Blended learning as a better business model
by Sjoerd Boersma, founder of LearningStone
If you are designing a training program, it’s natural to focus on the trainee’s perspective. Is the content relevant? Are they learning enough? Are they enjoying themselves? Does the program help them on the job?
All those questions are important but a trainer also needs to think about the operational and business side of his or her profession and this leads to a totally different set of questions. Is the training program efficient and cost effective? Does the learning environment attract clients and strengthen the business proposition? Is the training program scalable?
Online learning technology shows a lot of promise for optimizing your business processes but the question is which new tools and methods really work. After years of experience with all sorts of technology, the team at LearningStone realized that the blended learning model - the combination of face-to-face and online learning – offers both the efficiency and power of technology and the flexibility, inspiration and warmth of live training.
This insight inspired us to build a totally new type of online environment, leaving the often-unsuccessful self-paced e-learning tools behind and now that we see our user base grow by the tens of thousands, we realize we are not only solving a learning problem but are actually shaping the training business itself.
So now the question is: how does blended learning make your training business more profitable and what do you need?
One of the most exciting aspects (for your business) of online tools, is that they scale , meaning that the extra cost of a growing number of customers is relatively low. Due to the flexible nature of cloud subscriptions, the initial investment is very low but once you need to grow you can . Of course, your face-to-face training is harder to scale, but it becomes easier to scale if at least part of what you do is online.
Flexible: serve them when, where and how they need it
So, now you may think that 100% online learning is the way to go (most scalable) but it’s a fact that most self-paced e-learning products fail and disappear again. They are simply not motivating enough and not flexible enough for most situations.
As a training professional, you deliver training, you know about the subject matter and you know about the pedagogy. You also know that every group has different requirements. You know that you can adapt (you’re human!) and given a flexible online platform you can support the learning in a multitude of ways without being worried about being stuck with outdated and hard to adapt e-learning.
Sometimes you will have people sign up for an individual course and sometimes you will want to support collaborative learning. The learning platforms should give you the opportunity to let people join one at a time or all at once as a group. And since you have all the materials ready, you can let them in when they are ready (since you have organized yourself, you are ready all the time!) depending on their readiness, their performance or in relation to the face-to-face training dates.
Collaborative learning saves time
(and is more fun!)
Collaborative learning is in itself good for your business. Trainees can enrich training with their experiences and support one another. Theory and preparatory reading can be done by each individual separately at a moment and time that suits them best. Traditional homework assignments can be replaced by collaborative assignments (e.g. participants review each other’s uploaded video’s) which is not only much better and more fun learning but also an enormous time-saver for the trainer.
Of course, not every situation allows for collaborative groups, but it should always be your first choice if possible. If you’re in doubt about letting people work together, answer this.
During a face-to-face training I like to
So if that’s the answer for your face-to-face training, give collaborative learning a second thought.
Transitioning to blended learning
We see many of our users gradually transfer from only face-to-face training to blended learning, finding out when they can gain efficiency and optimize their processes while they’re at it. Quite often they start out by putting all the material and their regular planning online and do little else. On the go they find out the process can be optimized. They can repeat the process with new trainees, easily make changes, start using efficient online tools add more content and enrich content trainees have provided and grow their model and, and let people collaborate. They soon realize that more of the learning can be done anywhere, any place (the Martini Principle). Face-to-face hours can be reduced without loss of quality or higher quality can be put in the same amount of hours.
One stop learning management
Of course, blended learning in itself does not always save time, it really depends on your tooling. Our very first customer had a training program that took a year and a half to train 150 employees at 60 different locations. They had planned to use a set of online tools for storing and distributing material (Dropbox), communication (a LinkedIn group), evaluations (Survey Monkey) and a lot of email. The problem was management! A second experiment with SharePoint failed as well. One person needed to work nearly full time setting up accounts, distributing materials, checking who had gotten what, notifying everyone, deleting old materials etc.
Instead of using ( and knowing how to use ) all these different tools, you should consider using one single platform. One tool that automates notifications and reminders. One spot where your trainees can find their materials, communicate with the other trainees and upload their assignments (while you receive a notification). One environment that can be archived or deleted when you’re done.
Scaling and streamlining your training process, your focus on flexibility, organization and efficiency will serve two goals: better learning for your trainees and a better business model for yourself. Having to spend less time organizing, managing and traveling and being more flexible means, you make more money in less time while actually improving the return on investment for your clients.
And hey… with the right blended training strategy, you actually find more time to think about the trainee’s perspective, and that’s what it was all about from the start.