Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Using eLearning in a Blended Approach

By Shelley A. Gable

In listing the benefits of eLearning, training folks often cite its flexibility – it’s available on-demand, allows learners to progress at their own pace, is easily deployed to a geographically dispersed audience, etc.

eLearning’s flexibility can be especially handy when it’s included as part of a blended learning approach. Below are a few ways I’ve seen eLearning used to complement other delivery methods in projects I’ve worked on.

-1- Pre-work for instructor-led training
A few years ago, I helped redesign an existing public speaking course for supervisors. The original version took place entirely in the classroom and taught the basics through application. The redesigned version assigned an eLearning lesson as pre-work to introduce the elements of a presentation. Learners were also instructed to outline a presentation, accounting for each of the elements they learned about in the eLearning lesson. This design allowed the classroom portion to function more like a workshop.

Learner feedback to the blended approach was overwhelmingly positive. Each time the original version was taught, some learners wished that more time had been spent on the basics, while others felt that it should be skipped entirely. By teaching the basics in an eLearning lesson as pre-work, learners could spend the time they needed on that portion of the training.

WARNING: While all this sounds good...only use eLearning as pre-work if you’re confident the audience will actually complete it (ideally, if you have a way to hold them accountable for completion). I worked on another training project shortly after, which also included eLearning pre-work. Due to heavy workloads, very few of those learners actually completed it, which threw off the instructor-led portion of the training. A good lesson learned for me regarding learner analysis.

-2- Flexible activity during instructor-led training
When a trainer is responsible for facilitating a class with several learners, finding time for one-on-one coaching can be challenging. However, if portions of that training work well as eLearning, then a trainer can keep a class independently productive by assigning eLearning lessons while also pulling aside learners for one-on-one time. While I’m sure there are situations where this might not work well, I’ve seen this approach be successful several times.

-3- Introductory instruction for on-the-job training (OJT)
A while back I was tasked with designing new employee training for a customer service department. It was a small call center with high turnover, which meant that they generally only hired one or two people at a time, but did so frequently. Before I came to the party, new employees were trained by spending seven hours a day observing and practicing with mentors on the job and spending one hour a day talking through the procedure manual with a supervisor. The company did not have dedicated trainers or structured instruction. After a week of training, supervisors crossed their fingers in hopes that new employees learned all they needed, and those employees were expected to perform independently on the phones. Performance metrics were low and attrition within the first three months of employment was high.

In the new training design, policies and procedures were introduced with eLearning lessons, which included knowledge checks and quizzes. OJT was structured to reinforce what was learned from the eLearning lessons each day. While training still lasted a week, early performance metrics improved dramatically and attrition decreased. Plus, supervisors found that the eLearning lessons were handy for remediation and refresher training.

What else?
These are blended examples I’ve personally worked with, but I know there are plenty of other ways to flexibly use eLearning in a blended approach. So now I pose my usual question: what are some other approaches you’ve designed?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don’t Convert! Redesign Instructor-Led Training for eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

Though eLearning isn’t new to the training field anymore, it’s still relatively new to many organizations. And once those organizations buy into the benefits of eLearning, many are tempted to run and dive into the deep end of the pool as quickly as possible. Sometimes even before taking a swimming lesson…or changing into a proper bathing suit.

The result?

Requests to convert existing instructor-led training (ILT) to eLearning.

For many organizations, this may be a step in the right direction. Just be sure to make informed decisions along the way.

Conduct an infrastructure and technology analysis.
Do learners have the technology needed to access eLearning? Does the organization have a system in place to administer and track eLearning (e.g., a learning management system)? Is the organization prepared to provide technical support for eLearning? Think of issues like this as the bathing suit. Just as you should have a bathing suit before heading to the pool (at least a public pool), organizations should probably have these issues figured out before diving into eLearning.

Employ a change management campaign.
If an organization has used little or no eLearning in the past and now wants to make it a significant component of its training strategy, it’s going to be an adjustment for learners. Employees who have little experience with eLearning may be skeptical that self-paced, computer-based training can effectively replace the human touch offered by a live facilitator. You’ll need to earn their buy-in. After all, if people believe they can’t learn something for whatever reason, they probably won’t.

If change management is new to you, the good news is that much has been written on the topic. A few books I like are Thriving Through Change by Elaine Biech, Managing Transitions by William Bridges, and ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community by Jeffrey M. Hiatt. All three books describe the stages of change management, explain why people respond to change the way they do, and offer actionable advice (with examples!) for successful change management.

Can change management be likened to making sure your bathing suit fits? Or maybe that’s stretching the analogy too far…

Start with a pilot.
Testing the waters with an eLearning pilot course offers many advantages. It can help you confirm that the organization is ready for eLearning from a technology and infrastructure perspective. It can help you gauge the success of your change management efforts. It can uncover unanticipated issues within a limited population so you’re better prepared for a full scale roll-out. And a successful pilot lends credibility to future efforts. For advice on planning an eLearning pilot, check out a previous post on this blog: Collecting Data from an eLearning Pilot.

Identify content that is most likely to succeed with eLearning.
Not all performance goals are optimal for eLearning. Some behaviors really are best learned through instructor-led or on-the-job training. With that in mind, recommend a blended approach when appropriate. For advice on determining when eLearning makes the most sense, check out a couple of previous posts on this blog: Will eLearning Work for You? and Pointing to the Five Moments of Learning Need.

Employ sound instructional design principles.
Sounds obvious, right? But once you jump into the work, it might become less obvious. I’ve seen talented instructional designers convert ILT into eLearning as though they’re doing a straight, simple conversion. In other words, lectures become text-heavy slides, while discussion questions and activities are translated into dull knowledge checks. Not that knowledge checks are inherently dull…but they usually are if you don’t put much thought into them.

Instead of approaching this task as a conversion, think of it as a redesign. View the existing ILT materials as a pile of content the organization has handed to you, and start your eLearning design from scratch, following the instructional design models you know and love. Think Gagne’s nine events of instruction, Merrill’s first principles, the ARCS model, and so on.

What else?
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive checklist for transitioning to eLearning, but it should help guide some of your first steps. What else do you consider? What challenges have you encountered with this type of request?