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Keep Learning Even with Tight Budgets: Individual Development Planning Using the Blended Learning Approach

Tuesday, April 2, 2013
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What is Blended Learning?

I hear a lot of talk about blended learning, especially in times of tight budgets, but does anyone know how to explain it, or better yet, how to create an effective blended learning experience?   In other words, does the blended learning approach actually accomplish the intended learning objectives or program goals?  We’ve probably all adopted the most common blended learning approach, combining instructor-led training with online learning.  Let’s not let our creativity and innovation stop there.

I created the DOE Blended Learning Approach, which can be used by anyone to create effective blended learning.  Let’s start with a definition of blended learning.  I define blended learning as combining two or more approaches to optimize learning and development (L&D) using both formal and informal methods.

The Facts

When you’re thinking about ways to keep learning even with tight budgets, always consider blended learning.  Here’s why.   

  • At least 70% of work-related learning occurs outside of formal training
  • Blended learning, when used properly, is one of the most effective approaches for developing adult learners and improving performance because it…
    • increases interaction and positive learning experiences
    • increases the transfer and retention of knowledge and skills
    • optimizes organizational resources

Effective blended learning occurs when we choose the optimal combination of L&D activities, while creating the greatest impact on performance, for the lowest possible cost.   
The DOE Blended Learning Approach

Here’s how it works in four simple steps. 

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 First, determine whether the task or tasks that the target audience isn’t able to perform is actually a gap in knowledge and skills.  Next, decide if the target audience needs to develop specific competencies.  Answers to these two questions will lead you to an L&D need.  Before you utilize resources on L&D activities, make an accurate determination of the cause for the performance gap.  You don’t want to create a blended learning approach for a performance gap that’s caused by a need to communicate performance standards more clearly, as opposed to  a gap in knowledge and skills.  How many times have we wasted resources on a solution that doesn’t solve the performance gap?  Probably too many to count.  When budgets are tight, we simply don’t have the margin to waste resources on solutions that don’t work.

Identify optimal L&D activities
Select the right mix of L&D activities to improve performance.  Include a mix of activities based on the L&D need and style of learning for the audience.  Consider relationship (dependent on the involvement of others, e.g. mentoring and coaching), experiential (conducted on the job, e.g. developmental assignments, communities of practice, and special projects), and instructive (conveying information, e.g., instructor-led  training, online training, and books) L&D activities.  Each activity that you choose should be chosen to prepare for learning, engage in learning, reflect on learning, and act on learning.

Here’s an example of how this can work.  In response to an organization’s request for a course on conducting program evaluations, you may create a no-cost blended learning solution that looks something like this (of course this is after you’ve determined the L&D need):

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Recommend taking an online learning using the agency learning management system (instructive) to prepare for the course.  This will enable the group to become familiar with basic principles and terminology associated with program evaluations.  Before attending training, the supervisor should discuss the learning objectives and specific expectations for the group to use the knowledge and skills learned after returning to the job.

The group actively engages in the classroom training (instructive), developed by an internal subject matter expert, knowing that they are expected to use the knowledge and skills obtained when they return to work. 

At the end of each day of training, employee should reflect on the learning that has occurred.  Reflection should also occur at the end of the course by employees conducting a knowledge sharing (relationship) session with their colleagues, who were not able to attend, once they return to work.

The last step to ensure blended learning is accomplished happens when employees plan ways to act on the learning that they obtained in the course.  One way that you can foster this is to recommend the employees to participate on special projects (experiential) where the new or enhanced knowledge and skills can be used. Supervisors should have discussions with their employees after engaging in L&D activities to reinforce what was learned.

Conduct L&D activities
There is mutual accountability for this step.  The supervisor shares responsibility for effective blended learning solutions as well as the employee. 

It is the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure the employee has opportunities to learn and provides resources to foster those opportunities.  Supervisors should always conduct brief meetings with employees before conducting L&D activities and after the employee returns to the job.  Setting expectations of what the employee is expected to be able to do as a result of the training is essential for an effective blended learning solution.

The employee is responsible for learning.  It’s really that simple.  Having an open mind and being receptive to the learning experience is essential for any learning solution to be effective.

Assess progress
In some instances, you can see immediate results of how well the blended approach worked to improve and enhance performance.  In other instances, it may take up to three to six months to see an optimal level of performance improvement.  If your blended approach was successful, you will see an improvement in your employees’ performance.  You can make this determination by conducting a Level 3 evaluation.   If the results of the Level 3 evaluation do not indicate an improvement in your employees’ performance within three months, you should re-evaluate the training need and evaluate the course design.  The performance gap may have been due to  some cause other than lack of knowledge and skills.

Helpful Tips

Five key considerations when using the blended learning approach. 

  • Tip #1: Use formal and informal methods
  • Tip #2: Make learning easy
  • Tip #3: Create “Dual-Purpose” learning
  • Tip #4: Begin with the desired outcome
  • Tip #5: Create continual learning environments

For more information on the DOE Blended Learning Approach, contact me.

Next Blog:  How to prepare your L&D department to leverage the opportunity of tight budgets

About the Author
ASTD Field Editor Deadra Welcome, CPLP, currently works as a senior learning and development strategist in the federal government and is the president and CEO of Concerning Learning. She has more than 22 years of learning and development experience as a strategist, business partner, program manager, instructional designer, and facilitator. In 2011, Welcome wrote Using Passion to Become a True Business Partner for the July 2011 edition of T+D magazine. In March, 2012, she successfully completed the President’s Management Council Interagency Rotational Program as an inaugural participant. Welcome has been a guest presenter for Bowie State University, ISPI-Potomac Chapter, and CBODN Government SIG as well as a guest blogger for the ASTD Government Community of Practice; deadrawelcome@gmail.com.
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