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Are your ready for Blended Training as a business strategy?

Imagine…. You have a successful training agency providing high quality courses for a list of impressive clients. You regularly design new courses, you’ve figured out how to charge for them, know all the good locations, work with a wonderful group of trainers… in a word: Life is good.

Now… in comes this nerdy new intern who starts talking about blended learning and asks why you aren’t providing any online tools to supplement your face-to-face training. Isn’t that cheaper and better for learning? You feel irritation rising… haven’t your clients been happy with what you’ve been doing for the past 20 years? Isn’t the human touch important for the training you’re providing?

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Indeed… introducing technology to a successful training agency can feel like a way to kill your successful training company. Why? Because you need to manage a transition and change the way your team works. And transitions can hurt.

Actually, the reasons we hear given most for not moving forward with some form of technology in a training company usually fit in the category “my trainers aren’t ready” which more often than not comes from “I don’t know which steps to take”. In other words: you don’t know how to implement it into your organization. So what now?

 

Goals

The thing you need to do is come up with a strategy for the transition. But first: you should start by asking yourself: what are the goals? This doesn’t need to be a month-long exercise… possibilities constantly change so agility is becoming a key quality of running a company anyway. You’ll have to choose goals, move forward and evaluate.

Why do you want to introduce blended learning anyway? Is it for a single client? Or do you want to reinvent your business? Do you want to scale faster or find new ways of training? Or – now let’s be honest - do you only want to be able to say that you provide a learning platform to look modern?
What will the goals of the online part of your business be (short term and long term)? 

 

Strategy

Once the goals are more or less clear, you should choose a strategy. Here are some possibilities. We’ve seen examples of all strategies succeed and  fail, so there is no right choice here. It’s all about execution and perseverance.
- Set up a pilot: choose affordable technology and mix it into your current offering and experiment.
- Redesign an existing course from the ground up. Use online tools when they offer advantages for efficiency or effectiveness. Stick with the new approach for a while and then evaluate.
- Create a pioneering team and let them experiment freely with one or two new courses.
- Talk to your most important clients and – given that they have an opinion – let them lead the way
- Convince your customer(s) of the added value of blended learning and involve them in setting up a great course.
- Hire a new team member who has done it all before who will evaluate current courses and introduce online elements into them step by step. (maybe that nerdy intern isn’t so bad after all)

 

Who does what?

When it comes to implementing a blended learning strategy, the size of your training company is really critical when deciding on who does what. The larger the company, the more specialized the roles usually are. As many training agencies aren’t that big, roles are often mixed but it’s still important to realize what you’re doing.

Training design: there is usually someone or perhaps two people who design a course. If you have some experience with online technology, you can do it all yourself but for larger training agencies, a team of at least three: subject matter expert, trainer and online specialist can be useful. 

                                                         
Back office work: both traditional training and online learning of any sort require some level of back-office work. Training locations need to be organized and online platforms need to be prepared. Large organizations often have a back office of some sort and the people running this are often involved in sending out invitations, billing etc. It often makes sense to let the same people do the online onboarding (inviting, setting up the environment) but again, don’t just throw tasks at them without any form of training. Involve and inform them about the transition your company is making.

Synchronous versus asynchronous work: a small training company will often ask a trainer to fulfill all the roles, both online and in the classroom. But as you grow, it can be interesting to use different people for synchronous and asynchronous tasks. The senior trainer with years of experience is obviously the best person to provide face-to-face (synchronous) training on location or during webinars. But it can be (cost-)efficient and more flexible to let junior trainers or even specialized platform managers do asynchronous work like dealing with assignments, providing feedback, getting involved in online dialogues etc. Some people simply like doing online work better than others, so that can be a good reason to reorganize things as well.

 

Evaluation

Whatever your goals are, and whatever strategy you pick, some sort of evaluation will be needed. As you have entered a blended world, you might as well enjoy the benefits of the combination of in-person evaluation (simply ask what people think in person, or observe how well things go) and online evaluation: use surveys and look at online functions: are they being used, do people know how things work? For the adventurous types out there, there’s good news: the cycle described above (setting goals, designing, evaluating) will never end again. If you believe in the combination of face-to-face and online learning like we do, you are in for an exciting ride and will be discovering a world of endless possibilities.

Michiel Klønhammer & Sjoerd Boersma

Founders of LearningStone