Blended Learning: 5 steps to a successful implementation
When speaking about Blended Learning most people think of a combination of a digital teaching method with classroom training.
Thereby, it depends on many factors what teaching formats are utelised and how they are distributed over the duration of the programme.
With this article I want to provide you with some guidance on how to best combine the training formats for your project and develop a successful blended learning concept.
Very often external factors play a decisive role in the selection of formats. In a training for global organisations where learners are spread over a lot of different locations, there is usually a policy on how much time participants may spend in classroom training. If, on the other hand, the blended learning training concept is rolled-out in a university, the pre-dominant delivery method may be face-to-face training.
In principle, however, blended learning is always most effective when the mix is determined by the target audience, the learning objective and the use of the best format for the respective objectives. Therefore, you should always start with step 1.
Step 1: Define your target audience and learning objectives
First of all, define your target audience as well as your learning objective. If you are planning a more complex programme, such as onboarding, you should also define intermediate objectives.
Tip: Involve all stakeholders into your programme at this stage. This will ensure the alignment with their needs and thus ease the establishment of your programme in the curriculum.
Step 2: Decide on the optimal training formats
In order to find and compose the optimal formats for your training project, we must first take a look at their selection. For this purpose, I will briefly touch on the most common training formats with their application possibilities and advantages .
Formats for self-paced learning:
Videos are attractive for the learner as through immersion they generate more emotions than other digital learning formats. This leads to high retention of what has been learnt. Even changes in attitude or behaviour are possible. A limiting factor with this format is the lack of interaction. This leads to a relatively short attention span. I would therefore not recommend videos for a very complex topic unless it is split into several small videos.
Web-based Trainings (WBTs)
Web-based trainings make the combination of narration with interaction possible. Complex facts may be explained in words and pictures and the knowledge can afterwards be applied in a quiz. This creates a great learning depth. I suggest this format for topics that are complex, but also for those heading for a change of attitude or behaviour.
Audio Learning, for example a podcast, has the advantage that learners can access it almost anywhere (even when they are driving a car). Audio formats can be of similar length as WBTs. I recommend this format for discourses like discussions or pro and contra formats.
Texts can be printed texts such as books, but also PDFs, e-books or websites. An advantage is that granting and receiving access to texts is quite easy and low-tech. In addition, producing a text is a relatively fast process. Thus, texts offer a quick way to transfer knowledge. Text may be supplemented with graphics and pictures to ensure a better understanding. Particularly books can thereby convey large amounts of knowledge.
Formats for self-paced learning and collaboration:
Research tasks may be assigned to individual participants or teams. Materials are optional. Assignments have the advantage that the participants have to dive deep into the topic. At the same time their research competence is strengthened. If research is carried out in teams, assignments may contribute to team building. Different formats can be used to present the results. In this way, you can also foster further competencies in a targeted way.
Tip: Be available for questions and assistance. For this, I advise you to use a forum / platform for the development and presentation of the results.
On the job Training (OTJ)
On-the-job training can take place directly in the actual work environment. It can also be a simulated task under real world conditions. In any case, they deepen the acquired knowledge and show the difference between theory and practice. Because knowing something in theory does not automatically mean that the theory can be applied in practice.
Formats for collaboration:
Classroom / face-to-face training
In a blended learning training concept, face-to-face sessions should focus on activities and exercises. Additionally, classroom trainings offer the advantage to directly address the participants. Finding a solution through facilitated group work for example can be utilised to deepen the knowledge.
Face-to-face events offer learning groups the opportunity to get to know each other informally, for example during breaks. This effect can be enhanced by exercises with social interaction or ever-changing small groups.
In webinars you have similar possibilities as in classroom sessions. Depending on the webinar tool, you have a wide range of options for interaction at your disposal. Through discussions, direct contact between participants and instructor, whiteboards, polls, chats and breakout sessions, a high degree of interaction and a great depth of learning can be achieved.
However, webinars have some disadvantages compared to face-to-face sessions: You cannot see the body language of the trainer and the learners (unless you have the possibility to work with webcams). In addition, informal exchange is more difficult.
Formats to frame the whole course and to enhance the knowledge transfer:
Social Learning Platform
A social learning platform acts as a central contact point for self-paced learning phases and collaboration outside of the classroom training. This is where participants meet to find for example their next assignments and support, to ask questions and to exchange ideas with each other and with the instructor. This leads to the perception of a well-designed and thought through blended learning training concept. Additionally, the participants get included even during the periods of self-paced learning.
Alternatives to a Social Learning Platform
Of course, there are also other options in larger blended learning programs to support and foster in-depth knowledge such as tutors, mentors, supervisors or development managers. Newsletters can also be helpful.
Have you identified the formats for your learning objective and target audience that will give you the best results?
Step 3: Composing your program
The first step when composing a programme is to put the individual sessions into their ideal sequence without considering any influencing factors. You would do that in a second step.
Factors that may influence the composition of your programme:
- Logistics: Can the program be logistically optimised? Should classroom training be done in one piece or evenly distributed over time?
- Flexibility: How flexible is the timeline for individual modules? What other formats could be considered?
- Self-directed: Can parts of the program be made available in more than one training format? Can participants choose the sequence for some of the modules? Then let the learners decide on the format or sequence. This empowers them and thus increases their motivation.
- Synergies: Is it possible, for example, to use already existing sessions and thus make your project more efficient?
Step 4: Checking the feasibility of your blended learning training concept
Before implementing you need to check the feasibility of your concept in your organisation:
- Does your target audience have the resources they need for this programme? Do they have the time and equipment to participate?
- Does your target audience have the skills and competencies they need to participate in your programme? Can they handle a learning platform for example?
- Do you have the equipment and software you need for your concept? Or can it be purchased?
- Does your organisation provide you with the resources you need such as participants’ time to attend the program, support from the departments required for the planned on-the-job trainings, budget for external services, expertise on specific topics? It is very important that you do calculate this realistically.
Tip: Get support for your project from your senior management (Executive Sponsor).
- Does your organisation have a suitable learning culture, i.e. is it realistic to implement this blended learning concept requiring a fixed schedule and considerable effort from attendees and participating departments?
If you come to the conclusion that parts of your training concept cannot be implemented in this way, please adjust the concept. Sometimes the second-best solution is better than none.
Step 5: Evaluate your concept
After you have rolled out your programme to your organisation, don’t forget to evaluate it. On the one hand, this allows you to readjust if a part of your programme is not as helpful or successful as thought. On the other hand, you have the opportunity to present figures to your management that will show them your programme’s return of investment.
Blended learning is much more than just outsourcing individual classroom events to e-learning. Your organisation must have the right learning culture and infrastructure, and your concept must consist of the appropriate modules. Keep in mind that the supporting of learners may be necessary during the training course.
But if you keep all this in mind, you will get the right mix for a sustainable success. The participants of your blended learning training concept will be more efficient than participants of a pure classroom or e-learning intervention.
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Would you like more information on training concepts?
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