At workplaces today, the ‘overwhelmed’ employee is a reality. Employees are overwhelmed with the numerous calls and meetings that often do not turn out to be productive, the number of emails/ text messages exchanged in a day, the reams of information that needs to be scanned to get to the most relevant one, devices that are constantly beeping– everything demands our attention while also disrupting our focus.
Simplifying the work environment is now more of a priority and each unit in the organization can do its bit to help free up the employee’s time for more critical tasks.
As learning professionals, we have an increasing pressure to give people an experience that is worth their time. Experiences that do not keep them away from their seats for long, while also delivering the essence of the employee training required. One approach to the same as discussed in my previous post on making time for learning, recommends building and nurturing your personal learning networks like extended arms.
Another key approach that requires organizational intervention in design and implementation, is that of blended learning. Blended learning approaches have gained significant buy-in from employees and their managers alike – people can access course content and complete the mandatory requirements (if any) in a given time window from the convenience of their devices and desks.
It is not just about learning pushed through technology platforms, but a format that places a lot more control in the hands of the learner over their time, place and pace of learning. Blended learning formats are now increasingly supplemented by a learning group, preferably through an enterprise social platform where employees can converge, ask questions, discuss and then upload their assignments. It is not just about the technology but the control learners enjoy due to blended learning solutions adopted by their organizations.
In 2014, almost 30% of all learning content was delivered in blended scenarios across companies of all sizes. According to the Speexx Exchange 2014-15 Survey, the top benefits of adopting a blended approach include
- Flexibility and reduced complexity (57%)
- Reduction of direct training costs (15%)
- Speeding up time to value (11%)
We have experimented with many such formats at our workplace but I would like to discuss a particular one that is special to my heart. This was for a program we did for our women colleagues with an intent to strengthen them personally and professionally through a journey of self-discovery. The self-discovery module was a one day face-to-face session that involved multiple reflection exercises for women to help them identify their true potential. Interestingly, when we started this program, the idea of turning it into a blended learning-cum-journey approach program didn’t even occur to us. But it was our audience in a couple of batches that stressed that we continue this association. And what resulted of that request turned out to be a beautiful experience.
Post the classroom session, the lead facilitator and I set up an online community of all the attendees of the program. For the first week, we did a poll on the skills they wanted to learn more about – networking, mentoring, personal branding – whatever they thought was important. Once a set of areas were identified, we came up with a calendar. The key elements of the design were –
- Each skill would be covered independently in a module
- Each module would be done twice at different times a month apart. Participants could choose to do this anytime
- Each module would go on for a week, with a mix of video/reading content that will be shared as daily posts, live discussions with the facilitators at specified time slots (the chats happened on the Yammer community created and were called YamJams), discussion boards and polling
- At the end of each week, the participants had to submit a reflection assignment on what steps they would take to develop the skill being discussed. For this they had another a time of another week
The purpose of each module was to have deeper discussions around each skill, something which a classroom environment cannot provide given the time constraints. Also, conversations were found to be a lot more candid on the community page than in the classroom. While this was also an effect of the sensitive nature of the target group as well as the topic being discussed, yet social platforms do encourage a free-flow of conversations which are often uninhibited as no one interjects the participant. Also, the conversations live longer on the message boards and people contribute with their perspectives all through the week.
The other advantage of this blended approach was that all the learning material and conversations on the same were available for those who couldn’t manage time even in the designated weeks. They could skim through the conversations and links, perhaps only missing the chats as they happened live when their own thoughts could have been triggered.
While there are still no clear cut ways to measure the learning effectiveness of such approaches, direct interviews with some of the participants reassure that the flexibility offered by such methods is highly valued.
Arising from experience, here are three things that I recommend when you design a blended learning program:
- Ask yourself why blended learning is the logical solution to the learning challenge at hand – just because it is the cool thing to do, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do
- Ask the participants to co-create the learning objectives, expectations and outcomes with you – guarantees greater ownership from the participants
- Let it be an emergent design – do not plan the design too tightly – adapt on an ongoing basis depending on learner sentiments/excitement demonstrated. Obviously content needs to be ready in terms of any videos or files you need to create. It is the sharing of the same that can be altered
What have been some of your valuable experiences from designing blended learning programs? Look forward to all the interesting stories. Feel free to mention the same in comments, write to me at email@example.com, or catch me on Twitter @nidhisand to take our learning forward!
- The Overwhelmed Employee: Simplify the Work Environment, Deloitte University Press
- Blended Learning: Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation
- Making the Case for Blended Learning, Speexx Report July 2015