Employers who favor blended learning solutions for their staff over traditional, in-person classroom-based training do so because they see value in it. However, the blending of in-class courses with technology-driven virtual learning approaches often fails to deliver one crucial component of corporate learning: engagement.
Because of the way in which most blended eLearning occurs, employers miss out on opportunities to directly engage with a diverse group of staff who, in many instances, may never have the time to be present under a single roof again in a long time.
Conversely, if the blended strategy solely provides geographically dispersed employees the option to “learn at your own time”, groups of employees who might have occasion of working closely together later on, miss out on the opportunity of engaging with their peers during blended training sessions.
Many blended training initiatives are focused on “delivering the course” to its participants, as opposed to actually engaging participants during training. As a result:
- Distance learners do not proactively review or study online materials until they actually meet in person with the lecturer/trainer. This takes away from invaluable engagement time.
- When busy company staff meets in person for the in-class portion of the course, a lot of time is spent on discovering course content for the very first time – instead of engaging with instructors or fellow learners on the substance of that content.
- Since virtual lectures and online discussions that form part of a blended learning program are often archived for later retrieval, staff, who usually have other company business to attend to, tend to “catch up” on such content offline rather than engage with it in real-time, while it is happening.
By omitting engagement from training strategies, many companies fail to provide the “personal touch” in their initiatives; they implement training that is impersonal and “cold”. Employees are driven to merely complete the prescribed course of studies, with no or little opportunity offered to engage with senior level managers (who might be leading the training initiatives) or peer groups of employees attending the blended eLearning sessions.
Blended Learning Strategies In Practice
Here are 5 real-world ways that you can adopt in your own corporate training environment to produce highly effective and engaging learning outcomes.
These strategies can be used stand-alone (e.g. using a Flipped Classroom strategy as your only means to deliver a blended learning course to your employees); or they may be combined with others (e.g. Flipped Classroom combined with Shared goals), to provide the kind of training that fits your company and goals to a T.
1. Flipped Classroom
This blended strategy merges two highly successful training approaches, virtual with face-to-face learning, to offer busy employees the best of both worlds. It is ideal for a busy workforce, where employees cannot be granted much time away from work to spend in conference rooms or lecture halls.
As part of a blended learning course, learners are provided some learning materials in advance of an actual face-to-face meeting, such as podcasts, lecture notes or slides.
To turn such training approaches into highly effective blended learning solutions, the actual in-person (or virtual but live) meeting is then focused on furthering discussions about the content, doing practical exercises on it, and spending time in learner-trainer engagement, rather than discovering the course materials for the first time.
2. Live Virtual Training
For some businesses, getting employees from various locations across the organization to huddle together in a conference room or convention center for training might not be an option. Scheduling challenges, diverging work shifts and financial and logistical challenges may preclude from doing so.
In such cases, a good blended learning program can be designed to deliver training entirely through distance learning approaches. However, to provide the much needed learner-trainer engagement, a reasonable component of the training should be conducted live – in real time, that is.
This portion of the blended strategy can be implemented by live-casting specific segments of the course. Virtual or distant learners must understand that:
- Participation in such sessions is mandatory
- The proceedings will be held entirely in real-time, and will not be archived for subsequent access
Not only will such blended learning strategies address the financial and logistical challenges discussed earlier, but these types of courses will help training staff (who may be an outside Subject Matter Experts, managers, supervisors or senior executives in the company), to engage one-on-one with company staff.
This type of session will also provide an opportunity for peers to work together and collaborate on shared projects in real time, for instance, through break-out sessions or group discussions.
3. Shared Team Goals
In some instances, corporations might have a very limited window of availability to enable workers from across the company to come together in a classroom setting for training. For instance, companies operating off-shore rigs can’t afford to fly crews to a land-based setting for weeks or months just for their classes.
In such cases, good blended learning strategies might strive to form various teams. For example, off-shore rig operators or overseas pipeline maintenance teams participate in “traditional” distance or virtual training. Then, as part of the engagement process, the course moderators should set a series of shared goals for each team to accomplish.
The teams of learners, perhaps working on nearby rigs, can meet in person, at a time and place convenient to them, and complete their assigned project. The same may be asked of other groups of workers that have geographical proximity with each other, even if they aren’t able to travel for training.
To further the engagement process and provide opportunities for assessment, consultation sessions about these shared goals and projects can then be held with the course moderators, either in-person or virtually.
4. Personalized Blending
Blended learning methods offer an excellent opportunity to tailor a course for disparate groups of participants, while also personalizing it to blend with the unique training needs of individual learners.
A good blended strategy to accomplish this is to use teleconferencing technology, even of the simplest form, to engage one-on-one with individual learners while using in-person sessions or virtual group meet-ups or chats for collective engagement.
For such strategies to be successful, during one-on-one consultations lecturers can set, review, and discuss SMART goals for each individual participant, while also offering personalized critique on their performance. Collective goals and shared objectives, for the entire class or for groups of learners, could be reviewed during in-person meetings or communal virtual gatherings.
5. Blend With Productivity
Blended courses are ideal to bring talented groups of people together, in consultation with outside SMEs and in-house experts, to brainstorm and solve real-life corporate challenges.
The idea behind such an approach might be to make the expertise of a select group of key corporate executives, or a team of high-priced external consultants, available to local teams who are learning to solve a real-world challenge faced by the company.
Large multinationals, as well as small-to-medium enterprises, can leverage virtual learning, “connected learning” and custom-built face-to-face content to solve a real challenge in every aspect of corporate life. As a result, such blended training approaches can produce thousands, potentially millions, of dollars in savings for the company.
To achieve training success with some or all of the blended learning strategies discussed above, it is essential for you to create courses in consultation with staff across your company. Inclusiveness is key to achieving success through actual engagement with your people. When the workforce participates in the development of a strategy, it is more likely that they too (and not just top level executives) will be engaged during its delivery.