Reimagining Blended Learning: 3 Ways to Engage the Modern Learner

Shelley Osborne

Head of Learning & Development at Udemy

June 11, 2019

New digital technologies are redefining blended learning experiences for the modern learner. In the past, blended learning programs meant combining the best of classroom and online learning. Today, blended learning experiences mean layering classroom learning and online learning with a wide variety of digital technologies and L&D practices including 360 assessment tools, job aids, one-on-one coaching, social learning, and virtual reality.

Our new report Reimagining Blended Learning: 8 Best Practices by Leading Companies takes a look at how L&D leaders are redefining blended learning for the modern learner. Download the report.

The benefits of blended learning

Over the years, L&D practitioners and researchers have uncovered many benefits of  blended learning. What’s great about blended learning is it can easily be broken into small chunks and spaced out over time. Research at the Harvard Medical School demonstrated that a spaced approach helped medical students and residents filter out irrelevant information while generating improvements in learning and promoting long-lasting retention.

“Spaced learning or spaced retrieval practice can reshape the forgetting curve and help learners control which information is retained and which is discarded,” says Pamela Hogle, Learning Solutions Magazine.

By assigning online courses as pre-work to introduce new concepts before class, blended learning allows L&D teams to reduce overall classroom learning time and focus class time on role-playing practice and other hands-on activities to ensure learning is applied. What’s more with a blended learning approach employees can leverage online learning resources in the moment of need rather than waiting for scheduled classroom time. Find out how Udemy for Business can help you enhance your blended learning programs.

This approach is highly effective. The U.S. Department of Education examined college students and adult professionals in a meta-analysis of blended learning research from 1996-2006. Their findings demonstrated that students in blended learning classes outperformed those in fully online or fully in-person classes.

It’s not surprising the blended learning approach is on the rise. According to the Training Industry Report 2018, 69% of corporate training hours were delivered with blended learning techniques, up significantly from 35% last year.

Based on interviews with L&D leaders, our report Reimagining Blended Learning: 8 Best Practices by Leading Companies includes 8 case studies and best practices highlighting how L&D leaders are reinventing blended learning experiences for the modern learner. Here is a sneak peek into 3 of those best practices. Download the report for more.

Best practice 1: 360 tools—your launchpad to success

As part of traditional audience needs analysis, 360 assessments are where your blended learning programs can begin and end. A wide range of 360 assessment tools enable employees, managers, and peers to gather feedback from each other on their performance.

Lissa Minkin, VP of People & Workplace at Tile uses an “one-size-fits-one” approach to learning, rather than “one-size-fits-all.” Lissa customizes learning by starting with a 360 assessment feedback tool to identify individual skill gaps and common themes across the organization. For common skill gaps, she creates learning modules for group learning. For unique individual skills gaps, she offers online learning punctuated by one-on-one coaching.

Best practice 2: Leverage technologies as part of a cohesive learner experience

Once you decide the areas of focus for your L&D programs, you’ll need to think about how you’ll map out your blended learning experience. Blended learning is not just about throwing together different modes of learning; these pieces should ideally be woven together in a logical and cohesive way to support knowledge acquisition.

The classic “flipped classroom” often forms the core of blended learning programs with assigned online pre-work to introduce new concepts and classroom learning focused hands-on activities to apply learning. Post-classroom learning can be followed by assignments, quizzes, online social discussion forums, and one-on-one-coaching to ensure learning occurs on the job. It’s not set it and forget it. You will still need to nurture learners throughout their learning journey.

While there are exciting new technologies out there like augmented reality and chatbots, leverage these technologies intentionally. You’ll need to stay laser-focused on your learning objective first and strategically select delivery formats that can help reach this objective. Caspar Thykier, CEO of Zappar (an Augmented Reality app), shares a great example of how Papa Murphy Pizza adopted AR for onboarding. They rolled out an AR training program with codes added to posters at 15 stories. New employees were able to scan these codes at various training stations and watch an engaging video. “The AR system offered a way for Papa Murphy’s Pizza to engage and educate an otherwise disconnected and mobile workforce,” says Caspar Thykier.

Best practice 3: Talking the talk—power up active learning

Blended learning best practices stress the need for active learning as an integral component of learner engagement and course design, according to research by the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Active learning involves the student engaging in learning through discussion, problem-solving, and reflection. This is in contrast to passive learning where the student just listens to a lecture.

“Active learning requires that students are aware of what they know and what they don’t know using metacognitive strategies to monitor their own learning. Blended courses provide a fertile environment for metacognition as students are involved in learning within and outside the classroom,” according to Patricia McGee and Abby Reis, who led the above study.

Metacognition empowers people to take charge of their own learning and become aware of their learning needs. It’s the reason why discussion (either online or face-to-face) is an important part of self-paced blended learning programs. The same research highlights interactive discussion opportunities and prompt feedback with peers or instructors as key to student engagement in blended programs. For example, while taking online courses on Udemy for Business, learners can do hands-on exercises using the assignments feature embedded in the course and get feedback from other students online.

Here at Udemy, we integrated active learning into our unconscious bias training. We structured our unconscious bias Virtual Reality training to help employees process and internalize what they learn. We framed our learning program using the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, a well-known approach in instructional design, adapted to help influence behavior change. Here’s how we designed our unconscious bias training using Virtual Reality:

  • Receiving: Present unconscious bias studies to highlight how people can be inadvertently biased at work.
  • Responding: Include activities and discussion that promote active participation by learners.
  • Valuing: In the case of unconscious bias, it’s about accepting and realizing that bias exists and how individuals can overcome this bias.
  • Organizing: Have employees experience different perspectives and backgrounds through Virtual Reality films. They can then discuss these different stories and how this might have changed their perspective.
  • Internalizing: Finally, end with a discussion where employees suggest ways they can promote inclusion in their organization. This begins to build a new value system that will help guide the learner’s behavior.

For more best practices on how L&D leaders are redesigning blended learning experiences for the modern learner, download our report Reimagining Blended Learning Experiences: 8 Best Practices from Leading Companies featuring LG Electronics, Casper, and more.


About the author:

Shelley Osborne is Head of L&D at Udemy. She has 14 years of experience in the education sector and corporate learning and development. Previously, she was VP of Learning & Development at Farside HR Solutions, specializing in talent leadership, management training, and soft skills development in the startup space in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Calgary where she specialized in gamification and instructional leadership.

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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