How To Create A Winning Talent Development Formula
This article is part of a series exploring the concept of blended learning for remote and on-site workers. What you are about to read is a fable. The company, AshCom, is fictional but the learning challenges faced by Kathryn, AshCom’s CLO, and her team are real and commonly shared by learning teams in large organizations. It is our hope that you will be able to connect with the characters, their challenges, and the solutions they discover. We also invite you to read the first eBook in the series.
Rebecca’s Learning Journey
From strategies to objectives to assessments, from behaviorism to constructivism, from Bloom’s taxonomy to Kirkpatrick’s model, from Articulate Storyline™ to storyboarding to virtual reality, Rebecca had been involved in learning her entire life.
Now in her late 40s, she was experienced in K-12 education, university curriculum development, and instructional design for corporate L&D teams for a variety of industries from health care to manufacturing to technology. She led teams that built everything from onboarding to the proper process for making French fries to advanced leadership development.
Beyond her instructional design knowledge, Rebecca was a systems thinker who regularly spent time researching the latest trends in learning and development. Blended learning had been on her radar for more than two decades.
Darryl was a member of the learning team at AshCom, a Minneapolis-based manufacturer with 7,000 team members. He thought of himself as an artist who worked as an instructional designer. He preferred to call himself a learning experience designer, a title that eventually caught on at AshCom and became the standard title for IDs on the learning team.
AshCom faced two significant challenges. The first was a growing skills gap that resulted from the ever-increasing technical nature of manufacturing and the growing number of experienced technicians’ retirements each year at the company. This, in tandem with lower interest in manufacturing among younger people, made it challenging to fill the skills gap and give the company the labor force it needed to thrive in the global market.
The second challenge was the increasing call for more flexible work and even completely remote options. It first popped up with those being interviewed for jobs. Soon, current office employees were asking about remote as an option. It was becoming clear that this might make attracting new people and retaining current team members more challenging.
Laszlo, the Chief Human Resource Officer at AshCom, saw these trends as threats to the long-term success of the company. He brought both concerns to Kathryn, the Chief Learning Officer at AshCom. Kathryn, in turn, brought them to her learning team.
Darryl, a member of the learning team, considered the possibility that a blended learning solution might be right for both challenges. He mentioned this briefly to Kathryn, who asked him to do a little digging and come back to her with more complete thoughts.
What Is Blended Learning?
Before he got into his research, he assumed this would not be a challenge. Everyone, he thought, knows what blended learning is. After all, AshCom had done some blended learning in the past by taking some sections of instructor-led modules and injecting some eLearning experiences into them. Easy.
After several days of reading, it occurred to Darryl that he did not fully understand blended learning. But then again, neither did many of the articles he came across. The deeper he dug, the more confused he became. The answer to the question ‘what is blended learning?’ that he assumed would be easily found was more elusive than he anticipated. That led him to wonder, “Is the concept of blended learning even a useful construct?”
Darryl did not have good answers to either question. Kathryn had assigned him to find out more. When he met with Kathryn, he told her it was more complex than he had imagined and that he was stuck.
Kathryn suggested he meet with Rebecca. Rebecca and her team at Inno-Versity had become trusted learning partners to AshCom. She helped them build the learning framework for the true game Kathryn’s team built to help managers increase their financial literacy. Throughout the process, Rebecca brought the AshCom team back to the core principles of instructional design. Kathryn suspected that Rebecca might help get Darryl unstuck.
Darryl and Rebecca worked closely throughout the true game-building process and each respected the knowledge and skills of the other. At their meeting, Darryl walked Rebecca through the two challenges of the skills gap and remote work.
He also told her why these mattered. Global competition meant AshCom needed to find a way to drive down costs and drive up productivity. That meant more automation, increased tool utilization rates, and fewer defects. To accomplish these goals, they needed deeper skills and knowledge among the technicians at AshCom. But they also needed to limit the downtime of their machines and tools.
Blended Learning Solutions
As Darryl spoke, Rebecca furiously wrote in her notebook. When Darryl finished, Rebecca sat quietly for several moments.
“So, your learning team has been presented with two challenges,” said Rebecca. “and your CHRO sees them as potential future threats to AshCom. You have been assigned to dive into some possible solutions. You think you have one possible answer in blended learning. Does that about cover it?”
“Yes,” said Darryl, “except I have dug myself into a hole in what blended learning even is. Maybe more troubling, I’m not even sure the concept is all that helpful. So yes. I don’t know what it means, and I don’t know if it would matter even if I could define it in a way that made sense to me.”
“Is the point of meeting today for me to give you a good definition of blended learning and then tell you how it will fix the problem of remote work and the skills gap?” asked Rebecca, just shy of being sarcastic.
“Sounds like a plan,” said Darryl, meeting Rebecca’s tone. “If you can do that today, it would be appreciated.”
“Sure,” said Rebecca. “In all seriousness, I think you are right on the money about blended learning. Let’s talk through that before we talk about remote learning or the skills gap. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” said Darryl.
Rethinking The Definition
“I’ve been watching the research and articles on blended learning for my entire career. I’ve read dozens of dissertations along with hundreds of articles. I remember back in about 2005 when experts were predicting that blended learning would become the new traditional model.”
“I’ve seen that recently too,” replied Darryl. “Still seems like a new concept to some. Maybe the push for remote education in schools is the source. Or maybe it is being driven by technology. It just seems like we still mostly mean adding some eLearning or online modality to instructor-led and we have blended.”
“And you don’t like that definition?” asked Rebecca.
“No, I don’t,” said Darryl. “I don’t think it is helpful. I don’t think the goal is to create more blended learning. Furthermore, I don’t think blending instructor-led and eLearning necessarily addresses remote work or the skills gap. That feels like we are pointed at the wrong objective and goes against some of the core principles of the best of learning science.”
“I completely understand,” said Rebecca. “Would we call it blended if people were in the same room each taking an eLearning module on a desktop? What if someone was going through a virtual reality experience but in a room where others are doing the same? Is that blended?”
“Let me be more precise,” said Darryl, “who cares what counts as blended learning? Being counted as blended learning doesn’t necessarily solve our challenges or, actually, mean much at all to me.”
“Got it,” said Rebecca. “I think I can help. You mentioned the core principles of instructional design and learning science. Let’s go back to those. Good design thinking never starts with the How, which is what blended learning has been in the past. We start with the Why and the Who.”
“Now we are talking,” said Darryl. “Where do you want to start?”
“I have a simple formula that I’ve found helpful that leaves the question of which modality or combination of modalities to the very end. Maybe it will be useful to you and AshCom.”
The Blended Learning Equation
Rebecca stood, grabbed a blue marker, and wrote on the whiteboard: N1+N2+T+D = M
“It lacks the eloquence of E=MC2,” said Darryl.
“Never claimed I was Einstein. I’m not trying to describe a physical reality like he was. This is more like a 50,000-foot view cookbook. It won’t tell you every detail and isn’t meant to be a micro step-by-step guide for building great learning experiences or solving remote work or filling in the skills gap.”
“So how will it help the learning team at AshCom?” asked Darryl.
“I mean this more as a logical process to follow,” replied Rebecca. “The core elements or principles, but in the right order. Let me flesh this out just a little, and it will make more sense.”
Rebecca turned back to the whiteboard and wrote:
N1 = Needs of AshCom
N2 = Needs of AshCom’s learners
T = Tools Available
D = Design
M = Modality
Rebecca gave Darryl a few moments to take this in and said, “Let’s set aside the whole concept of blended learning for a moment and walk through this. Is that ok with you?”
“More than ok with me,” said Darryl. “This has been driving me nuts for a week.”
“First,” said Rebecca, “the needs of AshCom. N1. We don’t have to do a lot of wondering about them. You’ve already told me your company has needs related to remote work and the skills gap. We can talk a lot about why you have those needs, but we don’t debate that they exist.”
“I’m with you so far,” replied Darryl.
“N2 is the needs of your learners,” said Rebecca. “You already know those too for both those who already work here and those you are trying to hire. Both are asking for remote work options. Whatever solution you come up with will need to take those needs seriously.”
“I might call those wants,” said Darryl.
“Call them what you like,” replied Rebecca, “if your CHRO thinks they are a threat to attracting and retaining good team members, it doesn’t matter what you call them.”
“True,” said Darryl.
“N2 is also where you would include the learners’ needs for higher skills and understanding of the tools and machines they use. You mentioned AshCom continues to use more technical manufacturing solutions. If your employees are going to be successful, they need knowledge and skills.”
Darryl nodded. “I’m really wondering about the T. What does that signify?”
“T is a complete list of all the tools available to you,” said Rebecca. “It can also include tools that you don’t currently have access to but might like to acquire.”
“Not sure I’m following this part of the equation,” said Darryl. “Which tools? Like authoring tools?”
“Sure, but I have something bigger in mind than authoring tools,” replied Rebecca. “You have training rooms and qualified trainers. You have all sorts of software including a variety of authoring tools. You can make videos and some animation. Maybe someone on your team has expertise with 3D modeling or augmented reality. Maybe you know a company that can do virtual reality. Shameless plug for Inno-Versity–we do that.”
Rebecca continued, “I’m not trying to make a comprehensive list of every tool available to you. I know you know something about building a true game. I also know that you’ve built learning apps and even did some custom authoring.”
“So, begin with AshCom’s needs,” said Darryl. “Then the needs of the learners. Then consider all the tools available to us and maybe some we don’t currently have but could find.”
“Is a picture starting to emerge?” asked Rebecca.
“I’ll say this,” said Darryl, “the sky is beginning to clear, and you still haven’t mentioned blended learning.”
“That’s because blended learning isn’t yet part of the consideration,” replied Rebecca. “Where do you think the conversation about blended will come?”
“I’m sure at the end,” said Darryl.
“OK, then let’s wait until the end,” replied Rebecca. “The D is for design. You have a basic understanding of N1. Same with N2. You may need more details, but at least you have a direction. You have also created a list of tools available to you. Once you have this, you have to do what good instructional designers do. You have to apply design principles. You have to do the work of bringing this all together. That’s the job of your team.”
“Still no mention of blended learning,” said Darryl.
“Let me complete the picture,” replied Rebecca. “The M is modality. Or more likely, modalities. Chances are after you’ve completed the first part, you will have a deep understanding of the needs of AshCom and your learners, you will have a list of tools available to you, and you will apply solid learning science.”
“Then,” continued Rebecca, “you will know if you have blended learning or not. If you decide to deliver learnings experiences in multiple modalities, you will have what you might describe as blended.”
“But will I care that they are blended at that point?” asked Darryl.
Rebecca replied, “You said earlier you weren’t sure of the definition of blended learning or if the term even mattered. Do you think it matters?”
Darryl thought for several seconds. “Yes and no,” he said. “It wasn’t the objective, so not really. By this model, blended learning is more of one possible outcome determined by how many modalities we decide to use based on needs, tools available, and design.”
“Is that a light bulb I see?” teased Rebecca.
“At least,” replied Darryl. “It has gotten me out of my dilemma. Blended learning is only a way of describing a learning experience at the end of the design process. It doesn’t make sense to set a goal of blending learning at the beginning.”
“Yes,” said Rebecca. “It might be an outcome. It might not be an outcome. But it should never be an objective.”
“Do you mind if we end here?” asked Darryl. “I’ve got to get to my next meeting. I also need some time to stare at this.”
“I’ve heard you are a deliberative person,” said Rebecca.
“That’s a nice way of saying that,” said Darryl. “Thank you. I am practiced at taking my time and not jumping to conclusions, something I learned years ago after jumping to some false conclusions. Are you OK if I review this with Kathryn our CLO? She is the one who suggested I meet with you, and I will be sure to give you all the credit. Actually, I’ll probably ask you to join me if that is acceptable to you and Kathryn.”
“I’m happy to help where I can,” said Rebecca. “Just let me know a time and a day, and I’ll be prepared.”
Rebecca truly loved helping people think through thorny learning problems. Darryl had the same passion for considering such problems and trying to come up with the best possible solution.
Both left the meeting feeling gratified.
Download the eBook Beyond Blended Learning: A Winning Formula For Remote Workforce Talent to discover how AshCom overcomes its L&D challenges using innovative blended learning strategies. Also, join the webinar to uncover valuable insights that will help you improve your L&D planning and learning delivery.