5 must-do steps for building a winning blended learning strategy

Traditionally a combination of online and face-to-face learning, blended learning is about implementing the learning strategies that deliver the most impact, on a budget, at scale. This is great for a remote and globally spread workforce. But how do you develop and implement a successful, modern, blended learning strategy? Here, we outline 5 must-do steps that will help your learning team make the most of all available learning activities.

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Blended learning isn’t new, but it needs a modern twist to work

Blended learning is not a new term. In its basic form, it means using multiple modes of learning to meet an end outcome. Traditionally, this has meant a combination of online and face-to-face interventions or self-paced, independent learning and synchronous, group learning.

Many turned to blended learning models when elearning became more mainstream (then on CD-Rom) and the costs of face-to-face workshops didn’t seem to stack up. The elearning sandwich emerged, where designers would pull out the theory and introductory content into an elearning module delivered ahead of a workshop, then have a more utilized workshop event, followed by some further elearning or online assessments to help the key points “stick.”

But did this approach to blended learning make the best use of online and face-to-face learning activities? Did it work for all learners? And is it the most successful approach to engage modern workplace learners? We think blends can do a lot better than that.

In this article, we’ve outlined some must-do steps to implement a successful, modern, blended learning strategy.

For details on your wider corporate learning strategy, see our article on how to build a successful digital learning and development strategy guide.

1. Online learning vs. face-to-face learning – be super clear on the power of your modalities

The best blended learning and development strategies tap into the highest value opportunities offered by the different modes of learning, and don’t waste the opportunities presented. So, which mode is best for what? 

Having a clear list of the benefits of online vs. face-to-face learning will help guide your team and strategy. Here are some guidelines.

5 benefits of face-to-face and group learning

  1. Conversational: participants can discuss, share stories, ask questions
  2. Collaborative: participants can work together in real-time on tasks and activities, and learn from one another
  3. Exploratory: participants can try out physical tasks, talk to people in the organization, explore the physical spaces of the organization
  4. Roleplaying: participants can test out conversation, presentation, facilitation and coaching skills with body language at play, and get feedback
  5. Coached: facilitators and experts can guide and coach participants, support them, recap points or push them further as needed 

group learning

It’s worth noting that virtual classrooms, video conferences and online group work also lend themselves to many of the above.

5 benefits of elearning in the workplace

    1. Empowering: opportunity for workplace learning and development is the #1 reason people want to work at an organization. Technology puts learning and development in the hands of your end users and can offer them freedom around how and when they use it.
    2. Measurable/Flexible: with learning analytics available within most modern learning tools, digital learning enables you to track employee engagement with learning, shares, drop-off points, user comments and lots more.
    3. Connected: xAPI learning technologies enable you to connect the dots between all kinds of resources, experiences and activities that make up an individual’s learning journey and guide them from one relevant piece to the next to make learning continuous.
    4. Always available: people learn on the fly, in the moment, on their commute – basically when they can or when they want to. Digital learning is always on and can be delivered in bite-sized pieces that allow it to be used flexibly.
    5. Personalized: modern learning technologies enable you to produce personalized or adaptive learning solutions that target an individual’s role, needs and skills gaps, in their own localized language. 

report learning development strategy example

A personalized report from an online diagnostic

To explore more about the strengths of elearning, take a look at 10 benefits of elearning in the workplace.

2. Review existing face-to-face learning with an extra critical eye

Review a face-to-face workshop you already have in place, critically. With the benefits of group and coached learning in mind, consider:

  • The costs. Add up the travel time, facilitator time, room overheads, materials, productivity down-time.
  • The content. 
    • What is maximizing the group and coach time? (e.g., elements that involve roleplay, group critique, physical practice or exploration, body language, story sharing, in-depth collaboration, experiential or psychological learning approaches).
    • What isn’t making good use of group and coach time? (e.g., learning that’s specific to the individual and their role or context, personal diagnostics and reflection, theory and principles, non-experiential learning).
  • The length. Is it packing in too much? Are you expecting users to take away more than they can realistically think over and apply? Would it be better to focus on one key performance improvement area and make it a truly memorable/changing experience, to get more return?
  • The feedback. What do users say about it? What do they do that’s different after it? What do managers notice differences on the ground? Many users favor face-to-face as they love the social time and focus – but does the learning stick and convert into positive action? (ROI). 

3. Experiment with new blended learning concepts – mix it up

Modern learners seek and expect answers to their questions and problems in the moment. 96% of people turn to their phone in moments of need. But they also expect the answers to be useful, relevant and personalized to them and their context of need, giving digital content just 7 seconds to decide if it’s for them or not. 

The most successful learning strategies are people-centered. They home in on providing:

  • Practical, useful, personalized resources that help people in those moments of need
  • Meaningful experiences that engage hearts and minds and support individuals to make changes in areas that need it, or will add impact to what they do/how much they get out of what they do

So, with your learning design team, test out some alternative blended learning concepts to meet a specific goal and audience needs. This could be reworking the classroom analyzed above or another performance goal that needs attention.

  • Focus in on what the learning activities and resources need to DO (i.e., what will be useful to help people on the job and in moments of need?). What will help people practice and explore or experiment with (new) skills? What will help them grasp what good and great look like?
  • Consider what kinds of activities and resources will help the audience(s) get there – on their own and in groups or pairs. Where does it make the most sense to get people together? Does it make sense to utilize coaches/mentors or managers? What can be done virtually and online? 
  • Play around with some different combinations. Go more digital on one and more face-to-face on another. Where’s a good middle ground? Make some mindmaps to explore different ideas.

Digital learning strategy consolidate

You may find these free design templates useful for this process: 

4. Consider scale, reach and budget for blended learning options

A successful blend works for individual learners, but it also needs to make sound business sense and a solid return on investment. 

Assess the cost per head of different blended options. Remember that blends that support learning over a longer period of time, in shorter, focused interventions, are more likely to bring about performance changes than “one hit wonders.”

Are users remote or globally spread? Physical events are costly, and come with a high carbon footprint when you have to reach lots of remote audiences. Consider how you can utilize digital learning to its max, host an online virtual event for the masses if you need to do one, and then support local action-learning groups, and/or virtual or local coaches to discuss and take learning and sharing forward.

This free training ROI calculator is a helpful tool to use here. 

Don’t feel you have to have a face-to-face element in your blend. Virtual classrooms, online discussions, videos, elearning and webinars are components of modern blends.

5. Assess the skills and tools you have or need in your learning team

For those making their first steps into blended or digital learning, you might need to bring in some new skills and tools into your learning team or outsource to get what you need. 

These handy articles can help guide you:

Final thoughts

As with any design approach, we recommend testing out new blended learning design concepts and tweaking them until you get it right. If you have an existing course, be it face-to-face or online, break it down into smaller chunks and play with the format – even if it’s mixing up how one part is delivered.  See if giving it a blended twist will help drive greater user engagement and impact.

The key benefit of combining thought out digital and face-to-face approaches is a blend’s ability to reach wider audiences across more timezones, and deliver more personalized, focused and bite-sized learning experiences. 

Use blend design thinking to force yourself to consider the cost, scale and reach of your strategies, and break away from longer learning courses to needs-based interventions, experiences and resources.

We can help you do it!

Want to introduce blended learning into your digital learning? Download the step-by-step guide to developing a modern digital learning strategy to deliver real business impact.

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