A Blended Learning Strategy: The difference between success and failure

Both the desire to provide learners with an engaging programme of learning and staff enthusiastic to embrace change and innovation are valuable ingredients in your strategic approach to blended learning. But success is rarely long term and organisational wide without some preliminary steps.

The best foundations for successful planning and implementation of a blended learning strategy, whether the blend’s face to face element is in the classroom or workplace, are based on a knowledge and understanding of the opportunities available and where the opportunities can lead.

Many people talk about the strategy front pagebeing the first step in the process of implementing a blended learning model, but prior to a strategy come your business objectives. In reality, you can only define your objectives and create a strategy if you have the appropriate knowledge and experience to draw on. Management understandably can struggle with identifying the organisation’s aim, if they don’t know what it is they are aiming for, and if there is an aim it can be challenging knowing how to achieve it. A strategy drawn up with this lack of knowledge and understanding is always woolly with a lack of clarity, preventing staff from identifying exactly what the organisation and they are aiming to achieve.

If you’re starting your blended learning journey I would recommend a two stage approach. The first stage sets out how you will identify appropriate business’s objectives and the path to achievement of those objectives. The second stage is a meaningful strategy with action plans that can be embraced and implemented by staff.

Blended learningThe familiar saying ‘put the need before the technology’, in other words don’t come across an aspect of technology and think I must use it somewhere in delivery, is generally correct. However, when a need is identified knowledge of what solutions are available is required. Sometimes you become aware of a solution that will enhance a process that doesn’t actually address a particular need. So although a good mantra for staff to encourage them to focus on the learner and organisational needs, don’t close your mind to opportunities that make enhancements you haven’t thought of.

A common mistake made by employers is that they decide on one aspect of the infrastructure to deliver a blended model, which meets the requirement of one or two applications they have decided upon. They then find out a little later down the line that they have invested time and money into something that doesn’t work with the solution for the next step in their strategy. This has resulted in a lot of solutions being thrown out and a new approach adopted, which can be hugely costly.

Let’s consider the factors that can have a significant influence over the success of writing, implementing and developing an effective blended learning strategy:

  1. Demonstrating to staff a blended model in action so they understand what the organisation and staff are working towards.

It may well not be the perfect blended model for your provision, but discussions on how your organisation would do things similarly or differently with a real model as reference can make all the difference to staff engagement. Having an understanding of where the organisation is heading is critical to success as too are your staff, so you need them on board.

Learning Management SystemFinding an example of a blended model in action, and not just the demonstration of a learning management system (LMS), isn’t always easy. A good option is to get all delivery staff to undertake a third party blended learning course themselves, but this may be difficult due to financial or time constraints. An alternative way to achieve this is to enrol the member of staff who is going to be leading your development in this area onto a blended learning course. On completion that person then develops a short blended learning course for all staff.If your organisation is a member of a network then find out if other members are prepared to offer a demonstration and pass on their experience of other points such as the pedagogical implications for staff.

2.  Having a good understanding of a range of technology solutions in use for delivery of blended learning, including hardware, software, cloud services and applications.

Start with the learners needs: ensure content is engaging and user friendly and meets learning objectives.

Don’t make decisions before you have formed the bigger picture: For example, don’t decide on the online portal for content access until you know what type of content you want to provide to your learners and how they will access it.

With your requirements in mind learn from Blended Learning in the classroomothers as to what has worked and what hasn’t worked for them. These are likely to include free and paid for solutions; don’t dismiss the free options as some of the best content creation tools are free.

Sources of information can be found at relevant conferences, blogs, e-newsletters, networking, webinars, workshops and peer support forums. A good option is to post questions on a relevant social media channel or group asking members to contribute suggestions for good practise and recommended applications. The other good source of advice are websites that have a focus on offering information and advice on technology for education such as the Centre for Performance and Learning Technologies and Edudemic.

Online learning in the workplaceWith your requirements in mind learn from others as to what has worked and what hasn’t worked for them. These are likely to include free and paid for solutions; don’t dismiss the free options as some of the best content creation tools are free.Sources of information can be found at relevant conferences, blogs, e-newsletters, networking, webinars, workshops and peer support forums. A good option is to post questions on a relevant social media channel or group asking members to contribute suggestions for good practise and recommended applications. The other good source of advice are websites that have a focus on offering information and advice on technology for education such as the Centre for Performance and Learning Technologies and Edudemic.

3. Sharing your research with all staff who will be involved in implementing a blended learning strategy.  Get them to have a play with solutions that you have identified and collect their feedback.

Getting staff to share experiences and ideas with colleagues is a good way of getting them engaged in developing new skills, and planning and developing their blended programmes of learning, which will be required to move the organisation forward with a strategy. Having the opportunity to ‘have-a-go’ without fear of failure is empowering. It’s amazing how many staff disengaged in the whole idea of blended learning get inspired to provide their learners with the same positive experience they have had.

When it comes to applications that provide the mechanism for delivery, such as an LMS or webinars for live delivery of training, there are many free versions of cloud based services and applications that will give you a good idea of how different types of solutions work. So spend some time evaluating them as to whether they will be appropriate for your provision now and in the future.

Set some target dates for trying out a selection of content creation applications. You can ask staff to identify a paper based learning resource and then choose one of the applications under discussion to develop an online enhanced version of that resource. If a team uses a selection of applications, gives feedbacks and shares the resource with colleagues a lot of useful information can be collated as to what you will take forwards as an organisation.

It may seem a significant investment of time just to get to the point of being able to confidently identify the medium and long term blended learning goals for your organisation, however it is time well spent. Your staff are more likely to be engaged in the journey to meet your objectives, and will have the confidence to continually evaluate their own and the organisation’s progress. On-going evaluation and development of your strategy are important as the blended learning model is never complete it continues to evolve. With everyone contributing to on-going developments and objectives it ensures that your strategy accurately reflects an achievable vision for the future.

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