5 Steps to Designing High-Impact Blended Learning Experiences
If you’ve been designing courses for Corporate L&D, you’ve probably witnessed the rise blended learning programs. There are very good reasons for this trend: engaging learning experience, learner retention, soft skill development, cost savings and flexibility for learners.
If you are new to blending in-person training and online learning, or are looking to optimize your blended learning designs, here are 5 steps to follow to maximize the impact of a blended program.
1. Create learning outcomes to match organizational needs
It goes without saying you should start with the learning outcomes (e.g. building competence in a particular skill) that you are trying to achieve with your blended learning experience. These should be closely tied to an organizational need, such as improving employee retention, that has been identified with key stakeholders. There is a natural tendency to get excited by new technologies or shiny new features, and overly focus on how they can be utilized, rather than seeing the big picture (We will discuss technologies in Step 3!). Don’t fall into the trap of innovating for innovation’s sake. Instead, take the time to get real clarity on your desired learning outcomes. This will be a solid foundation by which to determine how you utilize different tools, platforms, and technologies.
2. Determine high-level topics and learning objectives
From the desired learning outcomes, determine the scope of topics you will cover in order to achieve those outcomes. For example, if your learning outcome is to improve participants’ presentation skills, you may choose topics such as: content structure, confidence, vocal volume/intonation, nonverbal gestures, eye contact, etc. After choosing the topics, you will need to clarify what you want to emphasize within each topic, as expressed by the learning objectives you set. For the topic of “Performance Management”, a learning objective might be “To understand the performance management process and apply it ones’ employee.” Even trainings that cover the same topic can vary immensely in their learning objectives, depending on your learners’ current skills, the importance of the topic, or sequencing of topics.
3. Understand the learning technologies
Take the time to get familiar with your technology options, so that you can decide on which options to implement for your course. The right learning technology can help make your blended learning program more flexible, scalable, and effective for modern learners. Be sure to examine the technologies already available to you and research new ones that will help you deliver and maximize your blended training program*. Ask colleagues, attend webinars, look at the websites of L&D conferences and see who the exhibitors are.
As you look at technologies, ask yourself these two important questions:
- What are the key differentiating features of this technology? Will it support your organizational needs? For example, are there robust analytics to track user progress through a course?
- What types of learning experiences can this technology enable? For example, does it enable compliance, self-paced, cohort-based, experiential, community of practice, simulation, etc.? (See here for 4 things about learning technology that you should know.)
4. Match topics to each medium
Go back your list of topics and learning objectives. Since you are creating a blended program, you have the luxury of choosing which tools and methodologies to use to present each of these topics. Some topics may be more appropriate for one medium versus another.
Compliance or procedure training may be best taught through engaging videos or e-books, with quizzes. On the other side of the spectrum, a complex skill like “coaching” may be worth allocating precious in-person classroom time, unless you have technology options (like NovoEd) that can allow role-plays, feedback, and video submissions. Topics that are both complex, but are not soft skills, like “financial acumen”, might best be taught via pre-reading and an interactive webinar.
The key for this step is to question prior assumptions. I often hear L&D professionals who have been doing instructor-led training (ILT) for years tell me “I just can’t see how you can teach Topic X effectively online”. This may have been true a few years ago but – the world of online learning has changed dramatically since. Our field continues to evolve, and we should keep exploring the forefront of that evolution to stay relevant and innovative. By keeping an open mind, you will find ways to breathe new life into your training solutions which are better adapted to today’s learners.
By the end of this step, you will have a list of topics, learning objectives and the methodology/technology you will use to meet your desired learning outcome.
5. Design with the medium in mind
Now it’s time to put it all together. A one-hour ILT session, a 45 minute webinar, and an online project-based experience would each be designed differently even if they covered the same topics and achieved the same learning objectives. For example, with a topic like “Developing Strong Teams”, an ILT session might be designed with slides to teach the concept, and interaction to share examples, with small breakouts to role-play and receive feedback. On the NovoEd online platform, we might design a module with bite-sized videos or readings to teach the concept, discussion questions to encourage storytelling, and the crux of the module being “on-the-job”, where learners try new things with their real team members, and then reflect and receive virtual feedback from their manager, instructor and peers.
Knowing the key strengths (and limitations) of each medium – whether it’s an e-module, project-based learning platform or in-person training – will help you design the most impactful learning content AND cut costs. Sound too good to be true? Dive in and find out for yourself!
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