It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over 15 years since “Blended Learning” was conceptualised and coined. Most people in the world of learning and development are aware of it, and few question its value. So, why is it so difficult to find anyone who actually resembles a “Blended Learning Designer” in the corporate landscape?
As we approach Learning Technologies, where City & Guilds Kineo are talking heavily about the importance of blends in learning, I’ve been asking myself, where are all the blended learning designers?
Does L&D Uphold Conservatism or Progression?
Some organisations push things like virtual classrooms and social learning quite strongly, but even in those organisations everything is still very siloed. Some well-known IT giants still have a tendency to offer sheep dip workshops rather than blended solutions. It feels like the different camps are still having difficulties in working together even though now (compared to the past) they are much more on speaking terms!
This was confirmed in a survey that City & Guilds Kineo conducted with the Oxford Group which showed that only 26% of organisations polled (all of whom were a relatively self-selecting group) had a role specifically designated to something resembling blended learning. A truly representative survey of every organisation in the UK would probably come up with a lower percentage.
The key issue is a lack of general expertise. Experts exist in each area of learning delivery but few seem to be able to cross over into other areas. I seldom find workshop designers writing digital learning content and vice versa. The CG Kineo/Oxford Group survey indicated that 52% have none or very few people in their organisation with the skills and experience to design blended solutions.
When asked what the key challenges faced in developing and implementing blended solutions, over 50% of respondents cited lack of internal expertise to commission or develop blended solutions. This chimes with Towards Maturity’s recent Benchmarking report which showed 49% of L&D professionals rate themselves as skilled in blended learning.
I hope the other 51% aren’t designing your blend at the moment.
As a result there are many instances of programmes that involve a wide range of learning resources, but few genuinely represent seamless blends of offline and online activity. The silos remain in place, prompting a few frustrated by the world order to take quite extreme positions, notably the ‘resources not courses’ lobby - and yes, we’ve been flying that flag longer than most.
A well designed blend should provide both the structure that some learners need, and the flexibility and learner centricity that others require. A set of engaging resources is an exciting and eye-catching option but without a master plan (created by a smart Blended Designer) it can just lead to confusion for some of the target audience. So, the training world really needs some more imaginative thinkers in this space who have the clout and the expertise to transform the way we train our people. How will this happen?
L&D: You Need Some Training...
The obvious starting point lies in greater awareness and training in both blended design and all the other areas of learning delivery that remain a mystery to each learning practitioner. It is not surprising that trainers with years of classroom delivery experience are going to be quite apprehensive incorporating elearning or other forms of learning technology into their solutions. The same applies to elearning designers who have little direct experience of trying to engage a group of people in a workshop.
It is this lack of experience in devising new delivery options that is the real challenge to most people within L&D teams in organisations. I have been very fortunate to have spent enough time in my early working life delivering face-to-face workshops to be comfortable with this medium at the same time as having spent 3 decades in the world of digital learning. I’m in the minority. Blends are often put together – according to the CG Kineo and Oxford Group survey – by face to face trainers (in 48% of organisations) or elearning designers (in 57% of organisations surveyed). Just less than half said they are generalist learning consultants doing the job. So at best you’re getting a half-thought through solution…
It’s hard enough that blended learning is new territory for many trainers, coaches and elearning practitioners. It makes it doubly hard when you get stakeholders who can easily get spooked by the complexity of the solution and the required changes necessary to make a blend effective.
The Vision Thing
One big challenge for all blends is presenting them in a clear and engaging way to internal clients. It’s a big hurdle in getting blended learning adopted.
The mistake many make is presenting aspects of the blend as complex documents that no one will read. Learner journeys portrayed visually will be much more effective at conveying purpose. If you have a highly flexible, learner centric blend, you can present a few journeys to show how different the experience can be according to the choices the learners make.
Not many people who are assigned the role of Blended Learning Designer know what these learner stories should look like, or how to present them in a way stakeholders will understand. Not having good models to follow deters many from presenting their ideas effectively.
We can fix this…
So, a lot of the problems can be put down to the lack of required expertise and tools and templates. It doesn’t take much to rectify this. Blended learning is not as complex as you think. So, if we can do more things together to grow these blended learning skills and provide reasonable and effective models for people to follow, maybe this year the lesser spotted blended learning designer may finally become a common breed.
Blends can be particularly practical when it comes to onboarding and induction programmes. We've put together 5 top tips that show you how to improve your onboarding using blended learning.
A version of this article was originally featured in the December 2014 edition of the Learning and Skills magazine, available at: http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/29c25a23#/29c25a23/78