Five Steps to Planning a Successful Blended Learning Strategy

Illustration showing symbols for several modes of training linked by dotted lines and arrows.
March 10, 2020
7 minutes
Illustration showing symbols for several modes of training linked by dotted lines and arrows.

Companies have long relied on the instructor-led format for training their employees.

However, as time has marched on, organizations face many problems using this delivery method, such as:

  • logistical issues
  • high cost of loss productivity
  • high cost of loss productivity
  • inability to connect learning back in the workplace
  • the inability to provide learning reinforcement

And the list continues.

As learning professionals, it’s time to adapt learning delivery methods to incorporate a blended learning strategy.

The advent of the digital age has provided us with a wealth of resources to support and update our methodology to focus more on blended learning opportunities.

Blended Learning Defined

In short, blended learning is any formal training/development program in which a person learns in part using technology, with some element of control over time, place, path, and/or pace.  

To understand blended learning’s potential, it’s important to comprehend that blended learning is a hybrid approach of applying learning strategies that utilize both live and web-based learning methodologies.

Keeping in mind that while training departments are using computers to support online training like eLearning, they haven’t generally made full use of the available technology to provide their workforce with a true “blend” of instruction that gives people some element of control over their learning.

However, be warned: A blended solution is not achieved simply because you have thrown multiple technical approaches into the curriculum. People tend to think they created a blended learning solution because participants are completing pre/post work online or reading an online article or watching a video. That’s not a blend, it’s a technical hodgepodge.

With this in mind, let’s discuss the five steps to planning your successful blended learning strategy.

Step 1: Define Your Blended Learning Strategy

There are many things to consider when transforming from a 100% instructor-led environment to a blended learning solution.

First and foremost, the learning function must be viewed as a business partner that understands what the organization is trying to accomplish. Does the strategy demonstrate a connection between business goals/key performance indicators (KPIs) and learning outcomes?

There are other factors to consider when implementing a blended learning strategy:

  1. Peer and management support for self-directed learning
  2. Budgetary conditions
  3. Will your blended learning adopt a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach?
  4. Technology gap between participants
  5. Is new technology or software needed and how will that technology be used and maintained?
  6. How to support momentum and keep self-motivation high
  7. The expansion of key training roles such as technology management and revised facilitator roles

Step 2: Clarify Appropriate Delivery

Once the learning outcomes have been aligned with business goals, it’s time to consider the appropriate delivery method. Here are four different types of blended learning delivery methods you can use.

But first, a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Will the program be synchronous or asynchronous in delivery?
  2. Will the participants travel through the learning journey in groups or individually?
  3. Where will discussions, feedback and lessons be hosted?
  4. Who will manage the program’s progress and updates?

Keep in mind your delivery method may not be just one, but a combination of the methods below.

  1. Blended Rotation: Participants rotate through different modes of learning (in both a synchronous and asynchronous fashion). At least one of them is digital in nature, supported by resources to achieve a learning outcome. This may include incorporating a flipped classroom.
  2. Project-Based: Teams of participants can meet in person and/or virtually, at a time and place convenient to them to complete their assigned project. The project goals align with curriculum learning outcomes.
  3. Self-Directed: Participants complete their learning entirely online with an online instructor, moving asynchronously through program curriculum.
  4. Enriched Virtual: Students receive one-on-one (or one with few) sessions with their instructor. They are then free to complete the rest of the curriculum online independently. The sessions are held entirely in real-time but can (and should) be recorded for future use.

Step 3: Determine Learning Modalities

Once you have determined the best delivery method to support the curriculum, you must now consider the variety of methods you can use to bring your blend to life. Be creative to encourage engagement and ensure chosen modalities help move learning lessons forward. Using these tools, you can take participant engagement and learning to new levels.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Elearning authoring tools: Can help create simple information-based content through to scenarios and simulations, all trackable in an LMS
  • Knowledge Sharing Tools: Wiki builders, project management tools
  • Collaboration Tools: Areas to have continuous conversations and share
  • Polling or Survey Tools: Use for projects to gather information, create challenge games or quick knowledge checks
  • Assessment Tools: Develop knowledge checks and self-study tools
  • Document Collaboration Tools: Allow project teams, or facilitator/participant collaboration
  • Virtual Conferencing Tools: Allow participants to communication in groups, or to host virtual online sessions

Step 4: Building Engagement

Many blended learning initiatives are focused on “delivering the course” to participants, as opposed to engaging participants during the learning journey.

As a result:

  • Participants do not proactively review or study online materials until they meet in person with the trainer or with peer groups.
  • Participants get bored and do the minimum required without connecting the lessons with outcomes.
  • Many programs fail to provide the “personal touch” and are impersonal with no or little opportunity offered to engage with peer groups which results in disengagement.

The issue at hand is that most asynchronous courses (and even synchronous ones) include only limited facilitator interaction. This results in people getting impatient or losing focus while participating in lessons – especially when facing text-heavy content or watching a series of explainer videos.

Step 5: Plan for Live Virtual Connections

A good blended learning program can be designed to deliver training entirely through distance learning approaches. However, to provide much-needed engagement between participant and facilitator, a component of live virtual training should be considered.

Unfortunately, facilitators sometimes forget that adult learning principles still need to be the backbone of their sessions.

Even though people are participating at a distance, they still need to be involved in the learning and with each other.

What you can do to create an engaging virtual session:

  1. Plan pre-session engagement: For people who tune in early, have exercises, polls, and word puzzles programmed on a loop. These will help then prepare for the content to follow.
  2. Involve participants from the beginning: Involve the participants early and often. The host is competing for attention with everything else going on around the participants and on their screen.  Simple techniques help the engagement: Use the chat feature, break-out rooms, Share whiteboards, polls, challenge games.
  3. Make participation in such sessions mandatory: Use session for “Ask Me Anything” purposes. Ensure the content isn’t just about a new lesson, but about group feedback and peer review exercises.

Offering the Best of Both Worlds

The biggest benefit of implementing a blended learning strategy for your organization is allowing people to learn at their own pace and have the support they need when required. Choosing the right delivery model and modalities will help shake up the status-quo of training monotony.

Face-to-face interactions (virtual or live) coupled with online study such as eLearning courses optimize the unique benefits of a blended learning approach; the partnership of the real and digital world allows your people to plan their learning and develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Creating a blended learning experience will activate your creative problem-solving brain cells. Once you embrace this, it’ll open many new and even fun unique training solutions creating a win-win for the people and the organization.

dominKnow | ONE can help you create that win-win, since it can help you create so many different types of learning content beyond just SCORM courses hosted in the LMS. You can use it to create stand-alone infographics, job aids, searchable knowledge bases and more, all of which can be incorporated into a a blended learning program.

Want to learn more? Try dominKNow | ONE out for yourself by signing up for a free trial.

About Shannon Tipton

As owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton knows what it takes for businesses to get real results from their training departments.  Having spent over 20 years developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures, Shannon has helped businesses to realize their full potential.

Working throughout North America, Europe and Korea, Shannon has demonstrated an unrelenting passion for enabling businesses to achieve measurable results.  Shannon gets ridiculously excited to help organizations integrate learning technologies and microlearning solutions making businesses and their people achieve success. Learn more about what Shannon can bring to your organization by visiting LearningRebels.com