Making It Happen: ILT to Blended Learning
Every day, more and more L&D organizations are deciding to transition their instructor-led training (ILT) programs to more blended solutions. The transition is easier said than done. A key is to keep the learners' needs and desired learning results as the primary drivers of change, and use them as a guide to transforming the program.
Why? Here are just a few reasons:
- The high costs involved with delivering traditional classroom training (travel, accommodations, etc.) have organizations rethinking their standard approach.
- The needs of a rapidly changing workforce must be addressed with more on-demand solutions.
- Employee productivity is essential, so training must be flexible enough to fit workloads and schedules.
Factors to Consider
The decision to move from ILT to blended solutions should be made carefully after considering many factors such as:
- Learners' abilities and acceptance of new learning methods.
- The organization's readiness for the transition.
- The trainers' skills for implementing a blended solution.
- The cost of implementing new solutions.
- Change management and the most effective steps to implement the solution.
This article focuses on how to evolve training materials after all stakeholders buy in to the decision. And this transition is easier said than done. It involves much more than just loading PowerPoint slides into an eLearning authoring tool, adding some audio narration and calling it a day. If you're faced with this challenge, how can you ensure that the blended training is engaging, instructionally sound, effective and flexible enough to meet your organization's needs? A key is to keep the learners' needs and desired learning results as the primary drivers of change, and use them as a guide to transforming the program.
With that in mind, you can follow this process:
Take a fresh look at the existing ILT program to determine what works and what doesn't, what's important and what's extraneous or outdated.
Pare down the ILT program to the key points by eliminating the "fluff".
Group learning objectives and content into meaningful, seamless units.
Question the pared down elements of the ILT to determine how their effectiveness can be matched or improved in different delivery mediums.
Then, and only then, reformat the ILT into new blended solutions using the most effective learning strategies and technologies.
Let's look at each of these steps in more detail. The first step to transitioning your existing program is to check out the existing ILT with a thorough needs assessment. Your goal is to re-analyze the learners, learning objectives and business needs to ensure they are still valid today and will be valid in the foreseeable future.
To assess the learners who will be taking the training, analyze the following attributes:
|Job titles, roles and challenges||This will help you determine the learners' needs on the job and how the training can support them. More than likely, the existing ILT takes this into consideration, but before transitioning it to a blended solution, make sure you have a crystal clear vision of their responsibilities, challenges and drivers for success.
|Work locations||Make sure you understand the environment in which the learners work. The training, in whatever mode you deliver it, should adapt to the environment. For example, employees who work in offices or cubicles have a broader spectrum of training opportunities than employees in manufacturing plants or on the road. Make sure that the training you offer learners can be completed successfully in their environment or in a more conducive location near their environment.
|Number to be trained and training timeframe||Will the training be released to the entire company or a focused group with specific job responsibilities? Will the training be completed in a short timeframe or over a few months? Your answers to these questions will help you determine the best way to deliver the training to learners.
|Learners' interest in the subject matter||Keeping learners engaged during the training process is vital for knowledge transfer and retention. If the subject matter is dry or boring, consider ways to make it more engaging or interesting. You can include role plays, games, case studies and other activities to immerse learners in the material. Look at how this is done in the current ILT and start thinking about how you can create these opportunities in the blended solution.
To assess the learning objectives and business needs: Ask yourself the following questions:
"Do the current learning objectives reflect the most important needs of the business and the learners?" When answering this question, you can rank the existing learning objectives on a scale from 'essential/appropriate' to 'unimportant/outdated'. You might discover new learning objectives to address during this process, so rank them too. This ranking will help you determine what to toss, what to keep, what to add and what to make optional in the new blended solution.
"What exactly do we want our audience to know (knowledge), do (skill) and feel (attitude) as a result of the training?" The type of learning to be attained should drive they way in which learners get trained. For example, if the information learners need to attain is knowledge based, they can be presented with the information, but they also need multiple opportunities to assess their understanding and get support when they need it. For information that's skill driven, it's important to give learners opportunities to practice the skills and related decision-making with hands-on activities and immediate feedback. If you want learners to change their attitude as a result of the training, they need a collaborative, risk free environment where they can share their thoughts and feelings with others before, during and after the training. Along with the learning objectives matrix, you can indicate what type of learning each objective reflects. This will help you chunk learning into appropriate delivery modes later in the process.
As with any needs assessment, invite key stakeholders to help with the assessment. Business leaders, managers, subject matter experts, facilitators, employees who have taken the training and employees who would benefit from the training can provide very valuable input.
With your needs assessment complete, you have a great foundation for restructuring your training. Now it's time to get rid of the clutter. Go through the ILT materials and match the content to the learning objectives. Ask yourself "For the audience to accomplish this objective, what exactly do we need to cover?" Then, refer to your needs assessment ranking matrix and delete any unimportant/outdated content from the participant guide, facilitator guide, slide presentations and other materials. Keep the essential/appropriate content. What about all the content that ranked somewhere in the middle? You can choose to:
- Keep it so it can be repurposed as supplemental or optional training.
- Archive it in another format for historical reference.
Remember, though, you do need to provide contextual information to support effective learning, so be sure to keep introductions, transitions from topic to topic and conclusions.
Now that you've cut the extraneous information, think about how you can group the remaining content into the smallest possible learning chunks. How small should the chunks be? Cognitive load theory states that a learner's short-term memory can store a very limited amount of new information (5-9 bits) at a time, and the more technical the information, the shorter it will stay there. Chunking when you create the blended solutions will help you present small pieces of content that learners can quickly digest and move to more permanent memory.
Here's a good rule of thumb: See if you can break training down so each chunk would take no more than 10 minutes to complete, despite the delivery mode. Otherwise, your chunk may be too large to be digested.
How do you determine the types of chunks to create? You could chunk the information based on each learning objective, so each objective has its own chunk. You may also choose to chunk based on steps in a process, patterns of similar information or another organizational structure. The chunking technique really depends on the content.
To optimize the flow of information as you piece together the learning chunks, try to include these methods in each grouping:
- Introduce the topic.
- Provide an overview that links the topic to previous learning and helps form a big picture in the learner's mind.
- Allow the learner to acquire the new information.
- Let the learner see the new information demonstrated.
- Let the learner practice applying the new information, assessing progress.
- Provide feedback on the learner's progress.
- Review the key concepts.
- Close the learning and transition to the next topic.
After you create your initial chunks, you can put them in multiple groups based on content. You can also determine the sequence that these chunks/groups should be learned, so knowledge builds and is linked to previous knowledge as the learner completes the training.
To continue the process, you should now look at the existing chunks of information and determine the best way to help learners attain and retain the knowledge. The beauty of blended learning is that it allows you to combine the right elements at the right time and in the right way to create optimal learning opportunities. There isn't a secret formula to help you create this combination and flow; it's all based on the learners' needs and the other attributes you assessed.
A great way to start this part of the process is to watch the existing ILT in progress and evaluate how your learning chunks are being presented and practiced in the class. As you watch the instruction, ask yourself the following questions:
- When will the content raise questions, and how can learners get the feedback they need?
- How does the facilitator add value, and how can that be integrated into new blended solutions?
- How important is the face-to-face contact among participants and the facilitator, and does it need to be in the same physical space?
- What other social aspects of the ILT benefit learners, and what are some effective ways learners can get this interaction?
- What existing materials (besides ILT) are available to support each chunk?
- How does the facilitator prepare participants for each chunk? How can you set the stage for learning?
After you see the ILT in action, go back to your needs assessment results and the chunks of learning you've created. Then define a learning strategy that details the learning process and flow. This can be defined in a detailed outline or in a design document. At this point, don't worry about the technology or format you'll use to create the training material; just concentrate on the learning method that will work best. And keep in mind that, even after all this planning, some parts of the training might still work best as ILT.
At this point, it's also advisable to get the stakeholders involved again. Collaborate with them when designing your learning strategy, and pass it by them for review/approval after you've drafted your strategy. As you can imagine, you'll probably formulate lots of ideas on tools/technologies for presenting the information to learners as you create your learning strategy. It's important to just let these ideas simmer in your mind until you've finalized strategy, so you don't box yourself in to a solution that may not be best for the learner.
After your learning strategy is finalized, it's time to determine the best tools and technologies for your blended solution. As you do this, keep three things in mind: consistency, framework and organization. Your learning chunks need to be fully integrated in a logical flow, with seamless transitions, to be instructionally effective. No matter what delivery format you use, the learning experience needs to be consistent so learners know what to expect. A blended solution doesn't just "happen"; you need to build a fine-tuned learning engine. Here are some considerations that can help you select the best modality for the content:
- Be sure to use the needs assessment results to drive your tool/technology selections.
- Knowledge-based content: Self-paced learning (online courses, self-study workbooks, whitepapers, books) with support (emails, listservs, forums, ILT, webinars and knowledge repositories)
- Skill-based content: learning labs with activity guides, simulations and demonstrations
- Attitude-based content: collaboration, ILT, discussions, webinars and group projects/presentations
- Consider some of the following "tried and true" delivery formats and their appropriate uses.
- Delivery Format: eLearning
Uses: Large audiences, pre-work before a synchronous learning event, self assessments, content that may be physically dangerous to the learner if practiced "live", content that requires a lot of practice, content that must be consistent (such as compliance and certification), content that may require insight or reflection; Knowledge, comprehension and application levels of learning
- Delivery Format: VILT (Virtual instructor-led training)
Uses: Small to medium sized team training, skills reinforcement, Q&A, short discussions, introductions and summaries of a learning chunk
- Delivery Format: ILT
Uses: Content that would benefit from physical role plays, collaboration with feedback, soft skills practice, content that requires a high degree of learner support
- Delivery Format: OJT (on-the-job training)
Uses: Hands-on skill application, observation of skills being applied by an expert, repeatable tasks, mentoring, job shadowing; Analysis, synthesis, evaluation levels of learning
- Delivery Format: Social Media
Uses: Large dispersed audiences, best used in conjunction with more formal structured learning formats, content that changes rapidly or is in flux, content that may require insight or reflection, learner-generated content that benefits from collaboration with feedback
- Delivery Format: eLearning
- Learners can take your training synchronously (at the same time) or asynchronously (at different times). ILT is an obvious example of synchronous training, but webinars, video conferencing with live chat, online debates, whiteboard discussions and application sharing can also keep learners engaged and motivated in a single virtual setting. Asynchronous can be very beneficial to learners because they can take control of their own learning and do so when it's most convenient and appropriate for them. If you're thinking about developing asynchronous learning, be sure to consider whether online courses, online scavenger hunts, job aids, videos, etc. can meet your learners' needs and the desired learning results.
- All learning does not have to be in a formal format. There are many innovative, cutting edge informal formats you can use, and you may feel like a kid in the candy shop when trying to select the most appropriate ones to try. Although online courses, self-paced workbooks and webinars may be optimal for some content, learners might also benefit from more informal approaches such as listservs, forums, social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), blogs, wikis and mentorships. A strong blended solution will include formats that best fit the content and can be successful with the corporate/IT restrictions.
- Words might not always be the best way to communicate your message. You can use video, graphics, icons, ideograms, picture stories, knowledge maps and other visual images to relay the information. Don't be afraid to think of creative ways to visually communicate your information. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words.
- What will facilitators and/or learning administrators need to know to supervise and support learning? Be sure that the formats you choose are intuitive for both learners and those who support them.
- Measuring effectiveness throughout a training program is essential. Tools you select to collect and measure data can be as complex as a Learning Management System or as simple as a survey.
Learner needs and business goals should be the drivers that help you select the most appropriate tools/technologies. And you should always consider factors such as the time and cost to develop the solution, cost of development tools and your team's ramp-up time for the new technologies.