The Art of Blended Learning Design: 7 Key Steps

Last year we talked a lot about what makes a good blend, and finished the year with our Learning Insights Report which showed an increased need for blends within organisations. So if you've started thinking of designing a blended programme, we wanted to provide you with some helpful tips on how to get started.

Developing a blend can be a little overwhelming. You could have many stakeholders involved, all of whom have a strong sense of what should be included. It may not be long before you find yourself stuck with a legacy of training and policy documents thinking, “Where do I start?”

Here, we help you get started as we guide you through the blended design fog in seven simple steps.

1.    Find Your Inner Architect

Before you start to design any blended programme, you have to understand some key elements which will help you define a blend that not only meets the learner’s objectives, but also meets the overall business objectives. You must think carefully about the way in which you deliver the learning, and whether or not it is right for your audience type, the way they learn, your organisational culture and even the working environment of the learner.

That’s a lot to consider. So here are some questions you should be asking your audience or stakeholder group:

  • What business objective does this learning intervention need to meet, and why?
  • What is the level of competency you are expecting from a learner that has completed this blended programme?
  • What are the learning objectives?
  • Who are your audience?
  • What type of learner will be attending this programme? Activist, Reflector etc.?
  • What are the working patterns of this audience and how might this affect the delivery of the blended programme?
  • What access to technology do this audience have?
  • What supporting learning technology is available?
  • What is the role of the assessment in this programme?
  • Does it need to be measured against the investment or business objectives?
  • What learning initiatives have worked well in the past, and what approaches have not historically been successful with this audience?

On this point there's one strong analogy that’s worth bearing in mind: Implementing a blend without a well-considered design is like building a house without the design mapped out by an architect. It's inherently flawed.

2.    Become the Hunter/Gatherer

Before you can start to design the content for your blended programme, it’s important to gather, gauge and understand the expectations of the stakeholders and learners. From there, you can evaluate existing material and look at non-learning related documentation that could potentially be the basis of the learning content.

A new programme is not always about reinventing the wheel. It can be more about improving what already exists; breaking the content down differently across the programme or using it as a launch pad for new concepts.

3.    Put On Your Facilitator Hat (To Nail the Design)

Some blends can have large numbers of stakeholders involved; so you need to bring them together for workshops that will enable you to:

  • Address each of the questions above to clarify that you have the full picture
  • Agree the topics that people believe should be included in the blend, and identify the ideal delivery format for each – elearning, coaching, a document, video or workplace learning
  • Work out the expected learner time for each of the deliver components

4.    Go On a Journey

You should consider all of the above and then check them against the profile of your learners. If they are reflective types, they will need some reading up front with forums or access to people they can contact, once they have reflected on the points of the learning. Your theorist will need plenty of upfront learning prior to any face-to-face, and will generally be a lot more private about their learning approach. Your pragmatist will be a hybrid of the theorist and activist, needing access to plenty of upfront learning.

So, how do you adjust for each learner type?

  • Consider your learner personas and map your learning objectives against a journey that works best for each one
  • Be open to the fact that you may need to go beyond your original ideas of how to deliver your learning, particularly if is not right for the persona of the learner
  • Consider your 70 (on the job) 20 (coaching) 10 (formal) balance – This is not a hard and fast rule but can be used as a guideline to getting the right balance
  • Think about the role of assessment and evaluation as part of this learning programme – is assessment formal or informal, and what exactly is it measuring? Make sure you are not just measuring the easiest things to measure!

5.    Get Viral (…and Talk About It)

It can be a common mistake to believe that if your learning is engaging, learners will use it on their own volition. Some programmes fail, not because of the learning design, but because of the lack of communication and excitement generated around the benefits of attending the programme.

Consider implementing a campaign of communication that could include key learning points to generate intrigue and excitement, whilst subtly influencing behaviour and triggering change. If it’s a compliance blend, you may even have to do a bit of myth busting.

6.    Reflect and Measure

Once you have an initial blend, take a moment to reflect on how you will measure the learning that takes place. Reflect on these:

  • Who needs to see the design at the beginning - who should ‘sign it off’?
  • Do you have a reasonable business case identified for this learning initiative?
  • How realistic is this solution to design and deliver?
  • Do the original business and learning objectives in your analysis still hold true? Do you need to add more or amend the existing ones?
  • Build in the constant challenge “How will I know it has met its learning objectives?”
  • Measure right from the start of implementation – how is it doing, could it be improved?
  • How can you build in ways of checking that learners have met those objectives?
  • When should you evaluate individual learner knowledge (for example, immediately after the experience or sometime after?)
  • At the end, ask yourself “Do the benefits of the proposed approach outweigh the costs and challenges of implementing the solution?”

Measurement is something that needs to be considered from the beginning so that you have all the matrices and mechanisms in place to measure the success of the programme for the business and for the learners. You need to identify whether or not you need to measure the audience in sections, or measure them ahead of the learning - for the purposes of comparison.

Reflection is something that never ends. The workplace is a forever changing environment and so it is important to note that your learning must also change to reflect this; it is never a static product but a dynamic one. You also have to accept the fact that you do not always get it right first time, and the measurements put in place as part of the programme will help you to identify where the programme is not working. It’s good to hear bad news sometimes!

7.    Document, Document, Document 

You will need a good document trail of what happened during the design stage. Here are some main areas of focus that your design effort should have un-earthed:

  • Business requirements (summary of what was learnt from the analysis stage)
  • Overall goals of the learning intervention (related to business and learner needs revealed during the analysis stage)
  • Definition of target audience (including a breakdown of the Personas identified during the analysis stage)
  • Learning objectives (these should have been defined at the analysis stage and should be related to each learning requirement, showing linkages to the business and learner needs)
  • Overview of the proposed learning solution (related to the learning objectives and suitability to the target audience)
  • Description of the overall learning approach and content outline (to check that the design concepts are cohesive and complete. It makes it easier to spot areas that have unresolved questions or needs additional information)
  • Proposed learning sequence (to ensure each activity will have a definite purpose)
  • Explanation of the learning delivery methods (cross referenced to the learning objectives)
  • Description of the learning process (what the learners will do from start to end, possibly in terms of the 70:20:10 model)
  • Schedule and plan (this could be a tentative project plan for all the different blended workstreams to give stakeholders an indication of project duration)

So, there we go - seven steps to blended design heaven.

We hope this gave you some insights into the foundations of blended design. If you're keen to start blending now, we have a free guide on 'Designing Blended Learning' that you might find useful. 

Download Designing Blended Learning Guide


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