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Annie Hayes

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Feature: The perfect balance

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With so many options for blending different forms of learning to provide a tailored package, Mike Ditchburn of Bourne Training offers some advice on getting the balance right.

Blended learning has been around forever – what’s new is the enhanced opportunities for its implementation. It involves the conscious sequenced integration of different elements, using appropriate learning methods.

Integration
This doesn’t mean a free-for all buffet where learners can choose the elements they want, nor does it mean the same solution delivered through different media. Learners aren’t skilled at knowing how the learning should be sequenced and what method they should use to learn (although they may have preferences). Blended learning relies on preparing the learning structure and components to ensure the desired competencies are incorporated.

Learning methods
This is where the online aspect has increased the options. E-learning elements – courses, resources, support tools etc – can be used alongside more traditional approaches such as mentoring, ILT, hands on practice. The power of blended learning is in matching the most effective method to each aspect of the learning solution.

Support
Traditional methods of learning delivery rely on face-to-face contact with a tutor or subject matter experts. It is, therefore, unsurprising that one of the major de-motivating factors of e-learning is the feeling of isolation learners can have.

Learner support is important for the following reasons:
* To provide the mechanism for learners to query a statement or ask for technical clarification.
* To seek examples and help place the learning in their context.
* To receive feedback on qualitative elements of assessments and assignments.
* To provide re-assurance and support during long or important training programmes.
* To share ideas and discuss alternative approaches.

Put simply, if there’s no element of learner support in the e-learning solution then it will not be as effective as it could be.

Options
Learner support does not have to be time consuming or expensive and can involve humans or technology. Learner support resources can include:
* Mentoring: A one time, non-judgmental relationship in which an individual voluntarily gives time to support and encourage another. Mentoring is often effective through peer-to-peer interaction.
* Tutoring: A form of individual assistance whereby a manager or tutor provides a learner with subject matter support.
* Coaching: A two-way process of regular formal contact sessions between a coach and a learner. The coach helps the learner think through what they need to achieve and how they might do it.

Often learner support mechanisms operate on-line through either an LMS or simple email facility. However, successful mechanisms can also be ‘low-tech’ whereby the learner is prompted at various stages in an e-Learning course to discuss the outputs of an exercise with their manager or a mentor.

Effective implementation of learner support resources will often rely on accurately identifying the learner’s needs (through the needs analysis activities) and adequate induction and communication with the staff in the support roles.

Case study
Within their induction programme, London Electricity delivered an e-learning course to all new starters in their first week of joining the company. They ensured the line manager was in close contact with the learner whilst they were using the e-Learning course by building in the following resources:
* An induction plan the managers could print out to help direct the new starters first weeks in employment.
* A Managers Briefing guide to communicate the objectives of the e-Learning course, how they could support the learner and how the course integrated with the overall plan.
* A Facilitators Guide for the new starter’s line manager or mentor. This detailed all the interactive exercises in the course and provided the mentor with discussion points and feedback so they could regularly interact with the learner at key points during the course.

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Annie Hayes

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