The definition of blended learning seems to vary depending on what the vendor is trying to sell you, but Bryan Chapman, host of Training magazine's OnlineLearning Conference and chief learning strategist at Chapman Alliance LLC., says having a substantive blended curriculum means not just having different modalities of delivery, but designing your training to optimize each of those modalities.
At IBM, the learning team decided its employees were spending too much time in the classroom, and that class time is best reserved for mastering higher cognitive skills. Facts and concepts could just as effectively be taught online. They decided the classroom was an opportunity to meet, collaborate, and "do something really special," said Chapman, speaking in a general session of the conference, which runs today and tomorrow at the Digital Sandbox in New York City. Moving the factual portion of their coursework online freed up class time for more valuable uses.
The question, of course, is whether people are capable of learning independently. One participant asked Chapman how organizations can help employees become better independent learners. "The content has to be relevant," he said, pointing out that, in addition to creating an incentive to learn via the relevancy, trainers need to develop a program structure online that works for their audience. He said Generation X and Y workers, in particular, just need this kind of support to set them on their way. "The younger generation likes to be independent in learning," he said. "We just need to give them the structure."
Beyond relevancy, it's essential that e-learning weave into the online components offline practice such as homework assignments and simulations. Those simulations, by the way, Chapman pointed out, don't have to be done online. For some companies, simulations mean emergency drills or on-the-job (OJT) training. He advised attendees to make use of their learning management system's (LMS) OJT capability, which tracks the amount of time your employees practice the skills they learned online on behalf of your company and your customers.
Whatever you do, "do" something, Chapman emphasized. "Don't under-estimate the power of "do," he said.
Another key to e-learning that will work for your executives (and learners and customers, too) is benchmarking it according to the performance of employees rather than evaluations of how much workers liked the program, or even how well they did on assessments. The bottom line is it worked if it helps your workforce do their jobs better.
At SAP, which saw success giving its learners offline homework to do, an approximately 40-hour program was whittled down by about half, after optimizing online learning.
Ameriprise Financial, which embeds "war stories" from experts in the field into e-learning via pre-recorded WebEx mini-seminars, saw significant cost savings without sacrificing course effectiveness. Before optimizing e-learning to conduct training, it's programming cost $4.1 million; after the company's blended learning revamp, that cost decreased to $1.3 million.
The best part? Ameriprise's programming boasts a 95 percent pass rate, which is higher than the pass rate it logged prior to implementing blended learning methodologies.