With access to the world’s information, industry experts, and instant connection to professionals inside our organisations and around the world, learning can happen continuously, on-demand and in the moments that are most important to us. For these reasons, it’s important to reframe what blended learning today means. No longer does it mean supplementing formal learning events with additional materials, before and after a programme. The whole thing has been flipped and our role, as L&D and the purveyors of formal learning, has become supplementary. So how do we refocus? And how do we add value when our interventions are now periphery experiences in the context of employee development and performance?
Here are 5 things we can do to refocus blended learning today in more useful ways:
- Focus on performance outcomes not learning outcomes: Employees are working. They’re trying to get the right things done and, for a lot of them, they’re trying to get on and improve their prospects. When we recognise the specifics of their situation – their motivations, their jobs, and what it actually takes for them to get on – we can help them to achieve all of that. When we focus on learning outcomes we seek engagement in our ‘solutions’ – and our measures (engagement, attendance, completion and satisfaction) justify ourselves (L&D) more than help people and build actual capability. It’s harder to focus on performance outcomes and it’s more difficult to scale than cookie-cutter solutions for all. But if we’ve learned one thing over the years it’s that grand-scale silver bullets do not work. To blend meaningfully into the working lives of of the people we support we have to be specific about what we’re helping them to do better in their jobs.
- Spend time understanding ‘user-journeys’: Once we know what we want to achieve, we need to understand what any distinct group of employees are doing. Focusing on this, and where they’re finding challenges, will help us to tailor our support to address real friction points. When we don’t do this, we create programmes full of assumptions and deliver vast amounts of largely irrelevant content hoping that some of it will stick – and perhaps make a difference. But now, workers have so many more resources at their fingertips and we have to stop assuming they know nothing and need building up from scratch. Focusing on user-journeys with them (stepping into their shoes, experiencing what they do and where they need support) can help to focus our time, energy and money on the things that will really help them – in the context of their job and their career. If what we offer doesn’t help with these it’s not worth offering.
- Be where employees are: On the user-journey, you’ll learn about the work, the challenges, the stakeholders, and logistics associated with all of these. Like a quick Google search or a call to a colleague, the very best support will be instantly accessible or anticipated. Work today is experienced as a mix of physical and digital – and on-demand support can be also. On-demand resources that address specific challenges, situations and challenges, complimented by group conversations (again, around specific situations and challenges) can support employees through periods of change, uncertainty, difficulty and growth. By knowing what people need, want and value there is not only less risk associated with missing the mark but a far greater chance of achieving real meaningful results.
- Provide courses when they are absolutely needed (not as the default solution): This is going to be the hardest part for many L&D professionals whose stock-in-trade is course development and delivery. But if you have a clear performance outcome, you’ve mapped user-journeys and you know where they are, the first port of call can be as simple as a peer-group conversation to facilitate meaningful connections and engage in contextually relevant dialogue. Follow this up with digital, on-demand support – scaling local expertise in relation to real challenges – and keep employees where the real learning happens: on the job. Taking them away from both the work context and the optimum learning context will require them experiencing something that can only be done somewhere else. It’s been recognised that what we’ve believed about knowledge transfer is largely a myth and content delivery in L&D is fatally flawed, but there is still huge value in getting people together to do stuff that we know adds value: conversations with peers, accurate simulations that relate to the work, and real practice.
- Iterate, scale and move on: Once you’ve got a minimum valuable solution up and running (conversations and resources) and you’re collecting data on how it is affecting the work, you can easily scale what is working by providing greater access. Iterate approaches for related groups and keep on listening for feedback on usefulness. Your first initiative can then tick over as you approach the next. What you’re doing with this approach isn’t ‘new and novel’ and not technology-driven it’s what your people need to achieve better results today and prepare them for future roles.
The refocus from blended learning as supporting formal face-to-face events, to the complete inversion of that, is the single biggest shift to make. It requires us to relinquish our illusion of control and focus on employees and the real situations they face – coupled with their motivations. We should help them with what they want to do and ensure they are concerned enough about what the organisation needs them to do. There is no need to recreate what exists elsewhere or provide content or courses for problems we only assume are holding them back.
Blended Learning Today Isn’t About Content and Programmes, It’s About Results
And there is plenty for us to do. With so much talk of skills gaps and productivity gaps affecting organisations and entire economies, the need for L&D could not be more keen.
Some of you will be reading this to find out how to improve the blend on existing programmes you run. So can you blend, in this way, when you already have the courses? It’s highly unlikely. A lot of L&D programmes exist because there was a gap in that provision. There was no Presentation Skills course, so you got one. It’s content-first and employees will attend to try and find relatable experiences to their situation – and some will leave without that.
Blended learning today has moved on and requires us all to refocus. I hope the 5 steps outlined above will help you to do just that.
David James is Digital Learning Strategist with Looop and was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region until 2014.
Now an authority in contemporary L&D practices, David works with businesses, globally, to develop and implement social, agile and digital learning strategies that make learning work, with Looop.
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