Information is the currency of today. Until recently, the more information a business had, the better their chances to rise above everyone else and advance in the profitable part of the market. But "the more, the merrier" soon led to data overwhelming. It's no use now having a big library packed full with interesting books. One needs to know exactly what book to choose from which shelf and what page to turn to, as fast as possible.
So profitable businesses are the ones that manage information fast. In order to achieve this, they need a reliable system that gathers all information and delivers the pieces that are needed the most at specific times. From the CEO and top management, to the last employee, intern and even the doorman, people are counting on updated information being readily available in order to do their jobs. L&D professionals everywhere have a phrase for this: just-in-time learning.
Companies, and their L&D departments, are faced with finding ways to deliver just-in-time learning to all members of their organization without losing the balance between learners' needs and organizational training needs. They need to integrate a variety of means and tools to cater to the modern learner, while increasing ROI and cost efficiency.
With so many options available, no wonder it's hard to choose just one or two tactics. In fact, if we go with the saying "Don't put all your eggs in one basket", the best strategy is to adopt a mixture of training solutions. L&D professionals everywhere have a phrase for this too: blended learning.
Blended learning is all about choice and personalization. Modern employees embrace technology, value on-the-job experiences, interact with each other in the workplace, and they want relevant training and flexible schedules. By giving learners more control, a blended learning strategy can pave the way to business success.
What exactly should be blended? At least the following...
Blend the access to learning
Employees are pretty busy. No matter if they work in healthcare, building and construction, agriculture, roads and infrastructure, or in any knowledge-based industry, they are busy doing what they were hired to do in the first place. Learning rarely is their most important task of the day. So they usually postpone it and sometimes leave it for lunch breaks, evenings, weekends, or use the time of business travels.
Most of them will access training materials by using their desktop computers or business laptops. But a growing number of people find themselves on the go and could use their mobile devices (especially tablets) to access learning anytime, anywhere. For those who need to use both their hands while learning - for example, how to manipulate some hardware equipment without compromising it - AR technology can come in handy.
Blend the learning materials
No matter the device employees use to access training, each and every one of them will have a preference over the type of learning materials. Some enjoy videos, due to the movement and the human touch; others may want to listen to audio files while driving to or from work. If we consider text, some will want brief explanations (no wonder Twitter got so famous), others will need in-depth information so they can take notes, others will prefer stories, others will want a very clear structure, with chapters, lists, pictures, graphics, and so on.
All these types of learning materials and resources can be gathered in the same central repository, to which everyone has access. What's more, besides this central repository, employees can find forums and specific online chat rooms where they can take part in an online discussion, share their problems and their knowledge.
Blend online with offline
This is probably the most important blend of them all. E-learning comes with a lot of formal and informal learning techniques and can have great results in a company's L&D strategy, but e-learning alone can't bear all the weight. It must be linked with face-to-face learning methods such as coaching and mentoring.
Some skills, like negotiation, are hard to be taught — and learned — online, since non-verbal communication plays an incredibly important role.
Technology has come a long way, and can support more human interaction than ever before. Skype group calls, Google Hangouts, live webinars or telepresence robots do their job really well in connecting people that work from different parts of the world. But neither of them can bring the same energy in a room like humans do.
Face-to-face learning will never be completely replaced by e-learning, because people need human interaction: teacher to learner, learner to teacher, learner to learner. Business contracts are rarely signed before any face-to-face meetings. People tend to do business this way.
The future of blended learning in business training is about combining the best of online and face-to-face teaching. Virtual solutions can bring people together to solve various business problems.
Over to you: What other types of blends should companies consider for delivering the most efficient learning experiences?