Previous Article Next Article Havetraining professionals really grasped how to make the most of online teachingopportunities? Sue Weekes investigatesWhen the new wipes out the old, people get very twitchy. And understandablyso. New methods of doing things are usually untested, they turn infrastructuresand thinking upside down and breed insecurities among the custodians of the oldways. And so it was with e-learning, which as we all know now, promisedtrainers and learners the earth, but in many cases delivered the equivalent ofa small corner of the Isle of Wight. But then came blended learning – a less shocking and threatening propositionaltogether. It didn’t wipe out the old completely because it was a combinationof traditional and online learning methods. Vendors whose clients had sent thempacking after e-learning programmes had failed to deliver, had a moreacceptable term to bandy around, training professionals no longer feared theywould be replaced by a computer, and everyone in learner land was happy. Well,not quite. While blended does offer the potential to maximise the benefits ofthe whole gamut of learning methods, its execution and interpretation aresometimes wide of the mark. “Vendors are now punting products that are ‘blended’. People like itbecause it is a conveniently less confrontational model than puree-learning,” says David Wilson, managing director of Elearnity. “Butunderneath this thinking there is often a reality gap – ask most people whatblended is exactly and they’d struggle to tell you. What many don’t realise isthat an integrated learning model also breaks the classroom part into bits.Blended does not mean chopping off the first day of a classroom-based courseand adding a bit of CBT (computer-based training).” Back to basics If we go back to basics and dissect the component parts of a blendedsolution (traditional classroom environments, books and other support material,CD-Rom, online training, telephone training, telephone or video-conferencingand so on), we see most of them have been around for decades – centuries insome cases. Even online methods have been used in training circles for nearly10 years. Had they all been allowed to merge quite naturally, the term blendedmay never have arisen. What did happen is that e-learning just happened tooearly on the evolutionary scale for many people, with providers deliveringtempting bottom line benefits and plausible solutions that made it hard fortraining buyers to refuse. What the ‘blended movement’ gives us is the chanceto get our breath, re-assess, re-think and re-engineer training processes sothat the benefits of each method can be realised and maximised for tomorrow. Re-engineering the traditional part of the blend doesn’t have to involve aradical shift in how things are done. Often it will be a case of merelymodifying an approach to suit the situation. “Maybe you have to breakapart a four-to-five day block of classroom training into one and two-dayblocks,” says Wilson, while Jan Hagen, director of e-learning sales atcontent provider Wide Learning, suggests: “Perhaps instead of following-upan IT course with a classroom-based component, the blended version features asupervisor walking the floor to observe people using the new skills.” In many cases, achieving the right blend starts by questioning whattechnology-based training is good for and what it is not. On occasions, a puree-learning solution will be the most appropriate channel, such as in the caseof just-in-time learning where, for instance, a manager who is about to give anappraisal, can go online and access a 10-minute course on doing so. In the caseof soft skills, the learning generally benefits from a face-to-face component. “E-learning won’t teach you how to be a good interviewer – you need theface-to-face for that – but it will remind you how to do an interview,”says Paul McKelvie, director of learning at Scottish Power. Similarly, when it comes to more academic study, an online environmentcannot be expected to always do it alone. ‘More and more of our corporateeducation work as an ‘e’ element to it,” says Colin Carnall, professor atHenley Management College. “But we find we have to energise the group withsome conventional face-to-face methods for the e-learning to beeffective.” Carnall has been working on an e-learning MBA programme with750 IBM executives. McKelvie believes that all learning has been blended for years and says thetrick is simply to be clear on what technology-driven training can do and whatit can’t. “You need to look at all your options and all the channels and havea clarity about the purpose of the training. There are times we have usedtechnology and times we haven’t – sometimes a single channel is fine. “Where blended has worked best for us is in bespoke material,” hesays. “Health and safety is a good example of this. We used to do it in athree-day course. Then we wrapped some e-learning around it and reduced thetime required by half. Employees now have to sit a course on the intranet firstto ensure they have a certain level of competency before doing the classroompart.” Human interaction Not only does this approach play to technology’s strengths, but it canenhance the face-to-face interaction. It is also indicative of how we can bestuse technology in life and work in general, which is summed up by David Cannon,a research fellow in organisational behaviour at the London School of Business,in the book E-people: “If you use all the technological tools we have,such as answer phones and e-mail to prepare for the interaction and to find outwhat each needs to know, the human interaction is a much richerexperience.” So while it was feared that technology erodes human interaction, usedproperly – and indeed logically – it actually adds value to it. In a similar way, Helen Tiffany, managing director of people management andtraining consultancy Bec Development, believes an informal online channel hasenhanced the service she offers as a trainer. She e-mails an electronic coursefeedback form to students after the training for them to fill in and return. “Becausethey sit down to write a quick note to accompany the form, they often commenton the training in the message as well. In some cases, they are much more openin this and give much more feedback than they do on the form – and certainlymore than they would give if they were filling out the form in front of thetrainer,” she says. But she believes it is far more than just an efficientevaluation tool and, with some learners, the e-mail correspondence hasdeveloped into an ongoing dialogue. “Many report back on how they have applied what they have learned inthe workplace, such as how they are dealing with a difficult individual whothey might have mentioned in the training. Getting real examples like this thenhelps me prepare for the next training session. You didn’t get this level offeedback and continuous dialogue before e-mail.” What Tiffany is describing is a form of blended learning since an onlinechannel is supporting and adding value to the face-to-face training but itcould also develop into full-blown networked learning as the two sides exchangeproblems and solutions. Certainly it demonstrates the value of online forumsand discussion after classroom-based training has taken place. Even if training professionals are starting to get excited about thepotential of combining several channels for learning, the pressure to linkingpeople strategies to an organisation’s bottom line means that they will have tobe able to demonstrate some measure of blended learning’s success. Impact on performance In the bad old days of e-learning, it was easy to show how it could save anorganisation money, but assessing any learning strategy’s impact on employeeperformance and productivity is more difficult. In an attempt to define asuccessful blended e-learning model for both vendors and trainers, ThomsonLearning, parent company of e-learning provider NETg, has conducted a two-yearstudy of 128 employees at all levels and across a range of industries,including aerospace, retail and manufacturing. It found that “a structuredcurriculum” of blended learning would dramatically increase employeeproductivity over single-delivery options. It also found that accuracy orperformance increases 30 per cent and speed of performance by 41 per cent. The research, which began in 1999, focused on one product, Microsoft Excel,and compared the effects of traditional learning and blended approaches inthree different groups of employees. Group 1 received a blended learning coursein Excel, Group 2 received a pure online course in the software and Group 3acted as the control group to benchmark performance with Excel spreadsheets.The groups received post-assessments and conducted real-world tasks with thesoftware. The blended option featured scenario-based exercises aligned withlearning objects, hands-on use of the software by learners, online mentoringand other support materials (the research can be accessed at www.netg.com). Thomson has brought together three of its units – NETg, Wave Technology andCourse Technology – to form the single Thomson Learning business entity, whichit says will directly address corporate blended training needs. We can expectto see more and more companies offering ‘bundled’ blended learning solutions. Premier IT is launching exactly this for Microsoft certification training inthe shape of the MCSE FastClass, which it claims reduces typical training timesby 50 per cent. As well as combining classroom-based and e-learning, it offers the FastClassClub portal, which provides additional support through online tutors, webrecordings, mock exams, white papers and frequently asked questions (FAQs). Itsays that it reduces time spent out of the office from 30 days to 18. There isno doubt more blended approaches will be developed and offered but trainersshould still be aware that blended is still something of a bandwagon. David Wilson believes the push is still from the supply rather than thedemand side, with many companies still feeling bruised from their experienceswith e-learning the first time around. While healthy scepticism is good, itwould be wrong to go into denial over it because, in the long run, blended is acompelling proposition. “We are in for a 10-year transformation period,” says Wilson.”This may seem like a long time, but as has been shown, a gentle evolutionfrequently has the edge on full-blown revolution. Blended in action – in its manyguisesTechnology and training guru Elliot Masie shows there is moreto blended than a computer and a classroom”One of our e-learning consortium members, Michelin, askedif I would conduct a briefing on trends in learning for its senior team. Ichecked my calendar and saw that I was not only in another city that day, butthat I was going to be boarding the plane for a five-hour flight to New York,just as the meeting was to get underway. The answer was a blended model. First,an e-mail went to the participants and asked them to generate a list of issuesthat they would like me to address. Based on these answers, I videotaped a30-minute dialogue, responding to their questions and concerns. They started their meeting by viewing this tape, followed bybreaking into groups and surfacing additional clarifying questions for me. Assoon as I cleared security, I called the meeting room and we had a 35-minuteQ&A from these distilled issues. Following our chat, they proceeded intoother discussions, and are forwarding a list of follow-up questions, which Iwill respond to in a streamed video in the coming days. The result was a multi-method, multi-event blended learningexperience. It was simple and low-cost to produce and was totally flexible toboth of our calendars. And it worked.Reproduced by kind permission of theMasie Centre, www.masie.comDistance project is a successClerical Medical’s first blended learning programme included adetailed feedback process to truly assess the effectiveness of the approach.The programme was developed by Malmesbury-based Waterman’s Training anddelegates’ in-depth reactions to the first presentation skills course revealexactly how the end user rates blended learning.”The expectation at Clerical Medical has always previouslybeen that training is a face-to-face experience so we were pleased to find nonegative response to the distance learning aspect of the programme, or as oneof our attendees put it ‘the distance learning didn’t get in the way’,”says Peter Cornelius, learning resources manager at Clerical Medical. “One hundred per cent of the attendees were completelysatisfied with the course and would recommend it to others, and when wecompared results, we found that the achievement of learning outcomes wasequivalent to that achieved in traditional instructor-led training “We realise that not everyone will respond well todistance learning, it will not suit some people’s learning styles – one of ourdelegates admitted it did not suit his learning style because he found itdifficult to motivate himself to learn alone. But given the overall results, weare now very happy to use the approach in other appropriate areas. “Distance learning does work well in a blended approachand we will reap the benefits in terms of reduced cost and time out of theoffice.” All mixed up by blended learning?On 1 Jun 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.