So, you’ve decided to start with blended learning? That’s great! If designed and developed correctly, blended learning has the possibility to be a great hybrid learning experience. Connecting different learning activities, both offline and online, to enrich the learning environment has great potential for success. But, what lies ahead of you and what is the best way to start?
Buckle up, because we’re going for a ride!
The (most) important step: ‘step 0’
We will use a step-by-step approach to describe the design process. As with every design process, it’s important to execute the first step before starting with the next. Let’s get to ‘step 0’ first.
Before you decided on using blended learning as your learning solution, you already made some decisions based on key questions, and you answered ‘yes’ to all of them:
I know what my target audience is.
I know who my participants will be.
I have researched the everyday lives of my participants.
My topics are a perfect fit for a variety of learning activities.
OK, now that’s done, let’s continue and start with step one.
Oh wait, you haven’t completed step 0 yet? Let’s take a step back.
Executing step 0
Before you start with the design of a blended learning course, it’s important to think about a couple of different aspects. These are important to make sure that blended learning is the right learning solution for you.
One of the most important aspects is the analysis of the problem you are trying to solve. Is the problem a performance or a training issue? If the answer is yes, let’s dive a bit deeper into this issue. The issue could be the lack of certain knowledge, a new skill people need because you thought of a new strategy or compliance training since there are new regulations coming.
‘The first question you should ask: is blended or online learning a solution to my problem?’
If that’s the case, think about the people you need to train. Are there any special characteristics you have to keep in mind? For example, if you come to the conclusion that your target audience isn’t able to make a face-to-face meeting once a week and that they don’t have access to the Internet, it’s quite inconvenient to start a blended learning course with online elements. Seems obvious, but you won’t know until you start a bit of research.
One of the most effective ways to get this analysis done is by talking to a few members of the target group. Ask them how they like to learn, what their daily schedule looks like and if they miss the knowledge or skills you will be teaching them.
If your target audience fits the characteristics of blended learning and you are convinced your problem will be solved by the application of blended learning, only then should you proceed with step 1.
Keep in mind: the different analyses described above are the ones that give you the most relevant starting points for your blended course!
I know blended learning is a possible solution to my problem.
I researched my target group.
Step 1. What should my learners achieve?
You’ve convinced yourself that blended learning is the solution. That’s because you have defined the problem that needs to be solved. The next step is to analyse what knowledge or skills are lacking. What should the learner know or do after this specific training? That decides the topics you will discuss in your training. After that, it’s possible to formulate learning goals (objectives). They help you maintain focus in the next steps.
I know the problem that needs to be fixed.
I know what knowledge/skills my learners lack.
I have formulated the goals (objectives) that need to be achieved after the training.
Step 2. How should I assess the different topics?
When is your problem fixed? You’ll have to assess the newly acquired knowledge or skills before you can conclude that your training worked. There are several options. The most effective assessment depends on the desired outcome of your training. Would you like your employees to know more about the new coffee machine? A simple multiple-choice test would do. Are you training them to be better communicators? You’ll probably have to assess them during role-play or while they are at the workplace. Apart from that, decide whether you want to test the learners per topic or per specific learning goal.
I know when my problem is fixed.
I have decided on the way the assessment takes place.
I know when my learners have passed the assessment.
Step 3. What structure should I apply?
It’s not always possible to acquire certain knowledge or skills before you learn about a specific topic first. Think back on your learning goals, topics and assessment: is there a certain structure that you can apply to the course? Are there certain boundaries with which you have to work? For example, do your learners only have 2 hours to complete the training? Or can you train them for 5 weeks, 4 hours a week? That is important information for structuring the course. Another analysis you have to execute is whether every topic is applicable for every learner. Is there a need for adaptivity or does everyone need those knowledge or skills?
I have a structure in which I integrated my topics and learning goals.
I know which knowledge and/or skills are necessary for which type of learner.
I have a clear view of the conditions of my training.
Step 4. Which learning activities would fit best?
Let’s summarise: you have the topics, learning goals, assessment and structure of your course. The next step is all about designing which learning activity you want to use per topic or learning goal. If you plan on using a learning tool, assess the possibilities of that tool. How can you make a design with a variety of different learning activities that are cohesive and challenging for the learner? And most importantly, achieve the goals and solve your problem.
You’ll come to the conclusion that some online activities aren’t the solution. Some topics aren’t well-suited for a face-to-face meeting as well. Try to find the perfect blend based on your previous analyses.
I know which learning activities are suitable for what I want to achieve.
I have defined the blend that I’d like to apply in the course.
Step 5. Test your blueprint
The basis for your course is ready. You’ve done most of the thinking, now it’s time to put it into practice. The designing, building and teaching are up ahead. But before you irreversibly start working on content, take time for this step. It’s possible that you thought about the steps above, all by yourself. You made assumptions and took some educated guesses. To make sure that it all makes sense, test your blueprint with at least a couple of colleagues, SMEs (subject matter experts, if you’re not one) and some laymen. Questions that can be asked: Does it make sense? Are there any topics missing for what we’d like to achieve? Does it have enough depth?
I’ve checked my blueprint with a couple of colleagues, SMEs, and laymen.
Step 6. Design the content.
After you have fine-tuned your blueprint based on the feedback that people gave you in step 5, it’s time to start designing and developing your content. There are some tips and tricks to keep in mind when designing your content, which you can also use as a checklist.
Make sure that you are permitted to use existing content from, for example, YouTube.
Choose your existing content carefully: Does that piece of content provide the learner with the information he or she needs? Does that help them to achieve their goals
Stay close to your topics and learning goals. It’s easy to keep adding interesting content, but that may not help you in achieving your goals.
Apply principles for e-learning content when designing and developing content. Think about the multimedia principles (Richard Mayer) and writing text snippets for screen.
Step 7. Start building!
Time to integrate. Build the designed and developed learning activities in your learning system, make a scenario for your face-to-face session. At this point, you have all the ingredients you need to make a great blended course!
I have completed steps 0 until 7, and I can start building
Step 8. Test and pilot
No learning programme has been spot on from the get-go. Everything needs some fine-tuning based on user feedback. Make sure to incorporate this in your steps throughout the entire design process. You’ve seen one step in this blog, step 5, but make sure to test and pilot more often. Use this pilot to actively ask for feedback, with the main question: how can we improve this training to make sure it fits your needs as a learner?
I have finished developing my training and invited some learners to partake in the pilot edition.
I have asked those learners for specific feedback.
I have analysed the feedback and implemented the useful feedback.
Step 9. Let’s go live
Alright, short recap: you have learning goals, you have a structure, you’ve thought about your learning activities (off- and online), you’ve searched and created the right content and you have piloted with your target group. Alright, you’ve done enough to make sure your blended learning programme is a success. Let’s go live and make sure that everyone kicks ass after completing your course! Keep in mind: e-learning is not set in stone; it’s there to be adjusted over and over again.
Keep on gathering feedback and make sure you keep it alive. Good luck!