This article has been adapted from our ebook “Making Blended Work: The 5 Key Elements of Effective Blended Learning Design”. Here, we’ll cover the various ways blended can be used at a distance and how to design training programs specifically for it. Although blended has traditionally been considered a combination of digital and in-person learning, the mindset of blended programs has shifted. Blended learning can now be considered creating a learning journey through a series of different synchronous and asynchronous digital and virtual components.
The elements of distance-friendly blended learning programs we’re talking about are onboarding remotely, creating video and user-generated content, incorporating virtual workshops, ensuring opportunities for collaboration, and transferring theory into the real world.
1) Onboarding Remotely With Blended Learning
Distance blended learning can be useful in a number of scenarios and more organizations are recruiting for entirely remote roles. Technology and intelligent learning design have afforded us the benefit of onboarding new employees and even consultants remotely. This means managing your initial compliance and onboarding information sharing online.
Remote onboarding in this sense can include:
- Self-directed learning
- Formal compliance eLearning
- Video calls (e.g. over Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams)
- Presentations and Q&As with different department heads
- Check-ins with assigned buddies or coaches
- Social moments and team touchpoints
Onboarding can be seen as a simple compliance tick-box exercise. However, in order to complete the candidate experience effectively, remote onboarding should be used to fully integrate your new employee into the organization and, most importantly, into their team(s). For more on remote onboarding, check out ‘The Ultimate Remote Onboarding Checklist’ from our sister company, PeopleFluent.
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Once you remove the idea that onboarding is simply about getting compliance up to scratch and showing your new people around the systems you use, you can really open up the possibilities. Combining modes of learning—for example, introduction animation/video, conference calls, eLearning, and management check-ins—will enable your new employee to get a better understanding of your organization.
The new-starter compliance training is one of the most dreaded aspects of onboarding. So widen the net and vary the way you communicate with remote employees. Think of ways to engage and excite them for their new role to help them feel like they’ve made the right decision.
Blended learning design elements are a great way to recreate and supplement the highly important and engaging face-to-face moments that come with onboarding an employee into the physical workplace. A blended onboarding program needs to not only take care of the compliance and the knowledge-share but also needs to address the cultural side.
Onboarding remotely through a blended approach allows you to immerse that individual in the culture of your organization through formal and informal meetings, digital coffee breaks, and instant chat channels like Team, Google Hangouts, or Slack. Remember, you can’t rely on this happening organically, especially when onboarding a remote employee. These opportunities need to be designed into the onboarding process.
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2) Creating Video and User-Generated Content
Video is an incredibly useful tool in any learning but when it comes to distance learning, there are so many important uses for it.
Earlier, we mentioned the ways we can use video in remote onboarding, as it’s a great way to help new employees connect with the leaders of your organization, their line managers or colleagues, and get a better feel for company culture. Video adds a vital personal touch to learning at a distance.
Throughout the pandemic, as we saw remote working become the norm for many industries, low-fi video and User-Generated Content (UGC) became more widespread. From the adverts created by global organizations through to social and collaborative learning opportunities, low-fi video provides an added element of authenticity to your content.
While high production value video content definitely has its place in learning, using low-fi and/or UGC can create a stronger sense of connection between colleagues and greater engagement in the learning process. Read more about user-generated video content here.
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3) Including Virtual Workshops in Your Blend
Another highly important component of blended learning at a distance is virtual workshops. We’ve worked with a wide range of organizations to help design, create, and deliver virtual workshops for a huge variety of learning objectives.
These workshops provide an excellent opportunity for remote employees to engage and collaborate with each other. With a variety of tools at your disposal, from your corporate-allocated video conferencing software through to virtual whiteboards, these workshops are a vital component of any distance blend.
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4) Ensuring Opportunities for Collaboration
Collaboration can come in so many forms when operating in a virtual environment. The lack of physical placement in one space may seem like it presents barriers to collaboration but it actually affords many opportunities.
For example, in our work with a multinational food and beverage organization, we collaborated with another organization to provide a multi-faceted blended learning experience. Within this, we have created storyline content and the organization we’re partnering with has suggested ice-breakers, virtual yoga sessions, meditation, and other group wellness activities.
Opportunities for collaboration can also come in the form of breakout sessions or the use of virtual whiteboards. Although the learning may be taking place at a distance, you can also include activities that take place outside of the learning environment. This helps to vary the pace and space in which the ‘action’ is taking place.
You could even consider gamifying these experiences through a combination of digital and real-world ‘treasure hunts’. The key is to think about how you can combine the online and offline environments in an engaging and unexpected way.
For example, you could send employees in marketing into their local shops to take photos of your organization’s and competitors’ products and come back together in a virtual breakout session to create a presentation or project.
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5) Transferring Theory Into the Real World
Blended learning allows your learners to transfer theory into the real world as a part of their learning practice. You should encourage experimentation with their new ideas and learnings in small ways—for example, taking a different sales approach or subtly changing interactions with clients or customers.
A key part of applying theory in the real world, and continued behavioral adjustments, is in feedback discussions with managers or mentors. You need to consider how these micro-changes or mini-experiments throughout the learning journey made a difference. What could you do to build on it? You want to create feedback loops to promote continuity of growth and further self-directed learning.
The way to make this the most effective and useful to the group as a whole is to encourage knowledge-sharing. We naturally learn from each other anyway (in and outside of work). So encouraging this practice will allow your learners to learn from each other in a useful and constructive way, alongside management-driven feedback loops.