Blended learning has evolved in recent years to become a dominant method of delivering learning. HR Leader looks at some of the latest trends in blended learning and how to get the mix right
Blended learning typically refers to a mix of instructor-led
training with a wide variety of electronic tools and media.
While there was a strong focus on utilising technologies and
tools for e-learning in many companies maybe five or more
years ago, this has changed as organisations came to realise
that most e-learning programs were not fully meeting needs.
Companies then began to view e-learning, not as a replacement for
instructor-led training, but rather as a complement.
As a result, there has been a movement to blended learning over the
past five years, according to David Mallon, principal analyst at Bersin
& Associates, a global consulting firm which specialises in enterprise
learning and talent management. As new technologies became
widespread, from Google and mobile devices to virtual classrooms and
wikis, Mallon says organisations became increasingly interested in
informal and on-demand solutions.
“Today, the most modern learning organisations realise that, in order
to keep up with the needs of the business, they must create holistic
learning environments in which learners can meet their own needs,” he
Latest blended learning trends
There are many organisations here and overseas that have implemented
progressive blended learning programs, according to Alison Bickford,
director and principal consultant at Connect Thinking.
Some organisations whose chief asset is the emergent knowledge of
their people are doing some interesting things in online communities
and networks, Bickford explains, while other organisations with field
workers who depend on online performance support tools are
progressing mobile learning technologies.
“Other organisations with good bandwidth are really able to maximise
media rich learning environments with video libraries and game-based
learning. Today’s technologies enable employees to work, learn, create and
perform like never before. Our challenge is to deeply understand
workflow to better enable workplace learning and performance,” she says.
“What I am also seeing is an increasing polarisation of organisational
capability and capacity to design, develop and deliver blended learning.
Many organisations are still grappling with developing e-learning
courseware with high-quality learning design. Learning management
systems (LMS) appear to stifle some organisations’ ability to evolve their
learning designs and offerings for several years while ROI and employee
adaption to learning self management is attained.”
Advantages and disadvantages
Blended learning is increasingly being used as
it saves time and can be more efficient,
according to training, learning and
performance consultant Derek Stockley.
The diversity of electronic devices means
that delivery can now be achieved in a much
greater variety of ways, he says. “People and
organisations are time poor. Face-to-face
(classroom or video conferencing) is still the
best for flexibility, where the trainer can
interact and adjust as the training progresses,”
A common advantage is that blended
learning methods can be used to bring
participants up to a common starting point (or
level), according to Stockley. Experienced/
knowledgeable participants can quickly review
the material, while others spend the time
absorbing the key learning points so they are
ready for the training.
“The most common disadvantage is people
not doing the preparation required, although
this can be overcome with inbuilt monitoring. In
a face-to-face situation, you can gauge
participant engagement,” says Stockley, who
adds that this is harder with e-learning type
Making the most of blended learning
Companies are entering a new era of social,
collaborative and talent-driven learning, and
today’s worker still needs formal training that
is built around specific problems and talent
needs, according to Mallon.
“However, today’s worker also needs the
availability of a learning environment in which
they can find information, collaborate and
build their own learning plans. The learning
organisation must go beyond the disciplines of
building content for use online. We must
provide context and pathways for people to
learn,” he explains.
Research shows that a hallmark practice of
successful learning organisations is the ability to
“formalise” informal training activities, and
Mallon says companies which incorporate
elements of informal learning in their program
design can get orders-of-magnitude greater
returns than those that do not.
“Also, most L&D professionals are well-
schooled in the traditional disciplines of
corporate training (such as instructional design),
but they may not have mastered the new
disciplines required to support new forms of
informal learning,” he says.
It is important to keep in mind that building
a successful learning environment requires a
deep understanding of the audiences and
businesses involved, and Mallon says research
shows that effective programs include a clear
understanding of the learner’s job needs in
“Rather than simply teaching someone a
new skill, the most effective programs took into
account the company’s processes surrounding
their jobs – and built content and a program
that fit into these processes,” he says.
Case study: Symantec
Symantec implemented an innovative blended learning program to roll out its new enterprise-wide security management solution. This massive product launch touched all elements of the company, from sales, marketing and support through to service and finance.
To address all of these areas (and the multiple levels of expertise needed in each area), the learning team built a program that included blogs, wikis, emails, courseware and instructor-led training.
The total curriculum was complex and included in-depth instructor-led training. It also included prerequisite e-learning courseware, and a rich set of blogs and email campaigns to help technical people at all levels learn about the new product as well as its impact on existing products and customer environments.
All of these elements were integrated into a total launch and delivery experience. The result of this program was one of Symantec's most successful product launches in the company's history.
Source: Bersin & Associates
Pitfalls of blended learning programs
1. Poorly scoped requirements leading to the purchase of suboptimal technology
2. Inadequate inclusion of the IT department in the decision-making process
3. Insufficient training of the team charged with developing blended learning
4. Poor preparation of employees for change to what they understand learning to be
5. Inadequate experience in blended learning to properly predict both opportunities and consequences of implementation
6. Missed opportunities to work strategically with other HR initiatives, for example, recruitment and retention, talent mapping
7. Poorly designed evaluation of blended learning
8. Inadequate time set aside to refine and improve blended learning
9. Choosing blended learning deliveries that are a mismatch to the current and/or desired culture of the organisation
Source: Alison Bickford, director and principal consultant, Connect Thinking