Corporate Blends Face Challenges Similar to K-12

The Oxford Group and Kineo surveyed 100 mostly global corporations about Blended Learning–Current Uses, Challenges, and Best Practices.  While the companies may be a year or two ahead of K-12 schools, the survey responses sound familiar.  The report highlights key conclusions from the survey:

  1. Blended learning is well-established but not necessarily ‘well blended’: Blended learning solutions are an important part of the learning & development landscape, with 86% of respondents combining technological and traditional learning methods frequently or sometimes. Combining more than one learning method into a solution is no longer unusual. Respondents did, however, highlight the dangers of having a team of designers working in their silos on each different learning element, rather than there being a single vision for the blend to which each learning method contributes.
  2. In designing a blend companies consider  learning objectives and organizational drivers: While the most common factor used in selecting learning methods to include in a blend is ‘appropriateness in meeting learning objectives’, other key factors are linked to organizational drivers such as ‘company infrastructure and resources to support learning’ and factors which reflect the global nature of business, such as ‘speed to reach all your learners’, ‘time to deliver’ and ‘geographical dispersal of the learner population’. However, given the number of factors that our respondents take into account, including cost, it’s perhaps surprising that 51% never or rarely calculate the return on investment or construct business cases as part of  the blended design process.
  3. There is a gap between the typical elements currently used in blended solutions and expectations of how technology could be used: Blends are currently being designed using the well-established learning methods such as face-to-face training, self-paced e-learning and learning resources – and on average designers are combining 4.8 different learning methods in a blend. However respondents expect face-to-face training to reduce, and that there will be a significant increase in the use of mobile learning, virtual classrooms and webinars, access to on-demand learning resources and social learning. With the exception of learning resources, these learning methods aren’t currently in frequent use; it appears that respondents are looking for blended solutions to ‘catch up’ with what is technologically feasible.
  4. There are some significant challenges facing those wanting to introduce blended solutions, particularly in terms of dealing with the relative complexity of blended solutions and lack of internal expertise: The time and complexity of designing and developing a blend are cited as key challenges, as well as lack of internal expertise. This lack of internal expertise is a particular barrier, with 57% of respondents saying that they have no or only few people in their organization with the appropriate skills and experience to manage blended learning. In addition, only 26% have people who specialize in blended learning, rather than expecting traditional training or e-learning roles to fill the gap and this, despite the fact that many surveyed recognized that you can’t assume that good face-to-face trainers or e-learning designers will have the skills to design and map a truly blended solution. On a positive note, respondents are less worried about the attitudes of learners to blended solutions, with only 16% citing ‘dislike/suspicion of blended learning by target audience’ and 25% ‘concern that learners won’t complete the learning’ – far lower than we may have expected to be the case just a few years ago.
  5. However blended learning is used, there are some clear success factors which need to be in place, including a structured process for designing an effective blend: Respondents have introduced successful blended solutions for a variety of purposes, ranging from all-staff programs to those focused on people in specific roles and covering a wide range of learning objectives, e.g. product knowledge, operational training and leadership & management skills. Across those different solutions, the success factors for blended learning highlighted were: needing a structured process for design which produces a cohesive whole, being rigorous in needs analysis and involving stakeholders, involving people with appropriate skills, and bearing in mind the organization’s constraints. As respondents are experimenting with blended solutions and learning by trial and error, there’s a need to share best practice so as to accelerate the development of expertise in blended learning.

Blended learning is a global opportunity to dramatically improve how people learn whether fifth grade scientists, salespeople, or soldiers. This survey makes it clear that we’re all making this up as we go, that we’re all frustrated that the toolset is lagging learning models, and that capacity is a big challenge.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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