In this contributed piece for TrainingZONE, Peter Russian, Director of Development at Investors in People UK considers the role of a blended approach as part of an overall organisational learning strategy.
You have only to look at the diverse range of organisations working with the Investors in People Standard today, to realise it is futile to prescribe a “one size fits all” approach to training. From zoos to engineering to supermarkets and nurseries, organisations face real and very different challenges for completely separate reasons. Whilst it is important to provide sustainable training and development initiatives, the focus needs to be on what type(s) of training will deliver the best results for your organisation after considering its size, needs, resources and business direction.
“Blended learning” by its very nature constitutes a combination of various training types, used to maximum effect to leverage the best results. It is the decision making used to arrive at the correct combination of training, which is central to success. It is therefore essential to explore some of the key types of learning, their benefits, limits and the main issues affecting training and development within business today.
I would support and encourage any type of learning tool or initiative, which encourages organisations to commit to development of their people, especially if it helps engage those employees that under normal circumstances, would not consider learning as an important personal development option. Innovative types of training such as e-learning packages have many positives attributes. They offer a user friendly and creative approach to learning. Their flexibility allows training to occur after hours or in spare time. And it enables learning to remain a central, important and sustainable part of individuals’ lives.
At the same time, we strongly advise against isolated training. In other words, using a text book or online training package as the only resource for training. For example, feedback suggests that despite e-learning’s benefits, it can be considered two-dimensional and too prescriptive. The question, “to what extent can soft management skills be taught through e-learning?” is one that should be taken seriously, given its importance. Personally, I would advise caution.
Many regard learning through interaction and experience as more effective, as ideas can be discussed and shared. That said, e-learning should not be dismissed as a soft or inferior option; it just should be used along side other more traditional learning disciplines for maximum effect.
According to Helen Roberts, Principle Consultant at CMS Consulting, organisations of all sizes need to decide upon and introduce an Organisational Learning Strategy (OLS). This helps implement a training and development plan aligned to business direction. It should be produced only after considering the constraints, needs and styles of learning which are required.
In Roberts' opinion, there are four main areas of learning to be considered. These include;
Firstly, events based learning (EBL) is more formalised. It involves sending people on training courses, seminars or workshops, or when in-house training is provided by external trainers. Courses can be long or short in length. In order for EBL to be effective, training providers, course materials, time and often a large budget are required. Whilst being interactive and teaching participants “how to”, problems exist with this type of training, often with regards to contextualising the training. It can be rather generic and post-training is usually required to bring teaching points from the training in line with workplace issues relevant to the participants.
Opportunity based learning (OBL) considers the utilisation of opportunities already existing within the organisation, in terms of coaching resources. This might be mentoring, peer learning, secondments or job swaps for example. Essentially it is internally based. For OBL to be successful, it requires the internal resources to be available, enthusiastic and committed to coaching. It works better in more flexible organisations and is effective in small and large businesses alike.
On the other hand, resource based learning (RBL) incorporates methods such as e-learning and/or the use of videos, papers, text books etc. RBL requires a budget and is usually more common in larger firms. It teaches technical knowledge and requires the provision of training material. Whilst RBL is often perceived as being relatively inexpensive, its actual costs can be misleading. Books and e-learning packages must be updated regularly if they are to incorporate the latest ideas. RBL is flexible in terms of its delivery, but fixed in terms of content.
Finally, learner based learning (LBL) involves learning through doing. It emphasises the importance of employees taking responsibility for their own learning and seeking advice and coaching in areas they feel need improvement. This type of learning often occurs in more dynamic organisations and requires the right environment for it to be truly successful. In flexible organisations LBL can be wonderfully effective, however, in companies where roles are “prescribed”, this type of learning can be more difficult due to inflexibility.
Roberts believes organisations must view all of these options carefully and design personnel development initiatives around what is available, affordable and most importantly, suitable for the business and its staff. This is likely to be a mixture of training/learning initiatives. She says, “The more flexible the organisation and its employees’ roles, the more flexible an organisation can and needs to be in terms of its approach to learning.” As training is not an exact formula, “one size doesn’t fit all”.
Whilst blended learning offers many solutions and encouraging training and development is important, an essential aspect we must not ignore is how organisations receive information in the first instance. For example, smaller businesses often refer to Business Links and accountants. We constantly review these channels as real opportunities to bring training and development into the small business arena. Engagement is the first step, deciding on the combination or blend of learning must follow. An organisation that commits and uses a variety of methods to involve and develop its workforce is more likely to engage, motivate and get the most from its people.
Training and development is key to success in the ever changing and competitive business environment. However, it must be carefully planned, be suitable for the business and be aligned with organisational direction. A combination or blended approach to workplace development usually delivers the best results, though this does depend on the individual organisation, the resources it has available, budget and its learning environment.