While new technologies in your blended learning approach can be
a great asset, it pays to be mindful of common pitfalls.
If your organization is already using classroom, synchronous, and
asynchronous content to some degree, it might seem a snap to
implement a blended learning curriculum. The technologies are in
place, so you already have all of the components, right?
It's actually not that simple. When implementing any distributed
learning system, organizations often find themselves focusing on
the technology, while participant success is an afterthought. There
seems to be an assumption that participant success will come
naturally, and the technology will do the work for us.
Technology that is made available via virtual classroom, video,
Flash, or other system, is a means to an end, successfully meeting
the instructional goals and objectives. When the technology is
treated as the destination, programs often fall flat because the
choice of delivery tool becomes more important than the content.
Tool selection is then allowed to dictate what is included in the
course design; for example, if the tool allows for cool animations,
then animations are included, whether or not they have
These problems are amplified when programs are blended together.
Learning professionals invest in software, infrastructure, and
bandwidth and expect instructional designers, facilitators, and
participants to sign right up for the journey. And in doing so,
they are not investing in a successful learning paradigm.
While technology, or the lack thereof, certainly has an impact, the
actual nuts and bolts should be the core focus. Each organization
will need to develop a strategy to implement the right solutions,
taking into account their individual curriculum, audience, and
Ensuring success of technology use
Often, implementing blended learning is considered a technology
initiative. But an organization would be much better served looking
at it as a change initiative. When talking with learners and
trainers about what worries them, technology is usually first on
their list, and the concerns are two-fold. First, before attending
their first training session, learners need to do a check to ensure
the technology works, and, if for some reason it does not,
determine whether they have enough time to fix trouble spots or
find another solution. Problems usually arise with bandwidth or
firewalls, not the technology itself. Ensure that the IT department
is apprised of a new class star so they are ready to help.
Second, learners ask, "Can I use the technology successfully?"
Although many online software packages, both synchronous and
asynchronous, are touted by vendors as easy-to-use, participants
need the opportunity to acclimate themselves to this new learning
environment so that participation in the blend and collaboration
with other participants is effortless.
A formalized learning orientation should be developed to ensure
that these concerns are resolved prior to delivery of critical
content. Participants should attend a live session that explains
how to learn online, how to get help, and how to interact with
peers and facilitators. Perhaps most importantly, participants
should be provided with an overview of the blended curriculum, and
critical success factors for completion should be shared.
Overcoming the idea that online learning cannot be as
effective as classroom training
With all the focus on technology, we often forget that the move to
blended learning is a big change for all involved. Skilled
classroom facilitators can no longer rely on body language and eye
contact to be successful. Instructional designers need to create
content for an environment they may not have experienced as a
learner. And participants, forced to learn from unsophisticated
designs and unprepared facilitators, often leave programs
unsatisfied. Such personal factors, combined with the complexity of
multiple technologies, make blended learning curricula appear
confusing or involving too much work.
Attestation proves to participants that blended learning works.
Start by piloting a curriculum that is not immediately critical,
and allow participants to opt in to the pilot. Make changes,
document successes, and then publish the results.
You may need to go through this process several times with
different content types. Application training, leadership training,
and business planning are all examples of curricula that deliver
very different training outcomes, and you might need to make the
case for all different content types. An additional benefit of
going through this process several times is that you'll start to
identify the specific needs of your training organization for each
of the content types and create a library of best practices and
blunders for creating blended learning specific to your
Keeping online offerings interactive
Because of the inexperience of the training designers and
facilitators, opportunities to collaborate and practice are often
lost, even in the live environment. The participant experiences
content, followed by more content, followed by more content.
Content dumps allow motivated participants to memorize information
at the most basic level, while turning off unmotivated participants
So where is the learning? Learning comes from discussion, practice,
collaboration, and evaluation, not from a talking head facilitator
or page after page of online text. Technology has become the
culprit, not the solution.
The remedy is simple: the team that is creating and delivering the
blended curriculum needs training to create an interactive,
engaging learning environment. It entails much more than inserting
existing slides into a virtual classroom or an asynchronous content
development tool. The delivery tool in and of itself will not make
the content effective. The content must be redesigned to work in
the new environment, and the facilitators need to be trained in how
to deploy it. If you want your blended curriculum to be as
effective as your classroom programs, an equivalent amount of
preparation needs to be done.
Ensuring participant commitment and follow-through during
"If it is really important, she'll tell me when I get to the real
class." Let's face it, we've taught our participants through all of
their classroom experiences over the years that pre-work is
optional. The important stuff will happen when we are together.
This is not just a challenge for the participants. If trainers do
not require completion of self-directed work, then participants
will not complete it. Trainers are left trying to decide if they
should fill the knowledge gap and get participants up to speed on
prerequisites or stay true to the class design.
To overcome this obstacle, facilitators should start this process
during the learner orientation session and craft a message that
explains the importance of each component of the blend. Continue to
stress the importance and interdependencies throughout the
self-directed components, then find ways to incorporate the
knowledge gained during self-directed work into discussions. For
those who don't get the message, attach consequences. If
assignments are not completed or attendance is not satisfactory, do
not issue a "complete" for the program. The truant participants
will be forced to explain to their managers why they did not
receive a certificate or why they need to take a class again.
Matching the best delivery medium to the objective
Because many organizations lack experience creating a successful
blend, they often don't align content with the most appropriate
technology. Lecturing for 40 minutes on how to create a Pivot Table
in Excel is not effective because creation requires hands-on
practice. However, it is so easy to demonstrate the topic using
application sharing in a virtual classroom, that facilitators often
mistake the demonstration for instruction and leave the learning up
to the participants to figure out on their own time.
Designers of blended curricula need to remember that each learning
objective has different characteristics. Some objectives lend
themselves better to activity-based training, while others tend to
be more knowledge or lecture oriented. Going through the process of
designing the best training approach on an objective-by-objective
level allows for exploration of a blended solution. In addition to
examining each objective individually, we must also view them in
light of the whole curriculum to ensure that they are integrated
instead of each being its own independent learning piece that
happens to be associated with the same topic.
It's not about "getting the technology right." It's about getting
the people and the instruction right. That's the destination at
which we are trying to arrive. The hardware and software are just
the cars and highways en route.