Digital learning: create better blended learning programmes

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

In the early 2000s a lot of corporate e-learning was produced – some good, some bad, and some downright ugly – which set the tone for the ‘blend’ in our blended learning for the next decade.

These days, the term ‘blended learning’ is bandied around by organisations as a get-out-of-jail-free card to prove that digital learning takes place in the corporate world.

And it isn’t that it doesn’t happen. Blended learning does indeed take place in the corporate world. The term itself has been with us since the late 90s, with the American Society for Training and Development citing it as the top global L&D trend in 2003.

With this in mind, you would think we would all be experts when it comes to ‘blending’ the digital and face-to-face elements of our learning programmes together.

However, in the early 2000s a lot of corporate e-learning was produced – some good, some bad, and some downright ugly – which set the tone for the ‘blend’ in our blended learning for the next decade.

In the last three years we have seen innovations in digital learning, creating a light-bulb moment for many in the industry, propelling blended learning into the spotlight once more.

But with so many different technologies available, it is tempting to shoehorn them into programmes where they simply do not fit.

Blended learning - the 70:20:10 rule

We are all aware of the 70:20:10 rule. Originally floated in 1980 by McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger as a management theory, it officially became de rigueur in the L&D world in 1993.

As face-to-face delivery is in decline, the 10% ‘formal learning’ is being replaced by alternative technologies, in addition to the 20% ‘social learning’, which already has benefited from digital innovations such as video calling, social and cloud tools.

Accessing social media at work may present security challenges for large firms, but we must recognise that whether we condone it or not, our colleagues are having these conversations digitally and, in the manner of Albert Bandura’s classic theory, imitating each other’s behaviour.

In order to harness this conversation to enhance our programmes, we must first understand that we cannot and should not control social learning in the digital sphere, but we must play a facilitator role in the development of good social learning through these channels.

Whereas the ‘digital blend’ in blended learning only used to account for a minor percentage, it is now challenging the rigidity of the 70:20:10 model and needs to be fully integrated into and aligned with learning objectives.

5 ways to make your blended learning more effective

1. Ensure the content of digital learning complements, rather than competes, with face-to-face delivery.

Take advantage of the flexibility and creativity digital platforms afford and use them to enhance traditionally less-engaging elements of delivery or those which require video, AR, VR or gamification to really impress upon the learner the key points.

2. Get a good LMS. Accessing bite-sized learning content on demand is a vital element of a great blended programme.

You may have invested in an LMS system five years ago at great expense, but this will now likely be outdated technology or there may be new features available which can be added to produce better blended learning and greater on-demand accessibility.

3. Track your blended learning analytics and measure engagement. Recently, a small cohort of L&D professionals have realised the importance of marketing skills in increasing employee engagement with digital learning programmes.

"What gets measured, gets managed", so if your employees aren’t connecting with a piece of digital learning, it either needs to be promoted more effectively internally before launch, or there is a reason why it isn’t being used and it may not meet their needs.

Sometimes, the focus on the ‘shiny shiny’ might impress senior leaders, but after the novelty of your digital learning intervention wears off, there may still be a piece of disjointed and unrelated learning lurking underneath.

4. Set KPIs and measure them throughout the piece of learning. How will it be embedded? What other interventions may be required to support the completed course? What are the after effects of your piece of learning?

By measuring more than completions in your LMS system, you can provide a rounded view of the learner’s behaviour, progress and anticipate future areas of need.

5. Don’t assume e-learning is the answer to all your problems. Yes, it might be helpful to include it within a programme of learning, but it is not the answer, it is just a tool to help achieve a result. Without proper support and planning, e-learning alone will not be successful.​

Good blended learning requires planning, good implementation, a plan for engagement and a follow-up strategy to move the learner on to the next challenge. Blended learning should be part of a continuous story, not a series of disjointed monologues.

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