In this article, LEO Learning’s Derek Phillips, Lead Learning Designer, and Patrick Billingsley, Principal Consultant, explore contemporary shifts observed in the types of content and media at play in blended learning. The pivot from partially or entirely face-to-face to entirely online during the pandemic has provided a more varied experience of learning for both facilitators and learners. So how blended does the future of learning look? Let’s find out!
“When things get back to normal…”
This turn of phrase dominated conversations in businesses, schools, and households from spring to summer of 2020. However, as stakeholders, educators, and family members resigned themselves to the reality of a burgeoning pandemic, a new expression—“the new normal”—took its place.
Although this saying also soon became cliché, the concept continues to resonate, as it conveys a sense of hope for an improved future. As the World Economic Forum contends, the post-pandemic landscape is full of “challenges and opportunities” alike.
The realm of education technology is no exception to this future-focused shift. While eLearning and virtual classroom solutions gained momentum prior to the onset of the pandemic, they are now viewed less as auxiliary or supplementary alternatives and more as valid options for learning and training. Although face-to-face interactions can never be replaced, virtual learning’s rise to prominence will certainly affect the ways we engage moving forward.
Opportunities for Innovation
We partner with organizations who rank themselves along a spectrum of eLearning readiness. For some, whose stakeholders were already accustomed to working and networking remotely, the pandemic required a simple pivot from part-time to full-time online engagement. For others, although receptive to learning and even socializing virtually, the shift from conference-and-classroom interactions to an entirely online format caused greater growing pains. Those who remained open to new and promising opportunities quickly reaped the benefits of creative and seamless innovation. In the case of post-pandemic learning, this innovation is borne from necessity.
Training and development stakeholders around the world found that eLearning and blended learning solutions, when implemented with intent and know-how, can revolutionize the way organizations “manage, plan, deliver and track” learning. Such solutions are crafted with audience in mind to ensure that learning activities are accessible and even replicable across similar contexts.
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Transform, Don’t Transfer
The classic “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” advice transcends industry and sector. In terms of the transition from face-to-face to virtual learning, we encourage customers to consider what works well and to adapt accordingly. This diagnostic planning style is known as appreciative andragogy, and it equips learning designers with a framework for “nurturing relationships and [increasing] the instructor’s [or facilitator’s] presence within an online classroom environment.”
To be clear, this transformation of elements that “work” in a face-to-face environment involves repurposing methods and media, and is not always a direct shift. This process requires varying degrees of effort depending on the ultimate goal. However, the benefits of transformation far outweigh the risk of training becoming stagnant, and organizations are able to gain buy-in from all stakeholders involved—including instructors, facilitators, and participants.
In the L&D industry, we have observed a proliferation of revamped tools, platforms, and strategies that facilitate the transformation of interactive elements, often aimed at combating the notion of widespread “Zoom fatigue”. Incorporating assets such as video (even leveraging user-generated content recorded remotely), polls, and discussion forums can help maintain a sense of familiarity while capitalizing on a general willingness to try new activities.
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Balance Style and Substance
As discussed earlier, transformation requires time, effort, and dedication in varying degrees. Each organization’s and learner’s unique needs must be gauged in terms of the three components that comprise quality: scope, schedule, and resources to assess overarching and non-negotiable priorities. For example, if timeline is the ultimate factor that guides decision-making, resources and scope may be scaled accordingly, and so on. The quality of each learning initiative fluctuates as a result, for better or worse.
Due to the limitations associated with lockdown, content designers and creators often have to make do with tools and resources at hand. Even with these constraints in place, learning professionals don’t have to sacrifice style or optimal aesthetic experience for substance, or vice versa.
Consider these tips for transforming face-to-face learning while maintaining the integrity of your ultimate goals:
- To demo a new tool or skill, consider video - As mentioned above, user-generated content can provide a multimedia splash without breaking the bank. It also encourages users to view and even comment on each other’s content.
- To incorporate role-playing, try scenario-based learning - Learning from characters, whether real or fictional, can boost engagement and provide far greater value and context than many top-down models of learning.
- To enable hands-on experience, build simulations-Simulations range from low-tech in the form of screen capture videos all the way to high-tech in the form of augmented or virtual reality, the next frontier of blended learning solutions.
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The Power of Social Interactions
One of the largest identified gaps between face-to-face and virtual learning is the lack of in-person communication and non-verbal cues. Facilitators and instructors, whether tech pros or beginners, both point to the absence of body language and visual cues as a potential inhibitor to learners’ progress as well as rapport building.
To mitigate the consequences of lost interpersonal interactions, LEO co-designs blended learning opportunities that incorporate social learning theory. Psychology Today summarizes this phenomenon, originally observed by psychologist Albert Bandura, by stating that “people learn by watching other people.” Although simply put, this notion has profound implications: learners advance by comparing best practices, building on one another’s lived experiences, and even tracking progress on mutual tasks.
This collaborative method of discovery alongside one another, although often asynchronously, is commonly referred to “as learning in the flow of work.” It occurs naturally and in a true-to-life context, which contributes to an overall sense of community and shared knowledge. Designing learning for social and collaborative opportunities is known to increase retention of information.
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The Importance of Social Learning
How, you might ask, are these goals achievable in a virtual environment?
Thanks to forward-thinking learning management systemslike Docebo and Adobe Captivate Prime, as well as learning experience platforms like Instilled by PeopleFluent, learning designers are able to set up online interactions that feed into discussion forums where participants can keep conversations going. Such interactions emulate some of the critical features of peer-to-peer conversation.
LEO has worked with partners across sectors and industries to boost instances of social learning throughout their learning design.
From the use of online collaborative whiteboards such as Miro on a micro scale, to the development of global, app-based competitions and incentives on a macro scale, social learning serves as a key step toward creating meaningful experiences in distance learning. According to a 2021 article in the Harvard Business Review, when used to accent a larger blended learning journey, these moments of social learning and collaboration become more intentional and increase impact.
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What Does This Mean for the Education Sector?
Striving to deliver high-impact learning solutions in a post-pandemic world has provided its fair share of insights. From sudden pivots in strategy to the increasing importance of social learning, the future will be characterized by a drive to challenge expectations and to drive innovation. Regardless of corporate or classroom environment, an increased desire to improve efficacy and efficiency while maintaining industry standards of excellence will act as a force of momentum.
In this sense, we expect blended learning, in both the corporate and higher education worlds, to remain firmly a part of the “new normal” as we look ahead to learning beyond the pandemic.
Learning culture, technology, and learners’ needs are changing all the time, and we must not be afraid to try new things as we adapt. The best learning often comes from trial, error, and further exploration.