmes, gather constant feedback and evaluate outcomes to ensure the continual evolution of their learning provision methods.
In this way, they can provide learning programmes that are both comprehensive (meeting the company’s needs) and inclusive (allowing for participants’ different learning styles). In turn, employees will reap real rewards and, ultimately, bring benefits and value to their companies.
Article by Nicholas Goh, the chief executive officer of Verztec Consulting, a global content consulting company. For more information, visit www.verztec.com.sg