How to build a blended learning programme with buy-in
Whether you’re at the start of your blended learning journey or hitting a few stumbling blocks in a project already underway, the tips and suggestions below will help ensure your programme is of value to both your learners and your organisation.
Blended programmes have been running at the University of Southampton’s Student Union (SUSU) for two years now and we are excited to see they are embedding well and changing the way in which we learn across the organisation.
Running blended learning programmes has allowed us to harness the way we all learn in the work context – from a Google search to an article or video, to an opportunity to talk through practices and experiences with colleagues, to setting a plan for future work.
The end results have been impactful – that being said, there were many bumps along the road requiring reflection, evaluation and re-direction, and the learning curve has been considerable.
To better equip those who are about to embark on creating or refreshing their blended learning offering, I’ve outlined below some of the key touchpoints to consider...
Plan, plan, plan
Carving out time at the start of your project to create a robust plan for your blended learning initiative is imperative to setting yourself up for success. When in the planning stages, many key considerations need to be made.
Establish the purpose and expected performance-based outcomes of the programme. As per Stephen Covey’s advice for life goals, it is crucial to ‘start with the end in mind’. This is also invaluable in determining how to measure the success of the programme.
Consider your learners as the end users/consumers of the development programme and establish what learning opportunities should be included in the blended programme (e.g. face-to-face sessions, online learning, coaching/mentoring, action learning sets.)
Decide on how to package all the elements of the blend into a single programme, give it an identity/brand and clearly communicate to the selected group or the entire organisation.
Establish how the elements of the blend will be delivered based on the in-house expertise, and source external expertise where necessary within the constraints of the budget.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you start putting a blended learning programme together:
What is the purpose of the programme? What are you trying to achieve with it? What outcomes do you expect?
Who will the programme involve? What blended solutions will be most appropriate for them?
How will the success be measured, how will you know that the outcomes will be achieved?
How will it be branded?
Will the programme be delivered completely in-house or will there be externally sourced elements?
What budget is available for the blended programme and what can be afforded within the budget?
Time for design
Ahead of designing your programme, make time for conversations with your learners to help identify their needs and ensure that the content incorporated into the programme will be relevant and helpful with addressing any specific needs or skills gaps.
Preparing all elements of the blend takes time – curation is a mammoth task, sessions will need to complement other content, good coaching questions will require careful consideration and creating your brand and communications strategy will be a lengthy process.
To ensure you do not unnecessarily rush through tasks that require thought and discussion, create a project plan and timeline with careful estimates of how long it will take to put each element together.
Make sure you stress the importance of engaging with ALL elements of the programme by highlighting the benefits they bring to development.
Pre-launch: build the hype
If blended programmes are a novel approach in your organisation, there is likely to be limited knowledge of how they work in practice and how all parts will come together – buy-in may also be limited.
Involve line managers early on to help manage their expectations and garner their support.
When you’re soon ready to launch the programme, have an initial session with learners and line managers explaining how the programme works, asking learners to allocate time in the next x number of weeks for the programme and ensuring line managers are on board with encouraging the learning of their direct reports.
Present the experience as a journey, explicitly spelling out all the elements that will be involved as part of the programme and beyond.
By doing all of this ahead of launch, your learners will understand what is expected from them and (hopefully) work within a set framework when the programme begins. That being said, you must still be prepared for deviations.
Keep learners engaged
Achieving high adoption and engagement levels of your new learning programme is no easy feat, particularly with regard to self-directed learning elements such as online learning, reflection exercises and follow-up conversations with line managers. Make sure you stress the importance of engaging with ALL elements of the programme by highlighting the benefits they bring to development.
Communication is key. Try not to over-bombard learners with messages, but do keep it top of mind – a weekly email to both participants and line managers works well.
How you brand the programme is also important – come up with a catchy name and deliver communications that are consistent in their appearance so they are immediately identifiable.
When planning the programme, ensure that you have ways of measuring a range of metrics that will help you to capture the impact.
Quality of content and delivery is paramount too. Individuals will be kept engaged if they see the value in the content they are presented with. Pitch it right to the level of your participants, including current examples, theories and practices – remember that people love to hear and relate to stories so share any personal examples too.
Include immediate opportunities for learners to reflect on how their learning can be applied to their work (e.g. reflections within the session and follow-up coaching sessions).
Keep line managers informed of their direct reports’ progress via e-mail or conversation so that they have a high level of understanding of what is being learned and can assess if it’s being applied.
Encourage collaborative learning and knowledge sharing by creating a social element to your programme. Create a community for sharing and communicating among learners who are completing the programme on a platform and in a format that is engaging and familiar for the participants.
When planning the programme, ensure that you have ways of measuring a range of metrics that will help you to capture the impact (increased knowledge/skill, change of behaviour/adoption of new practices) as well as satisfaction to ensure the blend, delivery and content were relevant and of high quality.
Devise a pre-programme questionnaire to capture participants’ goals for the programme, a reflection on their current level of skill/knowledge/mindset and the anticipated applications.
Devise a post-programme reflection to capture the achievement of participants’ goals, a reflection on their new level of skill/knowledge/mindset and intentions for further implementation beyond the programme.
Don’t be alarmed if some of the indicators are lower following the programme as it is usually reflective of the increased awareness of the complexity or expectation in the given area. However, be mindful of when no change is noted consistently by many participants.
Involve participants’ line managers from the start when making observations of their growth. Also provide line managers with a regular summary of the learning content to provide a basis for their 1:1 conversations.
Arrange individual or group reflection or coaching sessions between 6-12 weeks following the programme to explore changes in practise, successes and intentions for future implementation of what was captured.
For us, personal or line manager accounts of project/event/campaign successes (quantitative or qualitative) or goal fulfillment is the best indicator of the Return on Expectation for a blended programme.
With so many diverse elements involved in blended learning, designing and rolling out a successful programme can be a challenging task. If there are only six things that you take from this article ahead of embarking on your new blended learning journey, they should be:
Establish what the programme is meant to achieve
Establish the best blend that will work in your organisation
Gain buy-in among participants and their line managers
Maintain high quality across all elements of the programme
Think like a marketer when it comes to communications and branding
Be enthusiastic and passionate about what you do
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Margarita is a People Development Manager at SUSU (Univeristy of Southampton Students' Union), a small charity with up to 450 members of staff and £7 million + turnover. I have been in L&D for five years and English language teaching for 10 years prior to that. I am fortunate to have worked in a range of organisations in Canada, Russia and...