Challenges for Blended Learning
Because blended learning changes the way employees, managers and trainers are used to thinking about education, some natural challenges arise in the effort to shift behavior to the new model.
While blended learning is already a hot trend among entrepreneurs, corporate employees may have had less exposure to blended models. Employees who are used to more passive traditional learning or who lack up-to-date computer skills may find the level of interactivity expected in a blended environment to be daunting, since it calls for Internet skills beyond e-mail. Workers who have snoozed through traditional classes may be surprised at the visibility individuals have in the blended environment when it comes to collaboration, one-to-one coaching calls, homework posting and contribution to knowledge databases and forums.
To assure a smooth transition, employees who are expected to learn in a blended environment should be introduced ahead of time to the blended learning concept and, if necessary, receive training in online skills prior to beginning a course.
Managers also face challenges with the blended learning environment. For managers used to traditional classroom learning, it can be comfortable to know where employees go to learn and when they are in class. With blended learning, employees combine scheduled calls and Web seminars with self-directed study offline and virtual group collaboration. In order for blended learning to succeed, managers must learn to trust employees to be active participants outside of a classroom setting and must be supportive of the at-work time requirements for calls, collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Corporate trainers may feel threatened by a shift to blended learning. Trainers without strong Internet skills may not be proficient in the new environment without additional skill building. Presenters who are used to thinking of classes in terms of traditional lecture and handouts may initially feel too overwhelmed by the choices available to them to utilize a mix of the most appropriate online and offline tools. Trainers who have been training with a fully developed system of binders, handouts and offline tools will need preparation time and, quite likely, technical support to create a fully realized blended environment.
All of these challenges can be overcome. Making sure that employees have the necessary online skills increases their job-related proficiency and decreases resistance to the new environment. Helping managers understand the benefits of the new blended environment can decrease anxiety around their perceived loss of control. Assuring that corporate trainers have the technical support and time to prepare for the new blended learning environment can reduce their stress and resistance to change.
Potential for Blended Learning
Entrepreneurs were among the first to grasp the power of blended learning's potential. Through blended learning platforms, they realized it was possible to gain the benefit of working with top business coaches and a global network of classroom colleagues without ever leaving the office. Because blended learning uses multiple delivery vehicles for content, scheduled group time is at a minimum. Learners are able to complete assignments, meet with other group members for collaboration and post to forums at their own pace when their schedules permit.
Corporate training has an even greater potential gain from blended learning because of the sheer scale and numbers of its programs. By applying a blended learning approach, companies can not only increase employee knowledge about the particular course content, but can increase valuable computer proficiency as well. High residual value can be created through the collaborative networks formed among students in blended classes; the networks continue to help with knowledge transfer long after the class is over.