Thursday, November 02, 2006

Figuring Out the Blended Learning Puzzle

Well, we certainly struck a chord with this week's webinar on blended learning. We had our most subscribed event ever, as 90 people were on line trying to find ideas to solve their own blended learning puzzles. In other words, what combination of training modes works best for which training challenges, and which types of learners?

If you didn't attend the webinar, don't worry, we did not reveal the magic formula for blended learning, because none exists. There are as many possible solutions as there are puzzles, and we are only limited by our imaginations. Instead of misleading stock answers, we provided general guidelines with case examples to get folks thinking creatively about how to tackle their own training challenges.

Most attending the webinar told us that they are combining eLearning with face-to-face learning. They are doing this for two reasons. Firstly, many of their learners are geographically dispersed or cannot afford to be away from their jobs for long periods of time. Secondly, they wish to optimize precious and expensive face-to-face time so that it can be used to greatest effect. Learners can be "prepped" via eLearning before they arrive for classroom-based (or hands-on) sessions, and/or eLearning can provide continuing support or job aids after such face-to-face sessions.

There can also be blended approaches to eLearning. We explored how real-time synchronous learning (e.g. webinars) can complement anytime asynchronous eLearning by increasing learner engagement and enhancing course completion rates. And we looked at how self-service eLearning can be blended with supported eLearning provided by online coaches for those requiring extra assistance.

It's not all good news on the blended learning front, however. One common mistake is to merely "tack on" another training mode to an existing one without any thought to how the two modes integrate and support each other. Another common mistake is to merely repeat the same training in two modes and require participants to do both. Neither of these approaches can be called blended because there is no real blending taking place.

Finally, our special guest Chris McCain from Aspirus Wausau Hospital in Wisconsin shared how she stumbled upon a successful blended approach to electronic medical records training. She wanted some participants in an in-person training session to try out a new computer-based training (CBT) module that had been developed. Chris came to the realization that having learners complete the CBT module in a classroom setting provided the best of both worlds. Learners could work through material at their own pace, and also receive immediate support if necessary. Classroom time for such training has been cut in half (which is no small feat for a busy hospital that has to be staffed around the clock).

Blended learning is much like a puzzle. You have to make sure all the pieces fit together, support each other, and tell a coherent story. (Yikes, last week I used a cooking metaphor, and now a puzzle metaphor...I promise I will stop!).

We made a recording of the webinar if you would like to have a look.