Blended training: good for the trainer? Time for 'rethinking'!
By Michiel Klønhammer, Chief of Things @ LearningStone
A few months ago, I asked professionals around me a question: in what way is blended training (combining face-to-face sessions and online components) good for the results of the trainer? You know: the person who puts his soul and bliss into the talent development profession and makes a living with it.
The answers were inspiring, but also surprising. The question deserved more attention so I decided to ask for the help of participants of a workshop I gave in Belgium during the VOV conference and again, I was surprised.
A learning workshop
Giving a workshop where you learn a lot yourself is just about the best thing there is. And even more fun: because of my background as a scrum master I love using post-its and it often results in a colorful session. This workshop was no exception.
The brightly colored notes supported the (super fast!) answering of my questions: what is the added value of blended learning for the trainer? And is blended learning good for your business?
More than 50 people answered my question. I like to call them (affectionately) "My panel" although I immediately admit this is not science.
Approximately 80% of my panel consisted of trainers. The remaining 20% had 'something to do with the profession’.
Only a few people indicated that they actually send higher bills because they offer blended learning. My first (and second and third) thought: why on earth wouldn’t you?
Let's get the facts straight. There are relatively many businesses and freelancers in the training profession. Entrepreneurial minds, I would expect. Why are they so interested in blended learning if they don't earn more? I’ve noticed that trainers think more and more about the ROI of training for their customers, but apparently they still do this too little for themselves. Are they just incredibly noble? Or are there a lot of missed opportunities here?
In order to understand what’s happening, I asked my panel members about the following:
- Investment: what are the costs of introducing blended training and what resources do you need?
- Savings: does blended learning save the client or the trainer money - in the short and/or long term?
- Added value: does blended learning deliver a better product and a happier customer and is it good for your business?
Investment: a matter of rethinking
Interestingly, the majority of my panel did not stress the financial investment, but the time investment. Because - they say – if you want to start with blended learning, you initially have to put in the extra hours: you have to master the technology, create videos or other content, develop quizzes and - above all - find the support to bring about a cultural change. Panel member Dirk Krikke from the Dutch Develhub put it nicely: you have to invest in rethinking. You don’t just 'turn on the new tool’ but you - or even your entire organization or company - will have to start thinking differently about your profession. And that’s your major investment.
I recognize this from my own practice. Some trainers use online tools as a kind of 'little extra'. Others really go for it and design their training as blended learning from the start. The latter is a huge step when you’ve been used to a certain approach for years. That takes a bit of rethinking.
In addition, several panel members indicated that it’s not only a matter of rethinking by existing colleagues, but that it can also result in the need for new colleagues. Sometimes you not only need new tools but you need new people.
My panel hardly ever mentioned the cost of software as an investment. And rightly so: due to the rise of cloud applications you can neglect out-of-pocket costs of software when you compare them with personnel costs. As a developer of an online tool, I am well aware of this, but I was happy to find that the panel members also understood this.
Savings: much more than paper
Many innovations are popular because of the money they save. The implicit promise of e-learning is often that it is cheaper - not so much that you end up with better learning. Because blended learning is partly e-learning, it's not surprising that my panel mentioned the well know savings: less travel time and costs for trainer and client, better for the environment (several people mentioned this!), better use of time (being stuck in traffic jams for a training is only acceptable if that training time is really worth it), less paper, less lunch costs, less facility costs.
In addition, some panel members mentioned the savings you can achieve by centralizing your content with an online tool: having all your content in one place saves a lot of hassle.
Strangely enough, a lot of people didn't think of “less trainers” as a saving. If you ask me, this is true in the current transition phase. All this rethinking takes time, so you won't have to make staff cuts right away. But let's be honest: digitalization is a form of automation, which means that in the end there will be less work. One of the panel members summed it up as follows: "Blended training saves the trainer time, but only in the long run and only if he wants to grow".
Added value: better quality and the 'fun factor’
When added value was discussed, the key word was 'quality improvement'.
First of all, my panel mentioned many practical improvements. For example, there are more opportunities for ongoing interaction and participants continue to learn between training sessions. In addition, effectively using more types of media leads to longer learning and you can easily use videos and other content. Moreover, participants are better prepared and everyone benefits from more online communication - even introverted participants. On top of that, testing and repetition become a lot simpler.
Improvements of a general nature were also mentioned: greater impact, higher learning efficiency, faster learning and easier application of the learned material. More chances for transfer.
When I pointed out to my panel that I had actually asked about the added value for the trainer (until now it was all added value for the trainees) a panel member bounced the ball back: "What's good for your product, is good for yourself in the long run".
Okay. I understand that. But shouldn’t there be real added value for the trainer? Some people say there is. 'Efficiency' was mentioned several times in this context. Blended learning makes the learning process more efficient, so as a trainer you benefit from that. Provided that you do send a bill for it and that's where things seem to go wrong. In my practice, I notice that trainers who say they like people (most trainers), don't tend to ask for extra money for the online part of their training. Apparently, they send an invoice for the attendance of their participants, and less so for the actual learning. Time to do some rethinking!
Panel members also mentioned ‘recognition of the trainer through online presence' as an added value of blended learning. I agree with that one! Both a visible corporate identity of the trainer and a longer relationship through online tools are great for your customer loyalty. Of course, new clients are important, but the relationship with your existing clients - also the individual participants - might be worth more.
I thought that it was interesting that the 'fun factor' of blended training was mentioned several times. Several panel members indicated that their company had become more fun because of blended learning. The work climate and their reputation had improved. Two panel members even felt that they had attracted nicer colleagues after having embraced blended learning.
What to do? Rethink and (dare to) raise the prices!
Very few panel members have thought about increasing their income through blended learning. They did see the benefits: the product gets better and that’s good for the business. But sending a higher invoice? That was a bridge too far for most of them.
Fortunately, a few panel members had a different idea about it all. A German leadership trainer said: "I can send higher bills because I embrace blended learning". She was supported by the Dutch founder of a music school: "With blended learning I finally have a business model that allows me to grow. In the beginning it took extra effort, but for the first time I can handle larger groups at the same time".
Where does the limited enthusiasm for increasing income come from? I think that trainers love their profession and are quick to talk about innovation on a content level. I respect that. But in the end, I believe that you have to reward added value. If a new talent development model can really deliver more, the returns should increase. In the transition phase (that's now!) the early adopters will gain experience with the possibilities and above all improve their competitive position, but ultimately your work should benefit your business. Don’t you agree?
Special thanks to:
Volkert Balk, Wim Ab, Jos Fransen, Hansje Veen, Toon van der Ven, Wim A.B, Paul Driesen, Jelske Hoogervorst, Tuna Aktuna, Silke Körner, Dirk Krikke (voor de titel!), Ellen Eeckhaut, Nancy Batens, Hendrik Bens, Anaïs Briffoz, An De Bel, Stephanie Deblaere, Isabelle Debock, Kelly Eelen, Thomas Lauwers, Steven Muyldermans, Frank Pelgrims, Katja Princen, Dominique Santens, Vanessa Smeyers, Peter Van de Veire, Tony Vanderheyden, Caroline Vanderperre, Michael Vindevoghel, Nouri Zouaghi and the participants of the workshop at the VOV conference.