The business case for blended learning: 7 key considerations

17 May, 2021| Jos Berden| 5 min read

Let’s face it, money often plays an important role when you make the move to blended learning. The goal of making the switch is often to make more impact, scale up, or increase efficiency.

In a way, these are all forms of cost savings, but that’s not the whole story. What we’re talking about here is building the business case for the courses, training, or programme that you want to offer blended. It’s about weighing up the benefits against the costs and how to make it work.

Implementing blended learning initially requires an investment of time, effort, and technology, which you eventually hope to get back. But what exactly do you get in return and what are the pitfalls to watch out for?

Our account executive Thomas and account manager Ramon respond from their own experiences to frequently heard statements and shine light on key considerations.

1. A high-end training provider should always have an online offering.

Thomas: “No, I do not think so. Training providers who mainly focus on quality are precisely the organisations who often still do almost everything in the classroom or who focus on face-to-face moments.

But in my opinion, a high-end or premium training provider should be continuously innovating by using online tools to support classroom training. I still miss that sometimes.

Last year, for example, I took an ‘offline’ training course to improve my presentation skills. I learned a lot in just two days, but a bit of online interaction would have been the icing on the cake.”

A high-end or premium training provider should be continuously innovating by using online tools to support classroom training.

Thomas Moonen, Account Executive

Ramon: “I agree with that. I think that, especially in the times we live in now, it is also partly expected by the participants or learners.

I do think, however, that the interaction between the instructor and the participant should still be central. The online offering must support the (digital) classroom lesson.

Elements like a solid preparation before the meeting and a piece of reference work or assignment afterwards come to mind.

Learning must be seen as much more of a series of activities rather than a one-off activity in the form of a one-day training course, for example.”

2. Turning an existing course into a blended form is easier than developing a new course.

Thomas: “No, it is a safer choice, though. But if you want to convert an existing course into a blended version, you should not underestimate the time it takes to digitise it.

Often, the existing content (such as PDFs and PowerPoints) is not suitable for a blended course. So, you still need to spend time on making a good learning design and, above all, on creating attractive learning content.”

Ramon: “I would agree with this. If you already have an existing training course with certain content, like documents and presentations, and you have already thought about the design, then you have a nice head start.”

Placing a PowerPoint on an LMS does not make your training blended.

Ramon Merbis, Account Manager

“Creating completely new content is often seen as a lot of work. It is also wise to think carefully in advance about who your target group is, what you want to achieve and which learning objectives are associated with it.

You can use this knowledge and information to give your training a nice update, this time in a blended form. However, placing a PowerPoint on an LMS does not make your training blended.”

3. The real cost savings of blended learning stem from reducing the additional costs like travel, location and materials.

Thomas: “I wonder how often cutting costs is the reason for a blended learning format. I don’t think that’s often the case. Usually, the reason is to create more impact for the learner.

But yes, cost savings are an additional benefit. In some cases, you can write a business case on travel costs alone! For example, if you have to bring in trainers or participants from further away.

In addition, small differences in the number of classroom hours – by making more efficient use of online tools – can also result in substantial cost savings.

Some trainers immediately flinch when they hear that, because they think: that means less work for me. But they can use that time for other students. In other words, they can make more impact on more course participants.”

Ramon: “That’s right, by offering your training in a blended form, participants prepare for the classroom lesson at home in their own time. This does indeed save on materials.

However, the greatest impact is achieved by the fact that you can immediately go in-depth with the learners. The often boring, but incredibly important theoretical part has already been dealt with by the learners, at home and in their own time.”

The most impact is to be gained from the fact that you can immediately go in-depth with the learners.

Ramon Merbis, Account Manager

This allows you to deal with a practical case study, for example, and make the lesson interactive from the start. This results in a higher rating of the course participants and that could result in more turnover in the future.

4. People would rather spend 2.000 euro on a classroom training than 200 euro on an e-learning course.

Thomas: “Yes, I recognise that from my conversations with clients. For the record: this does not apply to every training course, because some courses are perfectly suited to self-paced e-learning.

But for training courses that have ‘traditionally’ been taking place in the classroom, this statement certainly applies, as far as I am concerned. In oversimplified terms, learners get more value out of classroom training than from pure e-learning. So, logically they are more willing to pay for it.

This is clearly visible in commercial training courses (for which I am the target group). Commercial professionals prefer classroom training to e-learning and are willing to pay more for it.

Unfortunately, I have also seen some training providers who saw e-learning as the holy grail for training commercial people, but they learned a pretty hard lesson from that.”

The difference in value is mainly in whether or not you have live learning interventions with a trainer or coach.

Thomas Moonen, Account Executive

“I think the difference in value comes mainly from having or not having live learning interventions with a trainer or coach. In many cases, this does appear to be essential for effective training.

If at all possible, most people will also opt for training on location. But as far as I’m concerned, that goes perfectly well with the use of online tools. For example: for preparation, assignments, assessments, reference work, you name it. So, online or offline? No, online AND offline!”

5. Transforming a successful B2B training into a B2P version is the easiest way to scale up.

Thomas: “Well, in theory, it does sound like the easy route to address the professional directly: “We are going to make a standard offering that we can reuse indefinitely”. There is certainly something to be said for that because then you have ‘infinite’ economies of scale. But in practice, it is not that simple.

It requires new marketing channels, new internal processes e.g. student administration, and a lot of work to make e-learning. But perhaps even more importantly: does it offer a form of learning that suits the demand? This ties in with the previous statement above.

Does e-learning fit in with your training goals, with the topic, and with your learner? I advise every training provider and trainer to investigate this before investing in sales and marketing.

In most cases, it turns out to be safer and easier to blend an existing B2B training course: make the right mix of online and offline elements.

Some training providers tackle this step-by-step; they start very small and without adjusting their existing content. In doing so, they already make sure that they bring together synchronous and asynchronous learning interventions in an attractive learning environment.

Once that is in place, they can start creating online content step by step.

Ramon: The consumer market is, of course, many times larger than the B2B market and it is tempting to think that it is therefore the ideal way to scale up.

It is important to have the right focus on your target group and a plan on how to sell these courses in a completely different market.”

A bigger market doesn’t automatically mean increased sales. It's smarter to introduce a better product in a market you already know well.

Ramon Merbis, Account Manager

“If you sell a toothbrush to all the inhabitants of the UK for 10 cents, you will also be a millionaire, but you will have to manage to sell it about 65 million times.

A large target group or market certainly does not automatically mean many sales. It is smarter to introduce a better product in a market you already know well.”

6. It’s hard for training providers whose business model is based on ‘selling hours’ to market a blended programme.

Thomas: “No, quite the opposite, I would argue. The cost of the online tooling that you use to blend a process is probably a lot less than the hours you spend multiplied by your hourly rate. So you can include those costs in your proposal without really changing your proposition.

That’s how most training organisations (that use aNewSpring) do it for blended training. And if you manage to squeeze another hour of training out of it while the value for the learner remains the same, it immediately translates into revenue!”

Ramon: “I regularly speak to training providers who work with external trainers and would like to take the step to blended learning. These trainers sometimes resist because 1. they think they can invoice fewer hours and 2. they are a bit afraid of the technology.

The total hours spent on creating and delivering a complete blended learning programme will not be less, only distributed differently. For example, think about the development or assessment of online hand-in assignments.”

The number of hours spent by a freelance trainer on a blended learning path does not decrease, they're just distributed differently.

Ramon Merbis, Account Manager

“It also allows the (freelance) trainers to cover more application and less theory, which makes it a lot more interesting for them, but of course also for the learners. And not just to one group, but to multiple groups because time is used more efficiently.”

7. A licensing model of learning platforms only works for long learning programmes.

Thomas: “That depends on the licensing model. Some platforms are more suitable for short learning nuggets and other platforms – such as aNewSpring – serve more as a learning environment from where you can deliver all your different learning interventions.

The latter is often linked to long-term learning paths, but it is more correct to say that platforms like aNewSpring serve as a learning environment where you can make a lot of learning impact.

You can assume that a licensing model is related to that, as well as to a lot of other factors: the quality of the platform, the breadth and depth of the number of solutions it offers, the support it provides, and so on.

So whether a licensing model fits your way of working depends purely on what you are looking for.”

It’s important to realise that the pricing model of a learning platform doesn’t have to be linked one-to-one to the pricing model of your training offering.

Thomas Moonen, Account Executive

Ramon: “It is true that if a training course lasts longer than one day, it is easier to work with a licence model. But when a learner can take part in several training courses on a single licence, it is worth selling several training courses to that same participant during that period. This will increase your turnover, but the licence costs will remain the same.

Ultimately, it is important to realise that the pricing model (for instance with licenses) does not need to be linked one-on-one to the pricing model of your training offering.

The price structure of a course is made up of too many (other) elements for that and is therefore very dependent on specific situations. It is typically something you discuss with your account manager.”

Creative thinker Wants to read people's minds

Jos Berden

A questioner and listener. The perfect combination of a pragmatic and idealist.

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