It may be tempting to take your entire customer, employee or partner education program online. But wait. As we get back to in-person everything (fingers crossed), completely abandoning in-person training may not be in your best interest. Instead, opt for a blended learning strategy to give people the best of both worlds.
What’s Blended Learning?
Blended learning is an educational strategy that combines conventional education with online learning. For example, someone could take an online course to learn the basics of a topic but then attend an in-person seminar to engage with experts and up their skills directly.
Conventional Education Examples
- In-person workshops (in a traditional “classroom” setting)
Online Education Examples
- Online quizzes
- Online assessments
- Videos/YouTube channel
- Blog posts
Blended learning is gaining popularity of late as every aspect of personal and professional life transitions to the online world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, companies and other parties tasked with educated people will need to adopt a blended learning strategy to account for this shift.
Types of Blended Learning
Now that we know what blended learning is, let’s dive deeper, starting by outlining the different types of blended learning.
The Rotation Model of Blended Learning
People “rotate” between content and courses in a structured way. For example, someone could go through a course that includes in-person instruction and an instructor-led webinar before wrapping it all up with an online quiz.
The Face-to-face Driver Approach of Blended Learning
With the Face-to-face Driver Approach to blended learning, people get a hefty dose of “face-to-face” education, but can also access online material. Most of the time, instructors introduce the online elements to people who need extra time to master a topic or subject matter.
Enriched Virtual Model of Blended Learning
The Enriched Virtual Model of blended learning consists primarily of online content, but includes mandatory in-person elements or virtual instructor-led sessions. The Enriched Virtual Model is commonplace among today’s leading customer, employee and channel partner education programs given its ability to effectively and efficiently educate a disparate and digital-first workforce.
Advantages of Blended Learning
Hopefully, the value of blended learning is coming into view. But let’s keep going. What, exactly, are the benefits?
Here are 3 you can’t ignore:
Blended learning gives you the ability to customize the learning experience to different training objectives and learning styles; you’re not pigeon-holed into specific content types or restricted to defined timelines and locations. Instead, you can tailor the experience in whatever way makes the most sense for the outcomes you’re trying to achieve. P.S. I’d consider this the greatest benefit of blended learning.
No matter who you’re reaching, their lives are more digital, boundless and on-the-go than ever before. As a result, it’s completely unreasonable to expect every one of your customers, employees or channel partners to be able to rely exclusively on in-person education. Blended learning fills this gap, allowing people to learn whenever and wherever they are. There’s no waiting around for everyone else to finish or pressure to complete a certain task because everyone else is already done.
It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching customers, employees, channel partners or some other party, your goal is to grow. And as that happens, the number of people you’ll need to engage with will rise exponentially. Well, I have news for you: Scaling a learning program that relies only on in-person learning isn’t possible — for example, a company with a global customer base can’t expect everyone to attend a seminar nor could an employer ask newly hired employees to drop everything and meet for a week-long onboarding at their HQ. By implementing some form of blended learning and bringing elements online, you’re immediately giving yourself an easy way to scale as your learning program goes. Plus, you won’t have to spend an exorbitant amount of money on venues, travel costs and other related materials. It’s a total win.
Disadvantages of Blended Learning
The advantages of blended learning are great, but are there any disadvantages? No, not really. At least not any major red flags that should hinder your path to getting started.
There is a hurdle, though: technology.
Technology is constantly evolving, and sometimes, hard to handle. For people who aren’t as tech savvy, it may take longer for them to fully benefit from the material you’re putting in front of them.
A perfect example: At the beginning of the pandemic (you know, a lifetime ago), my mom’s employer went remote, meaning that her life went exclusively online. For the first time. Ever. This meant using Microsoft Teams and Zoom. It also meant learning how to communicate with colleagues only through a screen. Of course, her company provided online materials to bring her up to speed, but the learning curve was steep and it took her a considerable amount of time to truly become proficient.
A Few Tips to Get Started with Blended Learning
All the moving pieces of blended learning can make it intimidating. I get it. To help you out, here are a few tips:
Align On Goals
No matter how you’re using blended learning, your first step is to set goals that align with your intended learning outcomes and those of the greater company.
- Business Goals: Sync with company leaders to understand how they measure success and which metrics they’re using to make strategic decisions — for example, customer acquisition cost, employee retention or partner revenue. While these goals may seem far too separated for you to really focus on, the reality is that if you can’t tie the impact of blended learning back to these goals, you won’t get continued leadership buy-in.
- Departmental Goals: Talk to other departments (e.g., Marketing, Sales, Support, etc.) to learn about their goals and how blended learning can help them be successful — for example, cost per lead for the Marketing team or deals closed won for the Sales team. Remember: A blended learning strategy can’t exist in a silo; for it to be effective, it needs to consider the impact it’s having on the rest of the company.
- Team Goals: Finally, figure out what you want to measure based on the outcomes you want to achieve. These will be learner-specific metrics that help you gauge the overall impact of blended learning (e.g., course completion rates, offline engagement, etc.).
Collectively, these goals should come together to shape your blended learning strategy. As time goes on, return to them, decide if you’re still on track and then iterate to generate more impact.
Once you have your goals, it’s time to determine your current resource availability, what you’ll need to get started and have you’ll allocate them moving forward. Given the nature of blended learning, make sure you’re looking to evaluate both online and offline resources.
For example, how much content do you have available that can be used online? If you do, great. If not, work closely with a subject matter expert (SME) to understand the information and an instructional designer (ID) to translate that knowledge into structured courses optimized for both online or offline placement.
You should also consider whether or not you have instructors and venues readily available for in-person events, the budget for associated costs as well as the logistical know-how to manage it all.
Source Feedback and Evolve
If you don’t understand your learners, even the best blended learning strategies won’t have their full effect. For this reason, it’s imperative that you make every effort to source feedback and evolve in the best interest of your learners and your goals.
- Listen: Implement processes that make it easy for people to provide you with feedback. A great way to do this is with online surveys, which will serve you especially well if you’re attempting to source feedback from a large learner base. If you’re hosting in-person events, carve out time throughout for people to ask you questions. If you’re doing face-to-face webinars, allocate time at the end to do a live Q&A.
- Understand: Take every piece of feedback to paint a picture that tells a vivid story about how blended learning is working. Is there too much face-to-face instruction? Are the online elements too drawn out? Are in-person seminars too restricting insofar as the time and place they’re held? Use each piece of feedback as an opportunity to improve the way you approach blended learning.
- Guide: Finally, take every piece of insight and evolve your strategy. Your goal is to create a frictionless learning experience that helps everyone be successful — and makes it easier to achieve your goals.
Blended Learning Technology: Using an LMS to Improve Learning Outcomes
There’s nothing stopping you from implementing blended learning without a super robust tech stack. Without one, however — one that includes a learning management system (LMS) — you’ll eventually be faced with challenges related to efficiency, measurement and scale.
With a tool like Gainsight Customer Education, you can seamlessly marry online and offline learning in one centralized location, measure it all and create a learning experience that truly makes an impact.