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How to make blended learning more impactful in the new era of work

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The online versus face-to-face delivery debate rages on in the L&D arena. Having finally returned to the classroom after 18 months of online delivery, Krystyna Gadd reflects on this experience and explores the myriad ways L&D can make blended learning work.

25th Aug 2021
Founder How to Accelerate Learning
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I do not think anyone can argue that an online classroom is the same as a face-to-face session. There is undoubtedly that unique human connection that happens when you are physically in a room with people, which you cannot achieve in the digital space.

But over the past 18 months we have been thrust into a solely digital world and I have enjoyed the challenge of making online learning more engaging, creative and impactful.

The perks of online delivery

I am a bit of a tech geek and love trying out new tools like Mural or Mentimeter to get a different type of interaction and keep my participants' attention for longer.

I can hold sessions with around 50 people all contributing simultaneously, which would be chaotic in a face-to-face session. I love using break out groups, and even simple chat boxes can create a buzz of ideas and excitement (as well as tumbleweed moments if you don’t ask the right questions).

Some people think learning is a binary decision: either it is face-to-face or online. In reality, it is not either/or. There are a hundred plus different ways to learn.

If the group is small enough, encouraging people to come off mute has also been a great way to draw out some nuggets from them and get that interaction going.

But humans need connection...

Moving back into a classroom has highlighted lots of things for me. How much I have missed the presence of other humans and the banter you get when people start to relax. It's much easier to have fun and draw things out of people when we are physically together. 

Being able to read the room and adapt is far more seamless in the classroom than in an online setting as well, with more freedom to add in a new discussion on the fly without feeling constrained. All of this undoubtedly adds to the richness of the experience and makes the learning more memorable.

The 100 plus ways to blend learning

Going forward my thoughts turn to the design of blended programmes so there is no over-reliance on the face-to-face. Should we experience a similar dilemma to this last 18 months, we have digital tools in place now.

Some people think learning is a binary decision: either it is face-to-face or online. In reality, it is not either/or. There are a hundred plus different ways to learn.

We shouldn't just switch everything back to face-to-face now that we have got the technology in.  We should be leveraging the learning by using each method appropriately. 

Face-to-face is great for creating bonds, trust and promoting collaboration. Those housekeeping types of things that we have to do, like contracting and pre-work, could be put online as preparation for the face-to-face. Think about variety and think about who would benefit the most from being face-to-face.

In the online space, people can hide more and take a back seat. This is harder when you are physically in a classroom with people. Make sure there is a planned face-to-face review so that people feel compelled to complete the work.

Blended programmes come with their challenges

For instance, keeping people on track in terms of attendance to all or some of the sessions may become problematic.

Engagement and the level of learning can be tricky to manage too. If the organisation is mature in its digital interactions, all of that is going to be much easier as people will naturally use chat and their calendars to keep track.

For those organisations less mature digitally, fewer sessions and a limited number of different learning methods will gradually ease them into the format of a blended programme.

If you are clear about the problem you are solving then finding a range of methods to achieve the outcomes you are looking for should not be too difficult. To be clear about the level of learning and whether it is a knowledge, skills or attitudinal type of learning, I would recommend using Blooms Taxonomy to distinguish. 

Clarity breeds blended learning success

Are these three things clear to you?

  1. The problem you are solving
  2. Whether it is knowledge, skills or attitudinal learning
  3. The level (depth) of learning for the people attending

If so, then creating a great blend of activities should not be an issue. You can offer alternatives too. For example, an article, video or case study will better suit any knowledge-type learning required, which will add to the depth of the learning experience and its application. For skills-type learning, you may start with some knowledge and add in a role play or an observation session to build up those skills.

Ultimately, there are many different ways to learn and instead of tying ourselves to one or the other, let us think more broadly about how we can blend learning solutions for the most impactful learning and performance outcomes.

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