But the rub is in the use of the adjective “effective” and to deliver a truly beneficial learning experience, L&D must first create the best-possible blended course.
So here are a few tips from our trenches to help get it right.
Aim for goals that mean business
First things first: As with any learning intervention, a blended course needs to be directly linked to real-world business outcomes. After all, if you’re not trying to solve a problem or build a solution, you’re not even in the game. Then ensure the goals of your new course — all of it, the online portion as well as the live instruction components — are aligned with those business outcomes.
Finally, and in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln ("Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe"), just when you think you’ve got a bulletproof approach to that business solution, stop, go back and critically re-examine the course goals and objectives.
Don't go it alone
Closely aligned to #1 above, it’s critically important to talk with and get advice and feedback from experienced colleagues. Whether that’s your blended learning instructors, your IT department or LinkedIn group members — tap in to whoever can give you a fresh perspective on tips and any traps that may await you. And don’t forget to include multiple stakeholders from inside the business in those discussions, including employees themselves.
Start early, start small
Designing and developing online activities will almost always take longer than you think, so give yourself and any subject matter and technical experts plenty of time. And take your time, starting with activities that are relatively easy to manage, offer the best of both worlds, and can be tested on a small group of users. Development and redesign should always be an incremental process — experiment and learn as you go, and you’ll also be reducing risk and avoiding complications later.
Focus on design not technology
Technology is a wonderful thing but don’t lose sight of the prize: a hybrid environment that leverages the strengths of both the face-to-face and online learning environments. Use simple tools, gradually adding more advanced technologies and remembering the words of virtual classroom expert Cheryle Walker from a recent MCI Solutions webinar, “Technology is really just a bridge between you and your learners.”
From the outset, make certain your participants understand how much work they’ll be expected to complete in both the traditional classroom setting and online. See “time-management challenges” below!
Prepare for problems
Have plans, materials, activities and other support programs at the ready to help participants with the technology and any time-management challenges they may encounter.
It’s also critically important to seek out any difficulties they’re having by asking for feedback, and often.
By the way, when it comes to providing support, don’t forget the needs of your corporate trainers who may be transitioning from the classroom setting for the first time.
Spice it up
Every instructor knows that variety is essential to keeping learners entertained and engaged, so think beyond PowerPoint. Incorporate multiple formats like video, images and audio online just as you would in the classroom, and combine formal resources with informal delivery. And include plenty of exercises to make your approach interesting, not predictable.
Relying too much on the tools and technology in the online component of your blended course is a recipe for disaster. Ensure you schedule mentoring with learners, and for this face-to-face is best but also think about making coaching, mentoring and peer-group support available using forums and live chat such as Yammer and Skype.
Reward and recognise
It should go without saying that the more effective your reward and recognition efforts are, the more engaged every employee will become.
Did we mention the importance of feedback?
You can gain valuable insight into the effectiveness of your blended learning strategy from those who experience it: your learners. Throughout the blended course let them know you welcome their suggestions, and afterwards use online surveys to hone in on what they liked about the course — and what needs to be improved. Incremental improvements, not silver bullets, are the key to innovative blended learning strategies.
If you’d like more in-depth information and guidance about developing a blended learning strategy, call us on 1300 768 550.
You’ll also find a wide range of resources throughout our website including webinars, white papers, case studies and much more to help you along your blended learning journey. Happy trails!