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What is Blended Learning, today?

I was recently on a conference call with an large group of learning leaders, listening to two leaders discuss how they have adjusted their learning organization to the post-COVID world. They had some great slides and were talking about all of their advances, especially in leadership development. I have to admit, my attention picks up whenever people talk about leadership development – it is a passion of mine and an area I love to talk about.

The speakers showed a slide showing how amazing it was that, in 2020, virtual content grew to be as popular as ILT. After a few comments, I found they were talking just about VILT. Hummm. What about asynchronous content? On line content? Social content? Other forms of knowledge and content? Oh yes, they do that, but what is important is VILT.

I see this repeated over and over since the lockdown. Companies are focusing on quickly “converting” to Virtual Instructor Led, long sessions.

This is a trend that concerns me. I see and hear so many companies talking about virtual learning, only to find that they are just taking face to face classes and making them boring webinars. Lots of efforts, lots of work, but not a great result.

The real questions and goals

Well, we are now in the summer and see that face to face is a long way off. So, let’s take this time to stop and take a deep breath and answer a few questions:

  1. How should we leverage all the great things about instructor led in a virtual world?

  2. What can we do to make virtual interesting and engaging?

  3. What are the tools and processes needed, now?

To paraphrase Peter, Paul and Mary’s song “the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.” The answers are blended learning.

How does Blended Learning affect virtual?

If the recent events have taught us anything about corporate learning, it is the impact that has occurred for companies who adopted modern or digital learning. I hear stories from CLOs who have platforms and who had already started the transformation away from F2F. For them, learning was integral to the strategy of moving to working at home. It helped the communications, the empathy, the transition and made their workforce more agile. In doing this, they use some flavor of the new blended learning.

In its purest form, transformation to a virtual learning world includes blending assets, paths, journeys and plans, accessible digitally. They can mix synchronous and asynchronous experiences. And, there is easy access to a variety of answers, questions, networking and coaching. In other words, it is much more than VILT.

Example of Blended Learning Paths

As an example of how this can work, think about a course that would be about two days in a face to face or ILT program. In that time, learners would learn about, for example, nine new concepts or ideas. As each one was taught, there would be exercises and practice to help reinforce the concepts. And the group taking the course would break into different groups to do the exercises. A one and done design. But after the well designed and facilitated course is over, most will not remember all nine concepts.

The blended version of that course would start with a cohort of the same number of learners. The nine concepts would be taught in a blend of animated videos, articles and perhaps SME videos. Then the cohort could get together for two or three webinars for exercises and practice on a meeting platform that has breakout rooms. The facilitator now becomes more of a coach. After the program is over, the cohort receives spaced learning in the form of reminder videos and text that reinforce the concepts.

For the cohort, this experience that can be scaled globally. By designing in spaced learning and reinforcement, as well as coaching, it becomes more effective. For the facilitator, the role changes from the sage on the stage to guide on the side, to use the cute terms. And, oh, by the way, this costs less.

Note that we have not lost the cohort experience of networking. That was always the number one high score on smile sheets. The biggest challenge we have is making sure the group actually does the “homework” in this “flip the classroom”. By the way, this example benefits from a modern learning platform and collaborative tool.

The Advantages of a Blended Approach

There is much talk about workflow learning. Having knowledge readily available is not only critical today, it is expected. In times when you can Google anything, why wait for a class? We just do not have time to do that any longer. Making learning easy to access and find wherever they are helps. Chunking up the assets makes them accessible and easy to create.

That blended course mentioned above can be all put into a pathway that can also be set up to be available on demand and measured.

Having assets that are easy to find, easy to consume and available at any time is quite a departure for many. For a while employees have not bothered with the corporate LMS and just Google. No guarantee that is the right answer, but so much easier. When it comes to key capabilities and skills, it is best to have access to the right strategy or methodology.

A modern platform solves this issue as well. Now leaders and SMEs can build content and open up communications and networks. That is the knowledge that most learners need and want. This also changes the roles and responsibilities of L&D.

This time of social distance accelerates what we already knew: we have to change to digital learning. And that means learning how to blend experiences.

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