Thought leadership with Jane Armytage. Jane is Lumina Learning’s Global Business Delivery Manager and the brains behind our global rollout of highly interactive, user-focused virtual content delivered across qualifications, workshops and live experiences. See Jane’s Lumina Splash and discover her personality, preferences and style.
Adapting for the future
Over the last year we have all become far more familiar with working remotely and all the paraphernalia that goes with the virtual world. We have Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet along with many other ways of collaborating and working virtually in the day to day.
Learning and Development professionals have demonstrated amazing adaptability in getting their face-to-face programmes up and running online. A quick-fix approach has got us through the Covid crisis so far, but – given that virtual delivery is now here to stay – our approach to L&D design may need a rethink. So what can we do to ensure that we are delivering engaging interactive content and providing deep learning for our participants?
In this article we explain why taking a blended learning approach is key and offer suggestions for how to do this based on the success of our Lumina Learning Virtual Qualification programmes. Read to the end for our five Top Tips for designing best practice blended learning programmes.
Why Take a Blended Learning Approach?
The Emerald Works (formerly Towards Maturity) Back to the Future1 report from February 2020 provides an update to their longitudinal study involving over 8500 organisations worldwide. This wide-ranging report gathers data from Senior Learning and Development leaders with responsibility for setting or advising on learning strategy. The report shows an increase in the use of digital tools but makes clear that the use of digital tools alone is not enough to have real impact.
The report highlighted some important findings about learners’ needs:
- Learners value being in control of their learning both in terms of timing and location
- Support and encouragement is important
- 94% of learners like being able to learn at their own pace
- 68% want to be able to access learning on the go
A blended learning approach can offer all of these benefits and more. However – as the ‘learning ecosystem’ zone of the Capability map shows – at the start of 2020, L&D professionals still lacked many of the necessary design skills needed with little improvement from previous years. The pandemic based immersion in virtual design skills has been a bit of a wake up call.
Learning and Development delivery in early 2020 was still found to be predominantly classroom based with a mix of Blended and Online learning coming a poor second, although this does vary with the size of the organisation1.
Blended learning can also incorporate more than just face-to-face and online learning (e-learning content). Options such as mobile or digital apps, social networks, collaborative learning and on-the-job can all form part of the mix. Yet 54% of learning leaders reported using less than three learning approaches in their blend, with only 17% reporting using four or more learning approaches simultaneously1.
The Covid Pandemic will have changed this in 2020/21 as we have all been forced into virtual delivery. However, with the low skill levels in L&D teams identified, how effective is this hastily put together learning?
As we start to think about a post-Covid world, now seems an ideal opportunity to review what has been designed to ensure it is the absolute best it can be.
What is it about Blended Learning that Makes it the Way Forward?
We are now in a virtual world for delivery – we will not go back to entirely face to face as there has been significant investment in converting courses and workshops into a digital format. So why is this a good thing?
With blended learning design you are not limited to one medium or delivery channel. The whole approach of blended learning is to promote a continuous learning approach which is more effective at creating change and deep learning by allowing the learner to pace their learning. Using different learning methods provides more opportunities for social learning, collaboration, increased participation and informal strategies.
Using both synchronous and asynchronous approaches provides more opportunities for learners to cultivate skills and apply them. Finally, there is the potential for faster development and reduced costs depending upon which approaches are selected. To quote one of the findings of the Back to the Future report1:
“The ability of organisations and individuals to learn, unlearn and relearn underpins whether they’re likely to innovate, dominate or be left behind. An organisation must purposely adapt and efficiently respond to internal and external changes to stay competitive. In this story learning leaders need to help individuals and the organisation to be responsive, flexible and adaptable to change. And make sure the organisations human capital is healthy and competitive.”
How did we Develop our Virtual Blended Learning Qualifications at Lumina Learning?
Our move towards blended learning began back in 2019 with a redesign of our Qualification programmes. Our aim was to ensure the best learning took place so that our Practitioners were able to get airborne as quickly as possible.
The three-day face-to-face Lumina Spark Qualification we had traditionally run was effective, but there was content that could not be covered as comprehensively as we would have liked in the time available. So in early 2020 we successfully trialled a two-day blended programme that was topped and tailed with online content delivered via a social learning platform. When the pandemic hit, we were able to swiftly take the blended programme fully online with four 3-hour virtual classrooms interspersed with four sections of content on the social learning platform. Virtual versions of our other product Qualifications followed soon after.
A year in, we have found that our programmes are not just effective virtual solutions: our participants tell us that they are an improvement on our traditional face-to-face programmes with deeper learning and more engaging experience.
What our Participants say about our Qualifications
“I thought you did a terrific job of running it virtually and keeping everyone engaged. I’ve been doing a parallel online course in another tool and this one was head and shoulders about the other one in all aspects but particularly in the quality of the content and the engagement in the live events.”
“Having just completed my virtual Lumina Spark Qualification, in all my years, I have never learned so much in such a short time. Lumina has gone the extra mile to make virtual learning personal, engaging and truly interactive.”
Designing a Blended Programme
A common misconception with redesigning a programme to be virtual is that all you need to do is look at how you deliver the content now and simply work out how to deliver the same content just using webinars or virtual classrooms.
We would recommend a more root and branch approach designing blended learning from the bottom up. Starting with your learning objectives, work out the best way to deliver each objective and then consider which content is best delivered synchronously and which asynchronously.
From this starting point you can then think through the new flow of the programme to enable learning to be effective. Keep an accurate record of your design to ensure the flow of learning is maintained. Be prepared to consider whether each learning element now fits into the design. Don’t be afraid to let go of content if it is no longer appropriate or to reorder learning objects to make them work in your new design.
Once you have launched the programme, use an iterative approach to continuously improve the design and ensure achievement of the learning outcomes – but do remember to keep careful records as you go. Post programme feedback will also help you to refine your programme to make it even more effective.
Asynchronous delivery is great for imparting knowledge, with videos, tests, quizzes and other activities serving to embed learning and allowing opportunities to apply the knowledge learnt.
Giving online content, work or exercises to complete between sessions embeds learning further and allows practical application of the learning.
A learning experience platform is a great way to deliver online learning, particularly a social online learning platform which allows delegates to share their responses and upload content to generate a feeling of community and shared learning. At Lumina Learning we use Stream from Learning Pool which allows us to offer a range of learning activities to support the virtual classrooms. It is important to keep the asynchronous content varied, mixing up videos, narrated PowerPoints, downloadable documents, quizzes and other online learning content. Follow up each object with questions to test understanding and embed the learning. Watching a video on its own is not learning!
Opportunities for practice in the real world are important too. In our Qualifications, we encourage buddying up of the delegates to debrief each other’s Portraits, putting into practice what they have learnt online and in the Virtual Classrooms. We also give practice Portraits for participants to take back into their workplace to build further learning post-course.
Synchronous delivery focuses on interactive application and practice, layering the learning and deepening understanding of the asynchronous content.
The synchronous elements should feel like a virtual classroom not a webinar, with lots of interaction and involvement of the participants. Keep the classrooms short and focused – 2.5 to 3.5 hours is about the maximum length of classroom we would recommend.
Carefully managing the opening up of microphones will allow you to manage time effectively and limiting numbers in the classroom will allow for lots of interactivity. It is important to introduce the interactive elements early on in the classroom and breakout rooms are a great way to get the participants to both connect with each other and to become familiar with the technology.
Plan and test your classrooms with a pilot group – don’t wing it. You need to make sure you are comfortable with the technology and have practised using all the functionality of your programme. A smooth delivery will help to ensure you meet your learning objectives and deliver a compelling virtual classroom that engages the learners.
Keep it simple – don’t include too many different technologies and don’t overcomplicate things. You need to consider your audience comfort levels with technology. It is about getting the right balance between making the most of useful functionality and not letting the technology get in the way of the learning. Mix up the content and keep the visuals moving by using animations on slides, polls, breakouts, annotation and chat to keep engagement high. Wherever possible co-facilitate – technical failures happen and you need to know that one of you can pick up if the other loses connection. Finally, a second monitor when facilitating will allow you to keep sight of the participants, slides, chat box and any other windows.
Our 5 Top Tips for creating engaging and compelling interactive content
Design blended learning from the bottom up and be prepared to let go of content that does not fit the flow
Keep the classrooms interactive! – Mix it up! – use animations on slides, breakouts, polls, annotations and chat to keep engagement high
Leverage asynchronous delivery keeping the content varied. Include opportunities to apply the learning
Build on the asynchronous learning in the classrooms and back in the workplace to layer the learning and deepen understanding
Don’t overcomplicate things!
- Daly, J. & Ahmetaj, G. Back to the Future: Why tomorrow’s workforce needs a learning culture. Emerald Works, 2020.
- Bonk, C. & Grahm, C. The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs. Pfeiffer, 2005.
- Glazer, F. & Rehn, J. Blended Learning: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy. Stylus Publishing, 2011.
- Kineo & The Oxford Group. Blended Learning Today, 2013.
- Oliver, M. , & Trigwell , K. Can “blended learning” be redeemed? E-Learning , 2 ( 1 ), 17 – 26, 2005.
- Schuhmann, R. & Skopek, T. Blurring the Lines: A Blended Learning Model in a Graduate Public Administration Program. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 10(2), 2009.
- Singh, H. Building Effective Blended Learning Programs. Educational Technology,
43 (6), 51-54, 2003.