Blended Learning On A Budget: 5 Tips For Getting The Biggest Bang For Your Buck

Solutions For Blended Learning On A Budget
Irene Jimenez/SweetRush
Summary: As L&D embraces agile ways of working, how do we balance constraints with quality? SweetRush recently partnered with a client who met this challenge head on by designing an award-winning blended learning solution on a budget. We share our 5 top tips to keep your learners and stakeholders happy!

Keep Your Learners And Stakeholders Happy!

As L&D professionals, we’re no stranger to constraints. We often have to work with limited time, budget, or resources. We’re used to doing a lot with a little. We know how to be flexible and creative. Just look at what we’ve achieved in the last 18 months! We’ve prioritized, digitized, adapted, and made it work. But as businesses embrace—and expect—agility, how can we maintain the momentum? And how do we do it on a large scale? How can we be resourceful and creative—aka, thrifty—and still deliver first-class learning experiences without compromising quality, value, or impact?

We recently partnered with a client who faced just this challenge.

Their goal: to upskill an audience of more than 2000 global sales team members in a brand-new skill: eCommerce. The L&D team had one year, limited resources, and a strict budget to train the team and impact the business results.

Their solution: a blended learning experience that seamlessly integrates off-the-shelf content with custom learning and thought partnership from internal and external learning partners.

The results? In addition to being described by learners as theRolls Royce” of learning solutions and a game-changing experience,” the program is already impacting business results and has won multiple L&D industry awards. Working on this project helped us identify a number of key success factors for creating impactful blended learning solutions on a budget. Here are our top 5 tips.

1. Have A Clear Understanding Of The Desired Business And Performance Outcomes

A common mistake Instructional Designers make with blended learning solutions is to gather every resource they can find on the topic in hand and bundle it together as a learning package. But without a clear outcomes-focused approach, you can’t be sure that the content will do what it was intended to do: shift performance.

Spare your learners from the fire hose by partnering with leadership and stakeholders to complete a needs analysis. Gain a clear understanding of the business needs and drivers as well as the expected business and performance outcomes. Use your findings to inform the learning objectives, solution design, and subsequent content curation and creation. And be discerning when it comes to the content—only include it in the blended learning program if it aligns with the outcomes and objectives.

Our client did a great job of avoiding the “kitchen sink” approach to blended learning design. With a laser-sharp focus on the business goals and performance objectives from the outset, they went on to design, curate, and create a blended learning solution that was outcomes—and budget—focused.

2. Know Your Audience

Understanding your audience not only helps create better learning experiences but also helps with your budget. It’s easy to make assumptions about what we think learners need to know, but no one understands that better than the learners themselves.

Meet with your learners—or a representative sample of them—and find out what they already know and how they like to learn. You may discover they know more than you think, which means less content to create. You may also be able to lean into adaptive learning strategies that allow learners to bypass content they don’t need or to take a deeper dive into areas they need more help with or are especially interested in.

With a target audience of more than 2000 global learners, our client identified a variety of needs. They designed a three-tiered curriculum that focuses on foundation and intermediate-level skills, along with an advanced-level curriculum reserved for a targeted subset of the learner audience. Learners can test in and out of different modules and stages based on their existing knowledge and skills. Additional resources—all tied to the learning objectives and desired outcomes—are available to learners who want or need them throughout the learning journey.

For more tips on creating learner-centric experiences, visit chapter 4 of our latest eBook, It's All About Your People! Embracing Human-Centered Business, Workplace Culture, and Learning Design.

3. Leverage Internal Resources First

If you already know you'll need support from external vendors for content, we recommend taking a step back and partnering first with your internal experts and thought leaders. Share the business and performance outcomes and work together to identify and then inventory any existing resources you can leverage. You may be surprised at how many resources already exist, not to mention the people who may want to get involved and lend a hand.

4. Use Off-The-Shelf Content To Tackle The Low-Hanging Fruit In Your Blended Learning Solution

Look into off-the-shelf content options when you’re on a budget. It’s a great way to build up a content library within your LMS that can be leveraged across many teams. Our recommendation: leverage off-the-shelf content to fill in the low-stakes/low-impact knowledge gaps and save your budget for higher value/impact items (see the next tip for more on this).

Our client needed to upskill a group of 2000 global sales people on eCommerce skills so they partnered with a vendor who specializes in this type of content. Using the desired performance outcomes and learning objectives as a guide, they worked together to curate a foundation-level curriculum in eCommerce basics.

One thing to note about off-the-shelf content is that it often includes industry-agnostic scenarios to appeal to a mass audience. So while it’s a great solution for building knowledge, you’ll likely want to supplement it with custom learning to help learners connect the dots between how things should be done (the theory) and how it actually gets done at your organization (the practice). This brings us neatly to our final tip.

5. Save Your Budget For High-Value/Impact Items

If you do have room in your budget to develop custom content, we recommend identifying where and how it can add the most value-for-money to your solution.

Our client purchased a series of off-the-shelf content but needed a custom solution to help translate the theory into practice. For example, in one of the courses, learners were taught about eCommerce metrics and Key Performance Indicators. They learned what they are and why they are important (the theory), but they didn’t learn what this looked like at their company—in other words, which specific metrics they should be looking at, or what the data reveals, or how to act on the data.

That’s where SweetRush stepped in to help co-create a series of custom lessons that closed the performance gaps. Since we didn’t need to teach the theory around metrics and KPIs (that was in the off-the-shelf content), we were able to concentrate on the how. Each lesson averaged 15 minutes in length, resulting in a cost-effective solution for our client and an impactful experience for their learners.

Outcomes, audience, and prioritizing—it’s not just for blended learning! While these tips are especially relevant for blended learning programs, they can also be applied to any learning solution design. Give it a try on your next learning project.

eBook Release: SweetRush
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