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Thought Leadership 15 July 2020

Is blended learning the way we tackle the new status quo?

We’d just about got accustomed to virtual working… and now everything is shifting all over again. Should blended learning now be the way we approach learning and development training?

Everything changed when we went into lockdown in March this year.

But we adjusted. We pivoted, demonstrated our much talked about business agility and almost got used to doing everything virtually. We acclimatised to having meetings with our colleagues over Zoom, taking a virtual coffee break instead of a face-to-face one, and somehow managed to pitch our Q3 business strategy from the comfort of our kitchen table – all with a supporting cast of kids and pets floating around in the background. Goodness knows, the phrase “Can you see my screen?” will be forever embedded in our heads as a reminder of just how agile we were in these times.

Now, however, things are shifting again. Just as we got comfortable with the ‘new normal’, the status quo shifted all over again. Some people are now going back to the office. Some people aren’t. Some are working from home until the end of the year, while others may never return to working in an office full time as boards and c-suites decide that in-house working is no longer an essential component of a 21st century career. Social media platform Twitter, to that point, has decided that all its employees will work from home on a permanent basis, whereas Facebook will send some employees back in July, while others remain working from home for the foreseeable future.

So where does that leave learning and development training? And how is learning and development training going to look during this in-between stage, as different countries and industries and individuals emerge from the pandemic in their own nuanced way? Should we continue to do our L&D training virtually, as we have done for these past few weeks, or should we be doing everything we can to make things happen face-to-face again? Or is it a bit of both? Perhaps this is where blended learning steps in to become part of what we may soon be calling the ‘new’ new normal…

What is blended learning?

You’re probably already familiar with the term blended learning, but its unassuming rise in recent years is something that has now been accelerated into prominence due to its accessibility during the global pandemic. But what is blended learning exactly? Essentially, it’s a mix of online and instructor-led learning, where part of the training is done virtually and the rest is completed in a face-to-face environment. It’s something that’s used in a variety of settings – perhaps most commonly associated with education – but it’s also something that has proven to be effective in a workplace context. Why? For a number of reasons really; it’s efficient, it means that learners can work at their own pace, and it can also promote deeper learning. All in all, it means that learners can essentially customise the learning experience to suit themselves and get the most out of it.

How to make blended learning work for your organisation

That’s not to say blended learning is simply just adding a couple of e-modules to your in-person training session and calling it a done deal. One thing we’ve all learned through all the Zoom calls, Houseparty quizzes, and webinars that we’ve all been attending over the past few months is that the technology is there to make your online experience just as interactive and engaging as any face-to-face session. Use it! The virtual element of any learning and development training doesn’t have to be the poor relation of in-person learning – so run your session live, get learners taking part in polls to choose the content, ask questions, hand over control of the screen, and really flex your creativity.

We also ask our customers to treat any kind of online learning experience in the same way they would an in-person session. We ask them to find a quiet place where distractions will be minimal, to switch their camera on, and we ask them to fully participate in the session. This would be the same for any blended learning experience. If you have some learners doing the session virtually and some in person (as may be the case going forward) it can’t be that anyone online is a silent partner – they would need to participate just as fully as anyone doing the training in person!

But how do you manage a situation where the person leading the training is on-screen while everyone else is in a room together? Do you need someone to chair the session to ensure everyone doesn’t talk over each other? Do you need each participant to take a turn feeding back discussion points to the person on screen? It’s definitely something worth considering. Insights ensures a producer is present during all our virtual experiences to ensure everything runs smoothly and that, most of all, the learners can focus on what they’re there to do. In essence, it’s about starting with your customer and putting steps in place to make it the best experience possible for them.

Blended learning and colour energy preferences

All of this leads to an interesting discussion about different colour energy preferences and whether different preferences will enjoy different approaches to learning. At Insights, our virtual offerings have always been rated just as highly with our customers as our face-to-face solutions, but the fact is, someone with a more introverted preference may relish being able to engage with the learning experience from the comfort of their own home. On the other hand, someone with a strong preference for extraversion is likely to be keen to be in room with their colleagues all day after so many weeks of limited social interaction. Where does that leave us?

Could it be that in future people choose how they’d prefer to engage with learning and development content based on their individual preferences, rather than taking a one size fits all approach? Or, if that’s too complex to manage for large groups of people, do L&D leaders ensure a blended learning approach in all future offerings to ensure preferences are catered to? After all, if we want to people to recognise the nuances in themselves and their colleagues, it makes sense to apply the same nuance to how people learn and process information. If a mixture of face-to-face and remote working is going to be the new normal then perhaps it makes sense that our learning and development training mirrors and reinforces these new 21st century working patterns.

Learning and company culture

There isn’t a simple solution. One thing is clear, however, which is that learning must be a continuous process, one that we should embed in our businesses as crucial to the effectiveness and success of individuals, teams and organisations.

As Forbes explains, it’s the continuous learning culture, rather than the individual components of that learning, which are most significant.

"In the 2020s, companies must move beyond just offering learning events or a curriculum of e-learning modules and focus on developing a true learning culture, one that inspires, open minds, supports change and growth, encourages creativity, delivers innovation and develops the next level of leaders."

What the pandemic has demonstrated, though, is that we’re all a lot more adaptable than we thought. And if we can pivot, adapt, and do a 180 on our business strategy at a moment’s notice we can do it again, and again after that if needs be. And that is the ‘new’ new normal.

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