Take a moment and think of the word “training.”
What did you think of? A group of people listening to an instructor standing at the front of a room? Or maybe a person completing an e-learning module on a computer? Or even a mentor demonstrating a skill to a new employee in the work area?
If an image did flash to mind, it was probably just one thing: the instructor-led training, the e-learning, the on-the-job training, or something else. And that’s fine. But after you read this article, we hope you think of more than one kind of training. And, even more important than that, we hope you consider using several different types of training the next time you design a learning experience.
DEFINITIONS: WHAT DOES “BLENDED LEARNING” MEAN
Depending on who you’re talking to, “blended learning” can mean a couple of different but similar things. Traditionally, it means training that includes an online component and an instructor-led component. More recently, some people use it in a broader sense to mean mixing training of different types. That may mean online and instructor-led, but it might also mean print materials and instructor-led; or print materials, instructor-led, and online; or even different types of instructor-led training, such as a classroom-style lecture paired with on-the-job “skills” training, without an online component. In this article, we’ll talk about blended learning in that broader sense.
WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT BLENDED LEARNING?
Put simply, blending is good because blending can be better (than not blending, that is).
How’s that, you ask? Well, a blended learning solution can improve your training program in a few different ways.
Create Training That’s Best Suited to Help Learners Meet the Learning Objective—In some cases, a specific type of training may be more appropriate to help the learners meet the learning objectives. For example, an e-learning module or classroom-style lecture may be just what’s needed to explain the features of a new product to the sales team, while hands-on, on-the-job training may fill the need better for skills-based training delivered to a production worker in a manufacturing setting. By blending learning activities, you can create solutions tailored to meeting each objective.
Facilitate Employees with Different Learning Styles—some people may learn better from written materials, while others learn better from a classroom-style lecture, and still others learn better from hands-on practice. And some learn best from self-guided study, while others learn better with more guidance. Blended learning solutions let you appeal to a variety of learning styles, so that you can cast a wider net and appeal to a broader audience. Don’t be a one-tricky pony and risk losing a segment of your training audience that way.
Meet Your Assessment Needs—when you design a learning experience, you’ve got to think about how you’ll assess the learner’s post-training knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs). If there’s no great need for assessment, maybe some written material is all you need for the training. If the assessment has to cover simple factual knowledge, maybe an e-learning module with simple multiple-choice or true/false questions fits the bill. Or maybe some form of face-to-face training is what you need if the learner has to demonstrate advanced cognitive activities or real-world hands-on skills.
Match “Real Life” Business Factors—Job training happens in the real world, and you’ve got to take that into account while designing the training. Is there a pressing need that makes it important to deliver the training quickly? If so, a written document or a quickly set-up instructor-led session may be necessary. Is your learner population spread out over many different sites? In that case, e-learning delivered online might be the most efficient. Are there budget issues you need to keep in mind while creating the training? If so, you may need to pick and choose methods purely for cost purposes.
TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN CREATING BLENDED LEARNING SOLUTIONS
By now, you should see that there’s value in considering and creating blended learning solutions.
But that doesn’t mean you should just jump in the “training kitchen” and starting blending things randomly, creating the training equivalent of “what’s-in-my-fridge hash.” Instead, keep the following in mind:
Consider Blended Learning Solutions—first, remember to at least consider blending while you’re in the design phase. If it’s appropriate, then do it. If there’s no benefit of blending, then don’t.
Keep the Tips Above in Mind—what type of training will help your learners meet the objectives? What learning styles do you need to appeal to? What are your assessment needs? Are there other, non-training specific business factors to keep in mind? These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself.
Benefits of E-Learning Modules—Some plusses of e-learning modules include delivering a standardized and consistent message, the use of sophisticated visuals to aid learner comprehension and retention, online delivery for distance-learning needs, ease of assessment for simple knowledge-based items, automated record-keeping when paired with a learning management system (LMS), increased flexibility for workers with busy schedules, and more.
Benefits of Instructor-Led Training—Plusses of instructor-led training include the possibility of more specific instructor/learner feedback; assessment of more complicated behaviors, such as higher-level mental processes or hands-on skills, that are difficult to evaluate with a computer; and more.
There’s more to Training than Just E-Learning to Instructor-Led—don’t forget that you’ve got more options than just e-learning and instructor-led training. Other possibilities include written materials in Word, PowerPoint, or PDF formats; webinars and IM chats; online Wikis and bulletin boards; and various social media formats.
Use Work Support/Job Aids In Addition to Training—Training’s great, but remember that it’s also great to create materials people can refer to 24/7 when they need the information. Don’t force people to commit everything to memory (because that ain’t gonna happen). If you can create reference materials and make them available on-demand, you should see productive increase as a result.
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