Why Blended Learning & How To Add It To Your Training Program

I keep hearing that today’s workforce needs more training. While that may very well be the case, I refuse to accept that notion until we’re sure we’ve made the most of the time currently allotted to human worker development.

Imagine you’re a workplace trainer. You’ve been given eight hours to teach a particular topic. In the course of this one day, you plan to cover:
  • Applicable laws or industry regulations
  • Organizational policies and procedures
  • Reporting and documentation forms or templates
  • Case studies
  • Simulated scenarios or roleplaying
  • Objective written testing
  • Performance qualification
This list seems to be fairly typical, regardless of industry or field of business. It certainly fits my experience as a veteran police officer and trainer. What aspects of the above list should you be focused on? Where should your students spend the bulk of their time?

As I study adult or workplace education, the more I hear demands for less lecturing and more discussion and real-life application. (I mean really…have you ever heard someone say, “I wish that PowerPoint would have been longer?”) Adults, just as children, learn best when they experiment with their own solutions, debate amongst their peers, and receive feedback from successes and failures.

So how do we maximize the time for engagement, hands-on drills, and simulations while still covering the necessary foundational content? The answer: blended learning.

So what exactly are we blending?

Blended learning is the weaving together of electronic or online learning with in-person classroom or on-site sessions. Students first take webinar-style courses that share the underlying objective content; then they attend in-person courses that build upon that knowledge. Students take the requisite e-learning modules at their own pace and as their own schedules allow. This allows for two things:
  • more of the in-person time to be spent on engaging exercises.
  • the in-person time can be reduced (if necessary), by cutting the lectures. 
Here are the best parts: The time separation between e-learning and in-person sessions adheres to repetition and frequency theories in learning. Students now see the content in multiple timeframes, creating a chance for “forgetting” – which actually enhances memory! Additionally, there is a host of research that suggests certain types of coursework is retained better through e-learning or webinars than through traditional lecture. The key is on which types of material…

The material that pairs up to webinar or e-learning formats falls into “info dump” – a category where objective data, knowledge, or material is shared with (or dumped on) learners. This sort of one-way content does not require much engagement. It can include:
  • Definitions and nomenclature
  • Flow charts
  • Step-by-step processes
  • Rules
  • Diagrams and data
  • Technical specifications
  • Static relationships, maps, and locations.
When done appropriately, students can master these bits of objective knowledge or linear skills more efficiently through e-learning than through lecture or in-person methods.

We should follow these e-lessons with e-tests. If an e-test cannot appropriately grade or demonstrate growth, then the content is not appropriate for e-learning methods. (I use this standard to figure out what material should be excluded from e-lessons.) Again, the e-testing is done at the convenience of the student’s schedule.

So what does not belong in e-learning?

In one condensed phrase: complex or non-linear applications. As content becomes more susceptible to interpretation, unpredictability, discretion, adaptability, complexity (note: complication may still be linear), or creativity…the less appropriate it is for e-learning or webinar formatting. These are applications that deserve in-person case studies, conversations, and simulations. Cramming these into e-lessons does your program (and your people) a disservice.

Hands-on practicals, while some can be practiced as an individual alongside e-learning videos, should be monitored for quality in-person. Group or team exercises still need to be experienced in-person; as do physical performance or qualification tests.

I’m still very much experimenting with blended learning. I’ve made plenty of valuable mistakes that have helped me along the way. My team continues to analyze our training program to choose which portions of which topics should be transitioned to e-learning formats…and what those lessons should look like. We are perpetually tweaking slides, videos, demonstrations, screen shares, narrations, diagrams, and animations.

If you are responsible for workplace training, consider what content you can shift into e-learning…as well as what content you should not. Whether your allotted training time is being maintained or being reduced, blended learning permits you to maximize your efforts in developing your organization’s human capital.

The investment is worth it. Your lecture is not.


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Lou prefers chalkboards & whiteboards over digital slideshows, but has come to appreciate the role of technology in the learning environment. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


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