In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, corporate Learning and Development (L&D) is more critical than ever. However, in the past, L&D professionals have faced the dilemma of choosing between a purely digital or an in-person approach to training employees. While both methods have their advantages, an increasingly popular solution is the blended approach, which combines the best of both worlds. Whilst a blended approach is popular, often L&D professionals are left trying to combine multiple service providers to achieve the desired outcome. Written after three years of actively implementing blended approaches, this article will discuss the benefits of a blended approach in corporate L&D and why it may be the ideal solution for organizations looking to maximize their training effectiveness while minimizing costs and logistical challenges.
Firstly, the flexibility conferred by combining both online and offline learning methods allows learners to choose when and where they want to learn, making it easier for them to fit learning into their busy schedules. Learners can access eLearning courses on their computers, laptops, and even mobiles, meaning learning can fit into even the busiest schedules. As eLearning through mobile devices increases in popularity with apps like Duolingo, organizations can take advantage of this to upskill their people more easily. Moreover, adopting a blended approach is especially useful in the modern business world, where hybrid working is commonplace and up to 16% of the workforce is completely remote. Having an eLearning platform alongside classroom training allows employees to conduct the required learning from home, abroad, or anywhere else in between. This reduces logistical complexities and costs of travel expenses whilst still incorporating the benefits of traditional classroom teaching. Many experts predict even more fragmentation regarding the geographical location of employees due to younger generations increasingly opting to freelance and embark on a digital nomad lifestyle. A blended approach is, therefore, a good way for organizations to future-proof their L&D function.
Personalization is another huge advantage. A blended approach can be customized to meet the individual needs of learners. The eLearning platform can target certain courses at specific individuals, meaning employees can spend time building their knowledge, skills, and capabilities appropriately given the organization’s strategic objectives. Then, the in-person element of the blended approach can use the data gathered on the platform to target individuals, departments, and branches that require the in-person consultancy the most. The combination of the two accounts for a wider range of learning styles and cycles than a purely digital or in-person approach could. Learners can therefore engage with the most relevant material in ways that best suit their needs, with several studies demonstrating this reduces learning cycles. The Journal of Educational Computing Research found that a blended learning approach reduced the time needed to complete a training program by 30%. In addition, the American Society for Training Development found that companies that used blended learning approaches were able to deliver training in 40–60% less time than those using traditional classroom methods. This, alongside the 50% improvement in learning outcomes, illustrates a blended approach’s power.
The improvement in learning outcomes leads to the next advantage: increased engagement. By incorporating a variety of learning methods, such as interactive online modules, group discussions, and hands-on activities, learners are more likely to stay engaged and motivated throughout the learning process. Additionally, learners have more opportunities to learn at their own pace, meaning they can move more slowly over topics they are less familiar with and can revisit content as often as required. Not only does this increase the level of personal responsibility employees feel during the learning process, but it also eliminates any embarrassment some may feel about learning more slowly. For all of these reasons, a blended approach increases engagement, as demonstrated by the Brandon Hall Group, which found that organizations opting for a blended approach achieved a 21% increase in employee engagement and a 50% increase in productivity.
Business leaders will be happy to learn that the increased flexibility, personalization, and engagement result in tangible improvements to the organization’s bottom line. A blended approach increases profits in two key ways. Firstly, distributing knowledge using an eLearning platform and reinforcing it, where required, in person reduces a large proportion of the cost. Eliminating the majority of traveling and accommodation costs significantly reduces the overall price. Moreover, digital resources can be reused repeatedly, reducing the need to develop new materials continuously. The exact amount saved depends on many factors, including:
Having said this, travel and accommodation can typically account for as much as 50% of the total cost. Moreover, as employees can learn at their own pacing when using the eLearning platform, organizations’ learning is no longer limited to the pace of the slowest learning as it would be in purely classroom teaching. This reduction in time reduces costs too.
The second key way profits are increased is down to the benefits of the blended approach as opposed to cost reduction. Many organizations see increased revenue per employee post-training by improving variety, reducing learning cycles, and increasing retention. A study conducted by the eLearning industry found that a blended learning approach could increase revenue by up to 60% in a variety of industries, including technology, finance, and healthcare. Moreover, the eLearning industry also discovered a 50% higher net income per employee than companies that do not use a blended approach to learning. By reducing costs and increasing revenue, the blended approach to corporate L&D seems like a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, life is rarely easy, and there are some elements of the blended approach that can become problematic:
Depending on the current level of technology within the L&D function of a business, installing an eLearning platform, LMS, or similar, can be an expensive initial investment. The cost of building the infrastructure will depend on the organization, its size, current capabilities, etc.; however, once the technology is installed, the annual costs will generally be cheaper than if all L&D were to be conducted in a classroom. Having said this, roughly 90% of organizations in the UK have some form of eLearning platform, so this would not be an issue for the majority of companies.
Additionally, technological barriers could be off-putting for some learners and, therefore, some organizations. If employees are technologically illiterate and feel uncomfortable using technology, more time could be spent learning how to use the platform as opposed to actually learning on it. Whilst it’s difficult to estimate how large a problem this is, a survey done by the European Commission found that around 44% of Europeans aged 16–74 have insufficient digital skills. This was defined as lacking basic digital skills, such as email, web browsing, and office software. Business leaders should consider this on a case-by-case basis, as they will have a better gauge of how substantial a problem this would be within their organization.
One could argue, however, that this presents an opportunity as opposed to a disadvantage. It’s commonly accepted that the role technology plays in our organizations is only growing, regardless of the industry. Digital transformation is one of the most significant conversions organizations have undergone or will undergo. A blended learning approach is significantly better at teaching digital skills than purely digital or in-person approaches—the blend allows those who are technologically challenged to learn the capabilities from a human, whilst also practicing using the tech. This is supported by empirical evidence from the U.S. Department of Education, which found that students in blended learning environments outperformed those in traditional classroom settings. Moreover, the Journal of Educational Computing Research found that blended learning was effective in teaching computer programming skills to high school students, with the blended approach performing "significantly better." Whilst the technological abilities of employees are undoubtedly a consideration, viewing it exclusively as a disadvantage overlooks the opportunity.
Finally, the implementation of blended learning can sometimes be poor. For example, the balance between face-to-face intervention and digital learning may be off, leading to employees feeling disconnected from the learning. Some employees may struggle to manage their time when it’s their own responsibility. For fully remote workers, even having a small proportion of face-to-face classroom teaching may reduce flexibility rather than increase it. Finally, if a blended approach is not tailored to suit each organization, its potential will not be maximized.
Blended learning is a broad concept; different organizations should implement it differently. It is, therefore, important to select a provider offering a "learning-as-a-service" package, as this grants the flexibility to implement a bespoke approach. Every organization has different requirements, capabilities, and cultures, which should be treated as such. Creating a glide path between the current capabilities of the workforce and what is required to reach the organization’s strategic objectives is absolutely essential. A bespoke approach is, therefore, the most effective. This will help guide all subsequent learning. Resultantly, implementation-related criticisms are not a reason to reject the blended approach, as they can be mitigated by choosing the right L&D partner.
In conclusion, blended learning offers several advantages, including flexibility, personalization, increased engagement, and increased profit for organizations. However, some potential drawbacks, such as technical barriers, initial up-front costs, and implementation problems, need to be addressed. Overall, while blended learning may not be a perfect solution, it has the potential to provide significant benefits for learners and organizations alike, and as such, it is a valuable approach to consider for corporate L&D.
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