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Time to take stock of L&D’s hybrid learning journey

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Robin Hoyle explores  L&D’s experience with hybrid learning so far: what’s worked, what hasn’t and how we can evolve.

26th May 2022
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L&D teams really stepped up with hybrid learning when folks were forced away from offices, team meetings and socially distanced workspaces. The sheer scale of the L&D initiatives that were created is staggering. We mastered virtual delivery, more material went online and our colleagues and clients became much more used to interacting with each other via platforms and apps than could have been imagined.

For some organisations, the change has not only been profound, it seems to be long lasting. As we contemplate the return of the physical classroom, the appeal of being in a real room with real people is not always stacking up against the hassle, logistics, expense and disruption of arranging for everyone to be in the same space at the same time. Hybrid working may be here to stay – despite the desperate passive aggressive memos from Ministers – and hybrid learning seems like it’s here to stay too.

The very best have created multi-stage, just-in-time learning journeys.

How the best in L&D enable hybrid learning

In some senses, hybrid learning has been with us for generations – except we used to refer to it as blended learning. For many in L&D, it seems the pandemic was the push they needed to recognise that not all learning (if any!) happens at the sharp end of a Powerpoint presentation with a bunch of your colleagues. 

But for those who have truly recognised the opportunities created by recent upheavals, the blend of eLearning plus group sessions was never going to satisfy their ambitions. The very best have created multi-stage, just-in-time learning journeys. These combine digital resources, curated content, platforms that facilitate peer-to-peer experience sharing and storytelling, high impact virtual sessions and work-based tasks and assignments. 

Most use a timeline to enable groups to move through their learning experiences together. This means they can support one another, ask questions of experts and facilitators and use remote working technologies to set up impromptu learning discussions, chats and problem sharing/solving sessions.

Instead of a short course, the experience may – and often needs to – require many weeks of elapsed time (although the time spent using resources or attending sessions is not likely to be any longer than a traditional approach).

Coaching has been removed from the lottery of compatible diaries to asynchronous discussions supplemented with ten-minute online chats. When the flow of work is mediated via remote technology, learning in the flow of work becomes easier, more transparent and – most importantly – likely to happen and be supported.

Hybrid, done right, provides us with repeated access to people as they learn, experiment, discuss and try things out.

Time to take stock

All of us in L&D have experienced change in the past two years. It makes sense to take a moment and reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what remains to be done.

There are a few things that haven’t worked as well as they could:

1. Converting F2F courses to online classes

The medium is different and if your previous sessions were a day or more in duration and primarily presentation based, then shifting the sessions to a lengthy webinar is unlikely to have enhanced them. Learning at work is an active process designed to enable people to do things differently and do different things. Any lecture – especially one delivered to your kitchen table – doesn’t fit this bill.

2. Having a hybrid audience

Some organisations have arranged face-to-face events for those who can attend and enabled others to attend remotely via video conference. Regardless of the smartness of the technology deployed (and much of it is as dumb as a bag of wet mice), I have never seen one of these that works well for either audience. The strain on the facilitator of trying to manage the different media and interact evenly and equitably with those there and/or those on the screen puts intolerable pressure on the trainer and delivers a universally poor experience for those in attendance. Stop it!

3. Go video

There have been some responses to remote working that have started and ended with short videos. While I am a fan of the oft repeated saying ‘if your session could be reproduced on video, it probably should be’, don’t take this literally! I don’t think passive listening to lectures is ever the answer to a learning need. 

Some knowledge acquisition may be an important part of the learning process, but it isn’t even close to being all of it. When I see major corporations think they have a learning strategy because they subscribe to a library of online videos presented by smiley-faced people in the vicinity of a pot plant, I despair.

Yes, video has a part to play – my team and I have created about 200 separate three to five-minute videos in the last two years – but their role is to deliver insights and a stimulus to action.

4. Measure completion and access to digital resources

Again, this can play a small part in monitoring the effectiveness of the programmes you have designed. After all, if no one is accessing that eLearning module you created, it probably won’t help solve your capability improvement challenges. But it’s not the only measure or even a particularly important one. Monitor application, implementation and performance. Make sure, somewhere in your programme, you have a process of checking what’s changed in the day-to-day work of the people you trained. 

What works for hybrid learning?

The move to remote and hybrid learning has been a great opportunity. Finally, we have broken free of the tyranny of the one, two or three-day course because that’s what is convenient for the venue, the trainer or the department releasing their staff and the people paying the travel bills.

Hybrid, done right, provides us with repeated access to people as they learn, experiment, discuss and try things out. We can talk to them in settings other than a conference room, using the tools that everyone has had to master as they work remotely from their peers, managers and customers/service users.

What I have seen work is a cyclical process:

  • Insight – some new idea, model or concept for how we can work differently – often delivered digitally

  • Discuss/integrate/practice – what does this new idea mean for us, how does it work, what does it sound like, look like, feel like? Can I try it out in a safe space and gain feedback?

    This second stage may be undertaken virtually or face to face. Increasingly, our hybrid programmes include both. Virtual sessions are interspersed with – or culminate in – a face-to-face session, but only where that adds value. 

  • Apply – the chance to try things out in real-world situations, using tools and resources with managerial and peer support. The transfer of new skills to the workplace should happen as soon as is feasible – think ‘just in time’.

  • Reflect – I advocate Rolfe et al’s  reflective model:

    • What? What happened? 

    • So, what? What did I learn, what worked, what didn’t?  

    • What Next? What am I going to do differently next time?

These reflections are shared and provide fuel for the next insight/discussion activities.

  • Finally, repeat in a series of short inputs, taking people through these stages as they begin to master new ways of working

I’m proud to work in a sector that has embraced change and worked to improve learning in the most challenging circumstances. I’m also proud that we now have better paths to helping people sustainably and irrevocably improve their performance. I’m excited that our engagement on the journey with our people will demonstrate our effectiveness as one of the most important functions in modern organisations. 

Aim high-brid!

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