Why Blended Learning Is Different Than Combining eLearning With Workshops

Why Blended Learning Is Different Than Combining eLearning With Workshops

Blended learning, as almost every single idea on this world, should be used on purpose. I see at least three goals which could be set for blended learning before we start to design such a process:

  1. It should be more effective than alternate approaches, or...
  2. It should be delivered faster than alternate approaches, or...
  3. It should be cheaper than alternate approaches.

Ideally: All of these three goals should be reached.

The problem is that it is very hard to achieve any of them if blended learning is treated mechanically, just gluing a couple of elements together.

First Thoughts

At first; if we take a look at the aforementioned goals we quickly realize that blended learning has nothing in common with connecting eLearning with traditional learning. OK; some learning modalities supported by new technologies could be used as one (or many) of the elements of the blended learning process, but it is not a requirement.

Secondly; although blended learning as a term is quite new in the learning industry, the method itself is known probably from the very beginning of human race. Every skilled educator is constantly blending while delivering learning intervention; he or she mixes and matches various forms (discussion, exercise, feedback, repetition, etc.) to make this intervention as good as possible.

And finally; for more than 15 years I have been seeing reluctance by many trainers to enrich their competencies in delivering learning interventions with methods which are outside of their comfort zone. Such an attitude makes them disabled in terms of building successful blends, i.e. designing learning processes which address one (or more) of the goals mentioned above.

The Case 

Our client, one of the banks, asked us to place an offer for learning intervention with a goal of building sales competencies for a large group of bank tellers. We had the following choices:

  • To place an offer for traditional training - workshops (expensive!, time consuming!).
  • To place an offer for eLearning courses (doubtful efficiency!).
  • To place an offer for a blended learning process (a chance for optimization!).

We decided to place a blended learning offer.

The Doubtful Approach 

At first we were thinking about offering a set of one-day-long workshops building sales skills. As competition was strong, we wanted to add value to this approach by adding an eLearning course as a pre-work and a couple of knowledge pills as a performance support tool at the end of the process.

After discussion we decided not to place such an offer. Well, the reason is quite obvious; just take a look at our goals:

  1. Will it be cheaper?
    No: It will cost more, as we added (and not substituted) elements to the process.
  2. Will it be faster?
    No: It will take longer, as we have to prepare not only workshops but also eLearning materials, and engage people in more activities (which, of course, itself couldn't be bad).
  3. Will it be more effective?
    Maybe: But, frankly speaking, I have seen so many such projects with absolutely no value added by eLearning elements, that I don't believe that.

The Winning Approach 

We decided to place an offer for a more sophisticated blended learning process. At the very beginning, during a one-day-long kick-off for branch directors, we delivered a workshop for them. There were two goals of it:

  1. To remind them how to coach their employees.
  2. To build skills of delivering a mini-kick-off in the branch office.

We also asked them to familiarize with an eLearning course which had been prepared for bank tellers. It was focusing on selling techniques to be learned by tellers.

As we know weaknesses of the self-learning process based on eLearning courses, we added to eLearning courses implementation tasks; tasks to be performed by trainees on the job (during their daily routines). Every single stage of sales process had been concluded in the course not only by set of eLearning quizzes and exercises, but also by dedicated tasks to be done on the job.

Here is an example of such a task: At the stage of needs analysis we introduced the “3+ rule”. According to this rule, the teller shouldn’t propose a solution without asking at least three open questions before. After this module, in which we explained the rule, let experience it during a role play and practice it in a set of quizzes, we gave an implementation task: “Apply the 3+ rule for the next week on the needs analysis stage of the sales process. Write down your reflections at the end of each day. Then meet your manager and discuss it”.

Do you feel the magic of this approach? First of all, the trainee feels motivated having in mind managerial influence. Secondly, we are transferring directly the subject of the training to working routines. And at third, we are creating a chance of shaping behaviors in the direct relations between an employee and his/her supervisor.

Of course, before the eLearning course reached the target group, we had informed managers about their role in this process delivering necessary tools and explanations.

The process itself was more complicated, but I will not elaborate on all nuances, as they are not important for the main topic of this article. Below you can find a picture describing it in the Learning Battle Cards framework:

Case 2

We were amazed by the bottom line. Within 6 months sales results of the financial product increased by 300%.

Final Thoughts

The first step to become a successful educator in the blending field is to have an open mind and be ready to constantly develop one's training skills. We should not only know the various learning methods in order to be able to use them, but we should also be ready to change. Blending (in comparison to “gluing”) training changes many things: From habits and routines (we sometimes have to work in other ways to be able to deliver the learning promise) to sources of income (we sometimes have to resign from several days of paid workshops and introduce to the table other training approaches delivered by other parties).