Blended learning or hybrid learning is any learning modality where face-to-face instruction is combined with online learning.
More and more companies are asking their L&D departments and external training providers to increase the amount of digital learning, the key reasons being cost and convenience. For the middle and junior ranks of the organization, online learning may become the predominant form of training. However, companies often decide to ‘protect’ the training and development of its top leadership team and are reluctant to leverage online learning for this exclusive group. This seems to suggest that digital learning is the poor cousin of classroom training, but is this true?
Let’s think of different training modalities like various car types. For those who can afford a Ferrari – enjoy and go for it! But it may not be the vehicle for the masses, nor is a sports car a great choice if you want to take the entire family and lots of luggage on holiday. The question is: Is there a case beyond the economic benefits of combining face-to-face with digital learning? Is there a case for blended learning from the point of view of instructional and learner design? In other words, can we marry the best parts of face-to-face instruction with the best online learning experience and develop a new, superior training modality that supports the modern learner in an agile organization?
Let’s look at the most contentious example – leadership development. Can it be better with digital tools than without, and what would this look like?
Leadership Training 365 days a year
Leadership Development is crucial for any company but often fails. For a good summary of the key mistakes, read McKinsey’s article why leadership development programs fail.
Typically, leadership development is an off-site program – a one-off event or a series of intense experiences over a period of time, including simulations, workshops, feedback sessions etc. But no matter how great the content and the trainer, or how engaged and motivated the participants are during the training event itself, the real litmus test comes only after the training intervention: how much of the new learning will participants be able to retain and apply back in the workplace? In other words, how to tackle the challenge of ‘learning transfer’ and ensure the leadership lessons learned in the classroom translate into behavior change on the job?
Mazars’ Corporate University Asia is pioneering the introduction of a microlearning platform with the goal to move its leadership program from a few fixed training days to 365 days a year. In a blended learning approach, a learning app is being used in between face-to-face sessions to:
- facilitate the learning process, e.g. participants have 24/7 access to their personal development plan and other key content in one dedicated app. They receive and do their homework in the app, capture all mentor feedback in here as well as receive reminders of personal goals.
- continue and enhance engagement, e.g. participants are regularly asked to reflect on their personal progress, share new leadership experiences and receive feedback and support from a coach. Some exercises in class are also done inside the app!
- accelerate and deepen learning with curated, bite-sized content throughout the year, e.g. practical exercises, short videos or quizzes either in preparation for the next face-to-face module or as a follow up to what has been covered in class.
On the backend, the trainer can track progress and engagement of individual participants and the entire cohort in real-time, intervening if and when he thinks a module is not working or an individual is at risk of not completing the program.
Mazars’ case shows that a blended learning approach is superior to the stand-alone traditional program and able to improve learner satisfaction, training outcomes and business impact. More research is necessary to quantify the benefits but it is already clear now that a learning app can augment the learning experience before, during and after face-to-face training and support application of knowledge and skills every day.