Just a year ago, the main drivers behind the increase in blended learning solutions were legion. Learning leaders had to reduce costs, address the increase in mandatory training requirements, use classroom instruction time more effectively, increase training reach and volume, reuse and centralize training assets, personalize and individualize training more easily, improve performance and learning outcomes, keep pace with rapid changes and have greater flexibility and adaptability.
Things have changed thanks to five factors: business dynamics — growing the business through innovation while sustaining it through cost efficiencies and organizational effectiveness; organizational dynamics — fewer people doing more work while being expected to lead and jump-start initiative and innovation; workforce dynamics — work is increasingly global, mobile and affected by the adoption of new technologies and approaches rather than age; technology; and mindset — moving from alignment to full organizational integration.
“We are there in the room with the business from the beginning,” said Deborah Masten, vice president of associate development for JCPenney. “So, when it comes to applying blended learning solutions, we first look at how we can move the business levers that grow sales and profits.”
Blended Learning Then and Now
In the wake of business and technology changes, the main drivers for blended learning now include:
Time: “Time is of the essence” basically sums up the environment in organizations today. Therefore, there is a demand for solutions that reduce time to understanding, competence, application, performance, results and impact — while simultaneously reducing interference with the time needed to do work.
Information overload: There is more information available today in a wider variety of media, and it is increasing. A massive amount of content is being created, packaged and communicated while employees work to help them compete and succeed.
Transfer and impact: Designing and developing the most elegant solutions to be measured by satisfaction surveys and tests is not enough. Tools have made it possible to consistently and effectively transfer learning on the job as the line between learning and work has blurred, and one has become synonymous with the other.
Integration: Aligning with the organization to make a wider variety of resources available or sequencing related learning and support activities is insufficient and inadequate. Solutions today have to be well designed, fully integrated into the work environment, easily accessible and relevant to the work itself.
“The new blended learning is about creating a richer, more meaningful development experience that relates to a person’s work and performance,” said John Leutner, head of global learning services for Xerox corporate human resources.
In the early 2000s, organizations trying to understand and apply the new concepts and approaches, technologies and tools grouped as e-learning began to build blended learning programs. At that time blended learning commonly referred to mixing multiple learning approaches within one program, typically instructor-led offerings with a wide variety of e-learning tools and electronic media. It was a natural next step beyond merely courses delivered via the Internet or intranets.
But, as Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants, points out, “technology wants … to increase the choices and possibilities and differences and diversity and options and degrees of freedom, not just in our lives but in the world at large.”
Solving Today’s Problems Differently
The new blended learning represents a philosophy and approach to developing learning solutions to solve business problems akin to the tenets of organic architecture established by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Rather than one-off events or linked activities and resources, these solutions weave learning processes and on-the-job performance together to produce meaningful and measurable business results.
“Learning professionals should focus on designing less complex learning programs that have a greater focus on transfer of skills being learned. Training without transfer is time wasted,” said John Talanca, vice president, ES sales learning and performance for ADP Inc.
The following company examples represent diversity in thinking and approach as organizations apply new blended solutions.
ADP: Automatic Data Processing (ADP), a global business outsourcing provider, recently launched a new sales process, a customer-focused approach designed to help sales teams and clients increase business results in a continually changing and increasingly competitive global market. Selling the ADP way is one of the company’s first field-facing elements of a major cultural change and, as such, has to be relevant and impactful for a diverse sales audience, and come across as “created by the field, for the field.”
It blends five elements: pre-launch communications including video and an intranet landing page used as a central hub for reinforcement; a field-based team activity; a suite of short e-learning modules; an in-person, half-day field workshop; and ongoing reinforcement through access to tools and a forum. Further, use of the customer resource management tool is incorporated into the learning, as is measurement. The results to date included a 476 percent return on the learning investment — total sales/total costs — and a healthy adoption of change in the sales organization.
Xerox: Xerox, a global business process and document management organization, has many diverse audiences that require sales training. In response, the company developed blended programs based on a foundation of custom e-learning for product offerings, tools and processes, with shared content across learner populations that is supplemented by population-specific content.
Programs integrate face-to-face instruction focused on sales skills practice with hands-on product experience and formal, tracked courseware working alongside untracked referenceware such as job aids, video and global portals available from a PC or mobile device. There are also scheduled virtual classroom sessions; virtual coaches to monitor progress, facilitate and conduct one-on-one reviews; effectiveness evaluations; and scheduled blended learning paths available through the company’s LMS.
Virtual coaches and face-to-face instructors complete learning progress reports to monitor status and ensure outcomes to integrate learning with work are met. This new blend reduces costs and time out of the field, improves time to proficiency and has generated positive feedback from learners and managers.
Nissan: In support of the introduction of the Nissan LEAF electric automobile, Nissan Europe developed a blended program for sales consultants and service advisers. The challenge was two-fold: provide a detailed knowledge and understanding of the LEAF and electric vehicle (EV) concepts and their environmental impact, and create EV advocates. The Plug Life into The City program consists of: a video teaser campaign; Web-based training modules; a micro-website and blog accessible before, during and after the program to ensure the integration of learning into work; and a one-and-a-half-day, instructor-led event with workshops on LEAF technologies, sales presentations and approaches, personalizing customer benefits and two test drive sessions. The initial program received excellent ratings, revealed lessons about the website and micro-blog, and preparation is under way for full rollout.
ACS: Although innovation is core to ACS human resource services, too often it’s been confined to silos with too few people involved. To break down these silos and create a culture of innovation for all 15,000 global employees, Th!nkTank, a one-stop shop for all things innovation, was developed. Th!nkTank blends a quasi-3D portal platform with: virtual information booths and briefcases to hold downloaded documents about products and services of each line of business; networking lounges, online chat and ask-the-expert capability; an idea management system to share information and collaborate with colleagues; and Web-based learning modules to promote innovation, educate employees about innovation, raise awareness of the ACS innovation process, and encourage employees to submit ideas to IdeaScale, its feedback system. Th!nkTank can be accessed from anywhere on any technology. Its launch included a further blend of marketing campaigns, live and virtual events held in Th!nkTank, a virtual host and more. Though the results are confidential, they include increases in cost savings, new idea generation and innovation awareness and skills.
New thinking is blurring the distinction between work and learning. New tools and technologies are opening up exciting new possibilities, And, taken all together, learning leaders are solving problems in ways we’ve not been able to do before.
Lance Dublin is CEO and chief solution architect of Dublin Consulting. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.