The Appeal of Blended Corporate Training: The Best of Both Worlds

In 2015, ATD reported that 51% of professional development is conducted in-person, a figure that is on the decline relative to online forms. However, instructor-led training (ILT) has its advantages. Participants and trainers are in one room, feeling the energy created from ideas and feedback bouncing back and forth. They build rapport through their shared experiences, helping to break down silos across a team or organization. ILTs effectively create a bubble away from regular work commitments to create time and space for a learner’s development.

But the reality is ILTs are expensive, hard to scale, relies heavily on well-prepared or charismatic trainers, and not appropriate for all topics or audiences. While many training programs are being migrated to online formats, learning professionals are hesitant to do so with the most intensive and important ILTs.

However there is an increasing trend towards a third option: moving ILT to a blended program? In a blended learning approach, the learning experience mixes various learning modalities, most commonly a mix of in-person instruction (ILT) and web-based learning, including synchronous and asynchronous online learning.

Learning Programs Adopting the Swiss-Army Knife Approach

Utilizing a range of modalities such as classroom training, webinars, and online learning allows instructional designers to use each modality according to its strengths to create a dynamic and synergistic learning experience.

In a recent client project, we converted a week-long in-person training for new managers into a six-month blended learning experience.  We combined online pre-work, in-person training with executives and subject-matter experts, live webinars on WebEx, online discussion forums, and project-based “on-the-job” assignments (role plays, meetings with managers & stakeholders, presentations, etc.) which were tracked across the length of the program on the NovoEd platform. Thus, the online experiences wrapped the the ILT session both before and afterwards, while maintaining real-world connections throughout, whether online or in-person. The result was a resounding success, where the participants felt part of a larger community. When they met in person, they were already acquainted with each other, and prepared for the sessions; after the ILT they continued to apply their learning in projects, and carried on conversations online.

From numerous experiences designing and implementing ILT-to-blended conversion projects, our Professional Services team has seen several factors that have made these blended programs successful.

Three Keys to Effective Blended Learning Programs

1. Utilize the Best of each Channel (“Play to Strengths”)

As mentioned above, the best of blended learning happens when each modality is used for its unique strengths. Let’s imagine a training on “Giving Feedback” at a multinational company. Prior to an ILT, employees can meet each other online, such as a learning platform like NovoEd, to introduce themselves, and “flip the classroom” by doing a few readings and watching short videos about the concept of giving feedback. Then, participants head to their local office to take part in an ILT.  While in-person, they take part in role plays to get comfortable practicing their new skills and receive immediate feedback from their instructor and peers.

But what happens after the ILT? Here is where the online components show their strengths. Online discussion boards can continue the conversations started at the ILT. Through project-based assignments, learners can provide  feedback to colleagues in real-life situations, then report back and receive feedback online (more on this in Best Practice #3).  Synchronous events such as Webinars can connect the community and provide a space where learners can discuss difficulties they face after leaving the classroom bubble.  Gradually, a community forms around this learning journey – and it doesn’t take more flights and room reservations to make it happen.

2. Interweave Program Activities (“Connect the Dots”)

By definition, blended learning combines different learning modalities and moments. The best synergies in blended learning happen when all the pieces from the ILT, to the synchronous events online, to the lecture components, are connected.  It’s a simple idea but requires attention to detail to make sure it’s executed well.

For example, when pre-work happens online, the ILT trainer reviews it, then highlights specific examples during the in-person session to reinforce the learning.  During the ILT, teams begin collaborating on NovoEd’s team workspace to develop their team identify before they go separate ways to continue the collaboration online. Or webinars build on topics from the ILT, and highlight online discussion posts during synchronous conversation. Connecting the dots motivates learners to stay engaged through the multiple learning moments and develop excitement at seeing the pieces come together.

3. Design for Project-Based Learning (“Foster Learning by Doing”)

Any best-in-class blended design should always have a project-based learning component.  In essence, it is the “70” part of the “70-20-10” learning model. Participants have the opportunity to engage in a structured, real-life application of new concepts in their everyday work.

Unlike ILTs, which are at most a few days long, or cohort-based online learning which spans a few weeks, blended learning has the advantage of a longer time horizon usually lasting several months. This means that learners can take what they learned in an ILT or webinar, test it out at work, and still have an ongoing learning community to share the experience, get feedback or encouragement, then try again – within a real work content. This repetition, grounded in authentic experiences, is what makes behavioral change “sticky”. Thus, if a learner meets periodically with a mentor, an online task can be assigned before each meeting to help generate reflection and prepare for those mentorship meetings. The possibilities are endless for designing ways for online activities to support offline ones. Remember, when designing your blended program to “Play to Strengths”, “Connect the Dots”, and “Foster Learning by Doing.”

Blended Learning with the NovoEd Platform

A large variety of corporate learning programs have been blended using the NovoEd platform, ranging from senior executive programs to high-potential leader programs, to specific skill training. NovoEd’s social learning platform is uniquely designed to support interactivity, multiple learning modalities, and project-based learning experiences. Specific features that support this includes: team-specific workspaces, embedded discussion comments, peer evaluations, and social profiles.

Learn more about how the NovoEd platform and our team of experienced instructional designers can power your organization’s transition from ILT to blended learning by going to www.novoed.com.