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ATD Blog

The Best of Both Worlds: How to Blend Online and In-Person Learning

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

When it comes to learning and development, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every organization has unique requirements and every team within that organization has an even different set of needs, goals, and challenges. When designing a large learning initiative, is it best to lean toward virtual or the classroom? This either/or thinking is not only outdated, but likely ineffective, and in today’s largely work-from-home landscape, it’s also unrealistic.

By pigeonholing your training initiative as purely live instructor-led or on-demand, you’ll miss valuable benefits of each methodology. Those who consider a blended approach to learning take advantage of the pros aligned with both methods and can also eliminate the cons that either approach brings to the table. Here are four reasons why blended learning works well, and may be best of all.

1. Meet Learners on Their Level

Not all learners are created equal and corralling people with diverse learning styles into one learning modality results in success for some and failure for others. A blended solution meets a variety of learning styles and personality orientations. Research shows the vast majority of employees either prefer in-person training alone or a combination of virtual and in-person training. Very few prefer a complete virtual experience. And the 2010 US Department of Education Report shows that in “studies contrasting blends of online and face-to-face instruction with conventional face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective.”

2. The Value of Training Lies in the Idea Not the Modality

The value of training always lies in the idea. Above all else, the content needs to be fresh, the skills need to be relevant, and the problems the material solves have to be serious. Anything short of this—no matter how clever the delivery method or high-tech the tools—simply isn’t worth the investment.


3. Scale Learning Across the Organization

Equipped with traditional classroom learning, live instructor-led online classrooms, and on-demand learning, L&D professionals have the tools to meet learners when and where learning will be most powerful. While the classroom environment is conducive to focused learning, it’s also removed from the equipment, processes, and materials employees use on the job. And for many, lack of hands-on experience can be a learning obstacle. Classroom learning is also unrealistic for shift workers or geographically diverse teams. A blended approach ensures all employee populations—regardless of schedules, location, or learning demands—can learn and retain the same skills.

An important tip for maintaining momentum is to avoid scheduling learning sessions too far apart. While spaced learning is beneficial, too much down time slows momentum and eliminates engagement. People tend to quickly forget what they learned if not given queues, homework assignments, and quick follow-up.


4. Technology Queues Learning

When trainers take a “flipped classroom” approach and use on-demand tools like video, benchmark quizzes, and surveys to introduce new principles and skills, they give the learner a head start on skill development. This online preparation is reinforced when learners come together in small groups where the verbal, social, and face-to-face feedback elements of the training can occur.

Blended learning is an opportunity to combine the incredible success that comes from social influence and group discussion with the wild-west flexibility of on-demand or virtual synchronous learning.

Check out how the VitalSmarts on-demand platform supplements online instruction with group discussion and interaction to create a blended approach to learning that delivers the best of both worlds here.

About the Author

Justin Hale is a speaker, training designer, and master trainer at VitalSmarts. He has been a lead engineer in designing training courses and facilitated classes and delivered keynote speeches on the skills and principles to 300+ clients and audiences around the world.

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