Blended learning: why problem solving will be key to virtual learning success in futureby
Now that restrictions are easing and face-to-face learning can resume, don’t assume that all your hard work mastering virtual learning over the past year will go to waste. Blended learning is the future – but getting this right requires top problem solving skills.
Covid-19 and its impact on the world – let alone L&D – was never foreseen. It catapulted us all into a world of virtual working, for which some of us were prepared while others floundered. Some grew in skills and confidence, while others became overwhelmed with Zoom fatigue. Some of us yearned to get back to face-to-face, while others have seen the value of what the virtual learning environment can offer and do not want to go back.
As restrictions ease it makes sense to improve our online delivery skills and not simply revert back to face-to-face just because we miss it.
So where do we go from here, when restrictions ease and we have more choice in using the face-to-face option?
Why has digital transformation taken so long?
Back in the late 80s and early 90s I worked for IBM as a VM instructor. It was my first role in IT and in training. I learned not only the systems, but also my craft as a trainer. It was during this time I was involved in a pilot to test out the use of remote classrooms by delivering a two-day course remotely to a group of participants. What a long time it has taken for this to take its place as part of our everyday toolkit.
There are so many reasons why it has taken this long and yet so many things that have improved as a result of the pandemic:
- Software that is easy to use and that has features to enhance interactivity (who used Zoom before Covid-19?)
- A variety of online tools like MURAL, LinoIt, Mentimeter and many more, that make the virtual learning experience something that face-to-face could never be
- Affordable studio-type equipment such as microphones, green screens and lighting
- The emergence of the host or producer role to take some of the pressure off the facilitator/trainer
Think about what you can still do online
As restrictions ease it makes sense to improve our online delivery skills and not simply revert back to face-to-face just because we miss it. Instead, we need to consider if it is appropriate, and also think about what we can do online that we were never able to do face-to-face, e.g.:
- Asynchronous learning
- Simultaneous input from many people
- Contributions after or before the session
- Capture thoughts without the facilitator having to make notes
- Record the session to distribute easily later
- Reach participants globally at low cost
- Meet and interact at any time
- Attend or deliver from the comfort of your own home
Finding the right tool for the problem
It makes business sense to consider the virtual environment as being one of the many ways that we might learn – not just a binary question of face-to-face or online. It makes business sense to find the right tool for the job in hand and to do that, the problem you are solving first needs to be well defined.
In order to define the problem correctly you will need to:
- Engage with the right stakeholders and get a variety of perspectives
- Look beyond learning needs and ask questions to uncover business issues
- Ask the ‘daft’ questions about why things are the way they are and what might be going wrong
Engaging with the right stakeholders
For those of you who struggle to get buy-in and support from stakeholders, maybe it’s time to reassess which ones you should work with and which ones you should ditch? The Stakeholder Analysis Grid is a handy tool that will aid this process. By the end of it you should have a list of people to engage with and some ideas on how to get them on board. By having a number of stakeholders, you can get different perspectives of the same problem, therefore helping you to create a solution that is fit for purpose.
Looking beyond learning needs
When someone comes to an L&D professional and asks for some training or learning to be delivered, we naturally want to help. We should, however, resist diving into solution mode and assuming that the problem can be solved with training or learning. A good first question to ask is ‘what else might be going on here to cause this problem?’ The HIRE model can be used to delve deeper into the needs of the stakeholders and can be invaluable as a way identifying what is really going on.
Asking daft questions
No one wants to look daft, but as L&D professionals, we have a unique opportunity to find out more about how the organisation works and this is itself can create opportunities to see the bigger picture while those we are trying to help are stuck in their silos. Curiosity is always helpful in this instance, e.g. ‘I am curious to know why this is a problem for this department and not another?’
Once we have a clearer idea of the problem, the solution is much easier to find and choosing the right tool for the job becomes a question of working through a series of questions that will guide you to a better solution:
- Is it knowledge, skills or behavioural learning?
- Is it individual or group learning? (You need to determine whether they need to prove individually that they have met the objective).
- Is it technical or soft skills learning?
- Are the requirements related to a performance issue or regulatory compliance?
In conclusion, don’t leap to solution mode before you have decided what the problem is – it might not require any training at all. The more you ask about what is really going on, the more aligned your learning will be to the actual business needs and not just perceived problems. Look at what you can do online rather than what you cannot, and consider other options for the well-defined problem.
Interested in this topic? Read Mastering virtual facilitation in 2021.
With 30 years experience in L&D, Krystyna has been training trainers, facilitators and subject matter experts as well as line managers since 2008. Noticing a lack of experience and skill in the area of needs analysis drove her to write her book 'How to Not...