Blended learning continues to evolve to deliver a cost-effective and engaging learning experience, says Francis Marshall.
Blended learning has come a long way in recent years from early iterations that married classroom training with e-learning. Today, blended learning, when implemented effectively, combines a whole range of formal and informal learning tools alongside classroom and e-learning such as on the job training, coaching and webinars.
Sparked by the recession and the ever increasing need for L&D to deliver greater value to the organisation with fewer resources, the past few years have seen many of the individual elements of blended learning such as coaching and e-learning steadily increase in popularity.
Given that the sum has the potential to be greater than the individual parts, it is no surprise then that there has been a significant rise too in blended learning.
“Today’s learners are looking for the perfect mix in their training – a balance of face-to-face and emerging learning tools.” Our recent pan-European survey of 2,500 employees found that blended learning is now used by 37% of trained employees, up from 31% last year. Online distance learning was up from 42% to 44% this year, with coaching showing considerable growth, rising to 43% from 35% in last year’s survey.
While emerging learning tools such as mobile learning and serious games are also being increasingly integrated into L&D strategies and within some blended learning programmes, let us not forget that the classroom still remains the most popular form of learning, with over 90% of trained employees experiencing it across Europe.
It might even be surprising to learn that it is in fact today’s younger tech-savvy generation who are amongst the keenest advocates of face-to-face learning with the human touch being of prime importance to them.
What is clear then, is that today’s learners are looking for the perfect mix in their training – a balance of face-to-face and emerging learning tools. And herein lies the beauty of blended learning, not only because programmes can be better tailored to learners’ individual needs and preferences, but because it fosters a greater partnership between learners, line managers and the L&D function resulting in a more innovative and effective approach to learning.
One area that blended learning can have the greatest impact is in helping to build leadership and management skills. This is particularly the case in the current economic climate where building a more engaged and productive workforce, despite the turbulence of change and indeed adversity, is now a key priority for many organisations.
An assignment we recently completed for one of the biggest players in the estate agency market is a good case in point. Here a blended programme including small group workshops, line manager coaching, e-learning and webinars was the tool of choice for the training and development of 360 branch managers across the country, all with very different levels of experience.
The programme played a key role in motivating managers at the front line of the business as well as giving them the essential commercial, customer service and people management skills they needed to drive the business forward in tough market conditions.
So what made this programme particularly successful? As is the case in many scenarios, buy-in and involvement of line managers from the outset was key, as was creating a learning environment where participants were able to put into practice what they were learning to address workplace challenges from day one. Other benefits of a blended approach included the speedy delivery of a personalised development programme for each branch manager and significant cost and time savings by eliminating additional venue, travelling or time out of the office overheads.
In essence, successful blended learning usually boils down to the following principles:
- Do each of the learning activities stand up in their own right and combine to achieve the learning goals?
- Is the learning environment engaging?
- Is it in tune with the learner’s individual preferences and relevant to his or her role and development?
- With a greater focus today on return on investment and measurement criteria in place to prove its worth, there has been a coming of age of blended learning. So, what does the future hold?
The makeup of today’s workforce is undergoing a seismic shift and in less than four years’ time, nearly half of the workforce will be made up of the millennials (people born between the 80s and early 2000s and also know as Generation Y). Each demographic has different attitudes, preferences and expectations. No one size of blended learning programme will fit all – we must continue to evolve our approach to reflect the changing dynamics of the workplace and the rise in new technologies.
The massive growth in smartphones and tablet computers such as the iPad combined with faster and cheaper telecoms infrastructure is set to have a significant impact on how we live our lives, and, in particular how we work and learn. This will filter through into blended learning programmes ensuring they continue to adapt to the needs of the business and the individual learner.