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Blended Learning Strategy - BL series part 2

In this second part of our series about implementing blended learning in businesses, we look at the first stage: developing a learning strategy.  The insights come from our experiences of helping organisations with successful major new business initiatives and ERP installations.

Does blended learning just mean putting two or more learning formats (e.g. classroom and eLearning) into a training programme? 

No, blended learning is so much more than that; it is a complete approach for developing and delivering learning and support to end users, who are often being asked to do things differently as a result of a new business initiative.

We have found that a well-defined blended learning programme provides enormous benefits, enabling your learners to develop skills and learn new procedures in ways that suit them and their roles, while producing the results required by your organisation e.g. in ensuring successful project implementations.

So how do you set about implementing blended learning?   The first step is to develop the strategy.

 

Why a learning strategy?

We are all aware of the pressure that arises to “get people trained” when there are deadlines for rolling out new business initiatives or going live with new corporate software. This can lead to the rushed development of a learning programme that caters for formal training sessions, however, does not consider the long-term needs of users who will require support long after the formal “event”. 

Recognising the primary objectives of your business initiative, and developing a learning strategy to meet those objectives, will be key to your users:

  • adopting new ways of working
  • reducing time to competence
  • embedding their skills long term
  • underpinning project success through end-user adoption

To be fully effective, plan your learning programme in good time (e.g. at the mobilisation phase of a new ERP implementation) and develop the strategy as soon as you identify the need for enhanced skills.   This will enable the learning strategy to be integrated within the overall organisational strategy with end users being at the heart of the programme.

 

Benefits of a Blended Learning Strategy

Putting in place a learning strategy at the beginning of new projects or initiatives will bring you a number of benefits, as set out in the table below. Our experience shows that the best strategies blend a rich mix of learning resources that reduce time to competence and enable employees to access information at the point of need.

 

Activity

Benefit

Reviewing learning requirements, KPIs and goals with key management and business owners

Engaging the enterprise and gaining senior management sponsorship

Training Needs Analysis (TNA) to identify user needs, organisational structure and culture

Comprehensive evaluation of training needs and learning opportunities

Choice of the right blend of learning resources tailored to user needs and their work environment

Reducing time to competence

Planning on demand learning (the "70" and "20" elements of 70:20:10)

Sustaining Ongoing Performance

Defining and agreeing the required results with actions to measure and react

Being able to achieve measured results

Let’s look at each of these activities and associated benefits in turn.

 

Building engagement for the Learning Strategy

It is really important to gain management and business buy-in for learning early on in a business initiative. If you don’t, the risk is that your employees will be under pressure to carry out new ways of working and learn new skills without having time to develop them – let alone become competent.  If you spend time recognising the overall business objectives and exploring with leaders what their teams need to do differently to meet these objectives, then they are much more likely to support the learning strategy as a critical element of ensuring overall success.

This is confirmed in the latest Towards Maturity Benchmark report which shows that 78% of the “Top Deck” (the top 10% of the those surveyed, who are delivering more organisational agility and individual performance) identify business KPIs that they want to improve in partnership with senior management against an average of 31% for all organisations

Inevitably in any project or business initiative there will be different stakeholders:

  • Business Management: identifying senior sponsors, who will promote learning, and line managers, who need to allocate employees the time for learning, is crucial
  • Project Directors/Change Managers: learning programmes in support of major process changes are vital, since project success depends on user adoption
  • Subject Matter Experts (SMEs):  experts in the area of change have knowledge that is key to the success of the learning programmes
  • Learners: engaging learners to understand their needs and current work practices is critical to providing the right learning resources at the point of need

 

Analysing Needs

The analysis phase will identify the scope of the initiative and what learners need to do differently.  Ideally it will take into account existing skills, how they currently work and what learning delivery has worked well for them in the past.  The aim of the analysis is to identify:

  • current skills, including those used outside the workplace
  • any compliance requirements
  • resources that fit the user’s work environment
  • geographical and language requirements of different user groups
  • technology available in the organisation to build, deploy and support learning

 

Reducing Time to Competence

The strategy will cater for the varying needs of learners, providing them with the most appropriate way of adopting new information by identifying a blend of learning resources that handles the “70:20:10” split of learning.  The split might not be exactly 70:20:10, however, the principles of learning on the job, learning from others, and formal instruction, encourage learners to take charge of their own skills development.

Making the necessary tools available reduces the time for learners to gain and maintain new skills and understanding.  In addition encouraging SMEs and skilled users to cascade knowledge to others also means that knowledge and best working practices spread and are adopted more quickly, thus reducing the time to competence.

 

Sustainment for ongoing Performance Support

All too often companies plan a new initiative and train users before its launch, yet never follow up with the support that is necessary as employees come to grips with dealing with new processes day by day with all the different real-life situations that occur.

Whatever changes are being implemented, it is imperative to plan how to provide support when the learners need it most: on demand while doing their daily jobs.  Only in this way can individual and corporate performance be sustained, especially as updates and changes are made to working procedures.

The continued focus on attainment of organisational goals and on meeting learners’ needs will ensure that new skills and processes are embedded and performance is maintained or enhanced over a sustained period. 

By focusing on the above activities and benefits, the learning strategy becomes a path to high levels of adoption and commitment, as shown on the diagram below:

Diagram showing increasing competence with sustained support over time

 

Achieving Results from the Learning Programme

Agreeing the required results (outcomes) and how they will be measured (the KPIs) up-front clarifies what needs to be achieved and so allows effort to be focused on what is most important.

The benefits of an initiative aren’t solely down to learning; however, being able to see that learners are able to do their jobs effectively is a major factor contributing to a successful initiative. 

 

Blended Approach to Developing Learning Strategy

When an organisation decides to embark on a new business initiative and where it is identified that employees need to behave differently and adopt new working practices, this is the time to start thinking about developing a learning strategy. 

The above is a brief explanation of how to get started on a programme that allow learners to attain the necessary competence and embed their skills over time.

 

To come …

In the next article in this series we will look at some of the challenges of implementing Blended Learning based on feedback from the Business Solutions Workshop that CLS ran at Learning Live in September 2015

 

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