Building the Best Learning Blend

Determining how a learning program should be designed and delivered has always been a challenge for organizations. Learning has traditionally meant event-based learning, leaving little room for innovation. In the past, a program was considered “blended” if it added a small amount of web-based elements to support a series of classroom experiences. Today, however, there is a multitude of tools and technologies that transformed the ways companies can and should approach learning. Despite these opportunities, organizations still have difficulty building programs that truly meet the needs of their learners. In fact, 56% of companies believe fewer than half of their programs have the right blend. 

In many cases, the sheer volume of possibilities prevents companies from diversifying their learning approach. It can be hard to identify the modalities that make the most sense for their various programs. It becomes much easier to rely on traditional models and methods, even if they have not been delivering positive results. Organizations often fly blind in this area, putting programs together they believe will work, then hoping for the best. Fewer than half of companies have a process in place to evaluate whether or not a specific mix of modalities within a specific program is the right one, based on things such as learner evaluations and assessments, managerial feedback, coaching and mentoring inputs or other data sources and input. 

Additionally, few companies fully leverage the 70/20/10 model when creating their programs. This model states that only 10% of what people learn comes from formal learning settings. The reset comes from informal and experiential learning. With companies so focused on that 10% with classrooms and course modules, they are failing to address the ways their employees learn best. 

An unbalanced blend of learning makes it much more difficult to engage learners and increases the perception that learning is an activity apart from and not a part of the job at hand. It becomes intrusive and seen as an infringement of time, rather than an invaluable tool for getting the job done and growing a career. Too much reliance on formal learning is an ineffective use of learning time. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve posits the idea that people only retain around 20% of what they learn from a formal learning experience within a matter of days. That means a learner could take an assessment at the end of a class and get a perfect score but forget most of the material by the end of the week. 

  • Do our programs include more than classes or courses? 
  • Are we using enough informal learning? 
  • Are we providing enough experiential learning opportunities? 
  • Do we have a process for evaluating the success of each blend? 

True blended learning requires a robust set of tools and the knowledge and skill to apply them in the appropriate measures at the appropriate time. Programs should be blended so the various modalities suit the content and the needs of the learners. 

Understand and leverage the 70/20/10 model. 

Even though the 70/20/model says that 70% of what people learn comes from experiential learning, 20% from informal and 10% from formal, this does not mean L&D teams must put themselves through an arduous math exercise for every learning program. Instead, it is important to internalize the fact that people learn in different ways and use that to inform how programs are devised. Programs may be blended in a variety of ways, each intended to fit the need at hand. At the very least, it is critical to accept that an approach of 100% formal learning experiences means a considerable investment for very little return. 

Identify key variables. 

The reason a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work is that each scenario has its own requirements. L&D teams must identify the variables and how they influence the design of the learning program. The main influencers are the learning audience, subject matter and the required timeframe. These elements can change dramatically from program to program and their design should change accordingly. One audience may have less time for training than another or may be more mobile/ deskless. One subject may require more hands-on or collaboration while another may require individual focus.

Let the outcomes drive the inputs. 

The most important influencer determining how a program should be blended are the outcomes the business is expecting. Overarching business goals should be tied to specific skills and competencies and linked to the ways a learner would demonstrate their mastery of those skills and competencies. Knowing what those things are informs the learning design process. Unfortunately, few companies have done a great job tying their learning objectives to specific learning blends. Just 25% say they develop custom percentages of formal, informal and experiential learning for each set of learning objectives. 

Measure to keep refining your blend. 

Using learners, topics and objectives as inputs for determining the blend will bring companies much more success than a series of repetitive classes but it doesn’t guarantee complete success. It is critical to diligently measure just how well these programs are generating the desired learning outcomes (and ultimately the linked business outcomes). Without robust measurement, it can be impossible to tell if the blend is working for that audience, that subject or that specific outcome. By measuring early and often, blends can be adjusted and optimized over time to generate even better results. 

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David Wentworth



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