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Blended Learning: Making Modernized Training Work

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
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When it comes time to think about designing a new course, is it a forgone conclusion that the course will be held in a classroom with one instructor, or that it will be an e-learning course? Learning today requires a much more flexible approach to learning delivery methods. You don't have to be stuck completely in a classroom or in front of computer screens. You can do both and more!

What do we mean when we talk about modernized learning design? It's about using a blended design methodology and coupling it with modern technology. At its core, blended design combines both synchronous and asynchronous learning events, giving the participant the best of both world: being able to participate in learning events that provide direct coaching and feedback and the ability to choose their own pace and, at times, course structure.

Today's modern learner is well aware that learning doesn't just come from PowerPoint and classrooms. People are finding nuggets of knowledge to support their development from a variety of sources online and within their own social structures.

All that being said, we first need a clear picture of what blended learning actually looks like. Blending learning allows the students to choose their own path, in part. Using technology as strictly a resource repository only makes for a technology-rich environment; it's not blended learning. A key differentiator is participant control and pace.

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Consider this: You host a class focused on new hire orientation. Participants show up at the designated time, and you give them a breakdown of what the day is going to be like. The participants are then broken into groups.

  • Group 1: Facilitator-led welcome. This includes a tour of the facility and the students deciding the road map for the conversation. 
  • Group 2: Small group work. Each small group is responsible for searching the Internet for company information, such as history, product development, branding messages, and social media pages. The small groups conduct their own teach-backs. 
  • Group 3: Individual computer work. Each person is set up on a computer to watch short videos on how to complete new hire paperwork. These can be watched in any order and there is a coach present to answer any questions.

    During this time, a co-facilitator floats around to each group to provide coaching as needed. Why do we consider this a blended approach?

  • You have a facilitator present who will provide a guided discussion and a tour of the facility. 
  • Students are conducting their own research on the organization, and providing narrative teach-backs. 
  • Students are in control of the pace of information, because you’re allowing them to watch only the videos they need.

    To get you started, here are four tips for structuring a blended learning program in your workplace.  

  1. Be sure you have clear performance goals and solid learning objectives. As with any program, blended or not, it is critical to carefully outline the success metrics. What skills will the participants learn? What actionable items will they be able to perform? Your goals and objectives will provide you with the road map you need to know where your blended course is headed. 
  2. Be sure your course outline and syllabus address the blended part of the course. This may seem obvious, but starting out with a clear idea of how the course is going to blend will help keep the focus and content moving. You can also use the outline to get the participants excited about the program. This includes planning for the level of interactivity. How much will take place online. How much will be live? How will you blend the live learning sessions with the online portion? How will you make the online portion self-directed? How will you integrate group collaboration activities? What kind of technology will you use? 
  3. Don't forget feedback loops and communication streams. How will the participants communicate with you when they are online? How will you provide feedback on individual work? The participants need to know there is a solid support structure in place, and one that doesn't tie you to email or discussion groups around the clock.  
  4. How will you know what success looks like? How will you check the progress of the participants? Tip 1 stressed the importance of setting performance goals and learning objectives. How will you measure against those goals and objectives, beyond testing? Is there something demonstrative in your knowledge checks? Project work? Team assignments? Begin with the end in mind and have this planned out so you can measure success in the end.

    Learning is no longer a one-sided process. It is not about the instructor standing on the stage and reading out a PowerPoint deck. It is about integrating the participant, allowing for choice, and scaffolding the learning in a way that encourages thought.

    Join me at the ATD China Summit to learn more about how modernized learning can help to connect learning to people. I’d also recommend registering for the ATD Blended Learning Certificate Program to learn how to design your own blended learning programs.

About the Author

As chief learning rebel at Learning Rebels Performance Consultancy, Shannon Tipton works with learning practitioners and organizations to lift learning innovation, knowing that today, social learning, content curation, and team collaboration are the keys to organizational success. Recognized for bringing real-world expertise to the learning field, Shannon uses current technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration, and increase learning connectivity.

As author of Disruptive Learning, Shannon speaks frequently in North America and internationally, spreading the learning rebels’ message. Shannon also ranks as one of the top 100 L&D Influencers on Twitter (@stipton); her blog, “Learning Rebels,” is one of the Top 100 Learning Blogs and can be found at learningrebels.com.

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