In 2003, the U.S. Navy was looking for ways to make training for junior officers more efficient and cost-effective. Their solution seemed forward-thinking at the time: Replace months of expensive classroom instruction and hands-on simulations with 21 CDs worth of computer courses. What could go wrong?
It’s a sobering reminder for any corporate trainer: All of the training technology in the world—be it a computer course on a CD or a robust learning management system (LMS)—ultimately can’t replace the effectiveness of tried-and-true, face-to-face teaching. Both aspects are needed if you want your employees to thrive, but how can you make this marriage of old and new work?
The answer is a concept called blended learning.
In this article, we’ll explain what blended learning is and why it’s the best approach when it comes to employee training. Then we’ll look at five LMS features that support blended learning by enhancing the traditional classroom experience.
What Is Blended Learning?
As the name suggests, blended learning describes any training program that blends elements of instructor-led classroom instruction and self-paced online e-learning.
It’s the best approach to employee training because it delivers the benefits of both worlds to learners. The instructor-led training (ILT) aspects of a blended learning course allow trainees to get individual attention and ask questions about concepts that need further explanation, while the self-paced e-learning aspects give people the flexibility to learn where and when it’s most convenient for them.
The result is a more effective and engaging training regimen. Case studies done by private learning institutions and a meta-analysis conducted by the U.S. Department of Education both found that blended learning improved learning outcomes more than self-paced or instructor-led training on their own.
This isn’t some secret, either. Blended learning is an approach used by nearly 70 percent of LMS users, as we found out in 2016:
5 LMS Features That Support Blended Learning
All you need is a classroom and an LMS to have blended learning, right? Sorry, but it’s not that simple.
It doesn’t do your trainees any good to have these online and offline learning environments separated in silos, failing to create a cohesive blended learning experience. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. Just ask anyone who has to log in to one system to do an e-learning module and another to learn where their next in-person training is taking place.
LMS vendors know this. They know their system needs to have functionality that enhances—not diminishes—the traditional classroom experience. Here are five features that do just that:
1. Instructor-Led Training (ILT) Management
What it does: ILT management allows instructors to lock down a time and place for in-person training within their LMS. Sessions can be left open for trainees to register at-will until all of the spots are full, or instructors can manually assign who will attend. Leading up to the session, instructors can check in on who’s attending, and trainees can see details like what the class will cover or any materials they need to bring.
How it supports blended learning: Unlike e-learning modules that can be done wherever, whenever, ILT in a classroom setting requires everyone to be on the same page. ILT management ensures that within one system, trainers and trainees alike can stay on top of both their online and offline learning schedules.
2. Virtual Classroom
What it does: With virtual classroom functionality, learners can log into their LMS and attend instructor-led classes remotely. Audio/video streaming and embedded chat ensures learners can participate and ask questions, while tools like whiteboards, class polling and media streaming allow instructors to engage with remote learners in a variety of ways. Virtual classroom sessions can also be recorded for playback by absent students.
How it supports blended learning: If you’re a sprawling, multinational business, it’s impossible to get everyone in a room together for training. Even if you’re a small company, it can be difficult to tear people away from their desks for ILT. Virtual classroom functionality offers flexibility to workers and ensures that you don’t have to forego the tangibles of the classroom experience within your LMS.
3. Social Learning
What it does: Social learning describes any features in an LMS that support collaboration. Within an e-learning module or an offline ILT session, trainers can set up a discussion board where learners can discuss course contents, ask questions and share interesting resources. Users can even rate courses and give feedback to instructors or course creators on how to improve their effectiveness.
How it supports blended learning: Mirroring the social networks that workers use every day with activity feeds and comment threads, social learning can facilitate ongoing learning long after class is over. It can also encourage learners to engage more with your LMS on an ongoing basis.
4. Learning Paths
What it does: Learning paths allow trainers to customize a sequence of courses to help trainees become competent in a certain area. Trainers can create learning paths for whole groups or individual learners, and set the criteria by which people can advance from course to course—be it passing an online assessment, attending an ILT session or otherwise.
How it supports blended learning: The great thing about the learning paths feature is that it helps connects the dots for learners, giving them a better sense of how disparate e-learning modules and classroom training sessions will add up to a cohesive training experience. Trainers can also adjust the pace or complexity of paths if groups are zooming ahead or falling behind.
5. Learning Analytics
What it does: Learning analytics allows administrators to take a closer look at the effectiveness of their training programs. By looking at easy-to-understand visuals compiling data for things like assessment pass/fail rates, time taken to complete a course and more, users can generate reports and shine a spotlight on areas that need improvement.
How it supports blended learning: Wouldn’t it be great if your instructors knew exactly which areas to focus on for their next training session? With learning analytics, they can see learner data in real time and adjust their classroom instruction accordingly—spending more time on a specific topic or giving more one-on-one attention to someone who’s struggling, for example.
Final Tips to Keep Your Blended Learning Approach Afloat
With blended learning, there are no hard and fast rules. Every organization is different, and it’s going to take time, patience and strategic agility to arrive at a regimen that makes the best use of your online and offline training resources.
Here are some tips to help ensure your blending learning approach swims instead of sinks:
- Aim for advocacy from leaders over buy-in. Don’t be surprised if executives and managers initially sign off on your blended learning approach, only to go cold when they see how much it takes workers away from, well, work. Make sure everyone above you becomes an advocate of this approach to have enthusiasm trickle down the organization.
- Find a training mix that works best with your situation. Leaning more on ILT makes sense when you have 20 trainees. Less so when you have 20,000. Similarly, workers are going to be frustrated with any e-learning if they don’t have easy access to a computer outside of work. Consider all of these factors when tinkering with your blended learning mix to arrive at a solution that works best with your workforce.
- Upgrade your tech if needed. If your LMS is frustrating learners by being unintuitive or error-prone, that frustration is going to bleed over into the classroom. A blended learning approach requires a rock solid technology foundation, so head over to our LMS page if you’re looking for a new system.