The Back Story
A new customer had invited me to an introductory meeting. I felt confident about the requested train-the-trainer topic – up to the very moment that the personnel development manager declared: “For the first day, we were thinking about discussing face-to-face training, and the second day should be about e-learning and webinars.” At that point in time, I had known that it would be important for me to familiarize myself with the topic of e-learning, but I was caught out. I did not have a clue. As I’m honest, I told the client it would be my pleasure to conduct the face-to-face training, but for the webinar portion, I could bring in a terrific, well-trained colleague. To that, the client stated that she was sure I would be able to handle it!
And – wouldn’t you know? ¬– a few days later I found an email from a colleague in my in-box offering a pilot training course for becoming a “Certified E-Trainer.” Bold, curious, and with much respect, I threw myself into the trenches.
What exactly sparked the fire for e-learning? I discovered WhatsApp can be used as a tool for e-learning; I discovered webinar rooms, in which I could distribute participants into sub-rooms; and I came to realize that many of the methods I knew from face-to-face training could also be easily applied to online training.
What is Blended Learning? – A Definition
Blended Learning is “mixed-mode learning” – characterized by learning opportunities that blend face-to-face learning with online learning settings. More precisely, it is the optimal educational dovetailing of face-to-face events with the methods and media of online learning. This format, also called the Learning Journey, supports the realization of learning and transfer goals.
Have the End in Mind
The guiding principle when designing blended learning concepts is the same as when designing a face-to-face training: “Have the end in mind.” In the end, whatever the participants need to know, understand, and apply after the training and how this serves the company is the top priority of every design process. Every tool, every method, every exercise must be able to support the question: Does this serve the participant and therefore the company?
The Benefits of Blended Learning Concepts
Some of the known benefits for companies are the opportunities to reach larger target audiences and the significant reduction of costs: not only workshop, hotel, and travel costs but the cost of lost time as well.
Indeed, a major advantage of blended learning is that content is consumed independently of a set time and place, allowing participants to decide for themselves when, where, how often, and how much they want to learn. The face-to-face time can then be used more effectively for exercises, questions, reflection, and sharing experiences.
Additionally, the transfer of learning often ends at the doorstep of the workshop room. After training there is often a lack of time and commitment to put into practice what has been learned. That’s why the following is my all-time favorite benefit: knowledge transfer can be sustainably supported with a blended learning format, thereby enhancing the transfer of knowledge. After all, it can take between three and nine months until a new behavior has effectively rooted. This works especially well when learning and transfer support is made available on mobile devices.
How About Disadvantages?
Companies often lack the necessary learning culture, and by this, I mean the appreciation for the fact that learning takes time and that many participants need quiet spaces. Fundamentally, e-learning also takes time and only careful preparation creates the powerful benefit that all participants start training with a uniform level of knowledge.
There are a variety of models available that lead to different arrangements of e-learning and face-to-face content depending on the desired learning objective.
My favorite model is what’s known as the “flex model.” Training starts and ends with live online training (LOT), interspersed with face-to-face training and additional LOTs, and potentially supplemented by an app via mobile phone.
The following are popular media for e-learning , well-suited to the blended learning format:
- E-mail: A stimulus for additional ideas and links to be sent to participants at predefined intervals.
- Webinar: An online course where the trainer and participants are not simultaneously on the web, meaning that learning can be carried out on an independent schedule.
- Live Online Training: This option requires trainers and participants to be online at the same time, but not in the same place – they can be spread all over the world. If the seminar takes place with small groups, you can work almost as in face-to-face training. Careful planning and frequent interaction with the participants are essential.
- Podcast: This is an audio recording format that is widely popular, in which either trainer-recorded or third-party audio files can be made available.
- Video: Visual recordings, like podcasts, can be self-produced or third-party – and even participants themselves can be asked to shoot small videos about the training topic.
- Instant messaging, such as WhatsApp: A perfect tool for supporting learning groups, as participants and trainers are already readily familiar with the technology.
Example for Blended Learning
The following approach was chosen for professional training of technical experts as internal trainers.
- Logistics live online training: includes training descriptions, training prerequisites, and the invitation to participate in the WhatsApp group.
- Two-day face-to-face training: includes input and exercises in reference to adult learning, training needs analysis, and how content is compiled and designated.
- Live online training: provides preparation on the topic of “challenging workshop situations” and answers questions in reference to participants training sessions (Q&A).
- Two-day face-to-face training: includes more input and exercises and trainings sessions for participants.
- Transfer live online training: to clarify open questions after first training experiences and feedback.
- Ongoing: a learning project through which the participants carry out all exercises. The content of the learning project will be trained in this manner later in the company.
- In parallel: training will be supported beyond the official training by a WhatsApp group enabling the participants to stay in contact with each other and the trainer.
Is Blended Learning the Future?
While pure e-learning has long been praised as the future of learning, today blended learning dominates in terms of better support and transfer effectiveness for participants. The market offers high-quality blended learning programs and continuing education courses for the purpose of becoming a blended learning trainer/coach or even a blended learning designer.
If you want to support transfer effectiveness, blended learning is a must. Two questions are important to me on this journey: Do I feel comfortable with the concept and its respective methods? And, can the concept be easily integrated into my daily training routine?