Blended Learning Challenges from Instructional Design

When learning technologies are introduced, attention is often paid to the technology implementation—while the actual design of appropriate content is left with too little time and budget to create a successful program. Continuing this article from “Solutions to the Top Blended Learning Challenges” (published May 17, 2018), here are the blended learning challenges that arise from the instructional design process itself. Both of these articles complement The eLearning Guild’s May 9 research report, Blended Learning in Practice, that asks: How are designers implementing successful blended learning programs, and what are the benefits and risks associated with this approach?

Challenge #6: Looking at how to teach, as well as what to teach

“Strategy” meetings about moving content online often have one or two potential foci: “How do we get all of our content online,” or “Let’s get X online by next week.” The conversation is about “How” or “What,” but rarely both. This results in a less than optimal delivery.

Challenge #6: Solution

Don’t predetermine the delivery answer for a particular program. Looking to put your customer service program online? Go through a thoughtful design process and determine what pieces may require face-to-face time and what pieces require collaboration. If, after the process is over, you realize that this content is not appropriate for online or blended delivery, don’t be disappointed. Call it a success because you have not created bad training.

Give yourself enough time and make sure you bring the right players to the table. And remember, technology is a tool—the people need to get it done.

Example and evidence

Your instructional design team has been tasked with converting three traditionally delivered programs to a blended learning environment.

Evidence that your organization may run into obstacles during this process includes:

  • The team, consisting of experts, project sponsors, facilitators, and instructional designers, have different expectations of the program outcomes. Some want to use technology because they think they will save money, or because it is trendy.
  • There is a lack of understanding concerning what technology can accomplish and how easily content can be converted; the perception is that if the content exists, you can just drop it into instructional technology.
  • A needs analysis was not conducted to determine if the selected programs were the most appropriate for blended learning:
  • Too high risk or exposure for early conversion.
  • Content may not lend itself to blended learning technology.

Challenge #7: Matching the best delivery medium to the performance objective

Training teams often don’t have the time or experience to create great blended programs. Because of this, it has become acceptable to treat skill or behavioral objectives as we would treat a knowledge objective. When this happens, the training technologies are blamed, when it was really a lack of instructional design. (You don’t believe this? How often do you hear about skill objectives being taught in the virtual classroom and then the session is recorded for anyone who wasn’t able to attend? Watching a recorded session is rarely an appropriate treatment of a skill-based objective—yet we do it all of the time.)

Challenge #7: Solution

Technology selection should be the last step of the design process. Instructional designers need to go through a thorough evaluation to validate learning objectives and determine appropriate assessment methodologies before determining how to deliver content for each learning objective. Don’t try to determine if you can deliver your employee orientation content online, instead look at each learning objective of the program individually.

If you can assess the objective in a self-paced format, you can probably deliver the content in a self-paced format. If you need to assess in a live setting, then the content for that objective needs to be delivered in a virtual classroom, or perhaps even a traditional classroom. This process is what determines what your blend will look like, and what technologies you should include.

A great tool for matching delivery mediums to performance objectives is Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.

Examples and evidence

  • Your instructional design team has been tasked with converting three traditionally delivered programs to a blended learning environment.
  • Evidence your organization is not correctly implementing blended learning includes:
  • There is a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy with regard to delivery mediums; either all virtual classroom, all eLearning, or all traditional classroom.
  • There is a desire to teach all content all ways in order to appeal to a multiple-learning-preference approach.
  • The blended development plan does not include time or resources to redesign content.
  • The design team has not been trained in blended learning design techniques.
  • Facilitator lectures through all content in live lessons, even if the content was introduced in self-paced lessons.

Challenge #8: Keeping online offerings interactive rather than just “talking at” participants

Let’s face it, too much lecture, reading, or content in any format (including the traditional classroom) is disengaging. The medium becomes the message—and after a while even the most motivated participant has a difficult time retaining information.

Challenge #8: Solution

When designing for self-paced learning for knowledge objectives, consider a 12- to 20-minute maximum per topic or module. If you have content that requires more than 12 minutes of treatment, try to find a way for the learner to save their work, and come back later. (If you are wondering where 12 minutes comes from, it’s the time between commercial breaks on network television. A large part of our population has been trained to keep concentration at least this long.)

For virtual classroom interactions, find a way for participants to do something (click on a green check mark, send a chat, or participate in a breakout exercise) every three to five minutes. If you have a virtual lecture that goes more than five minutes, break it up with polling or Q&A.

Example and evidence

Your organization has implemented a new blended training program. The content was well designed, and was optimized for the blended environment. The time has come for you (as the facilitator) to deliver the first instance of the program. Evidence you are not ready to facilitate a blended learning program includes:

  • You lecture through all content in live lessons, even if the content was introduced in self-paced lessons.
  • Interactions are skipped in favor of lecturing.
  • Focus in live sessions is on “finishing” the slides, not on content comprehension.
  • eLearning lessons feel too long and are too text heavy.
  • Participants can leave virtual lessons without the facilitator realizing they are gone.

Challenge #9: Ensuring participant commitment and follow-through with “non-live” elements

Participants (and managers) tend to pay the most attention to the live component of a blended program. Self-paced work is viewed as optional. Facilitators often reinforce this by re-teaching self-paced work in the live classroom.

In a blended environment, this causes problems. The money invested in creating quality self-paced components is wasted, and precious live time set aside for collaboration in the virtual classroom is reduced in favor of teaching content that should have been mastered with the self-paced work.

Challenge #9: Solution

When creating a blend, realistically look at the content in the context of your audience. Do you really think that your sales force will complete 12 hours of self-paced work prior to a live session? If not, don’t make the investment.

Start smaller, and design more live components. When you do include self-paced content, include stringent assessments. Make sure participants know about the assessments, and send the message that they will not be able to move on to live sessions unless the assessments are successfully completed.

Then, enforce the requirement. As soon as you let one participant “slide,” you have sent the message to everyone that self-paced work is not required.

Ensure everyone understands the requirements by including a “learning contract” (change the name as you think best!) that is reviewed by the participant and his or her supervisor, so everyone understands the full requirements of the program.

Example and evidence

Your organization has implemented a new blended training program, with the knowledge components delivered via eLearning. Evidence that your facilitators and participants may not be ready to participate in this blended learning program includes:
 

  • When asked if it is acceptable to skip an eLearning assignment, the facilitator says “Yes.”
  • Participants assuming that if a piece of self-paced content is truly important the facilitator will cover it in the live lesson.
  • The facilitator, concerned that participants did not complete the self-paced work, covers the content in the live lesson, degrading the design of the live lesson.
  • The blended learning program does not have a way to track completion of all parts of the blend.
  • Supervisors do not fully realize the entire time commitment required by blended learning.

Challenge #10: Ensuring all the elements of the blend are coordinated

Blended programs can be complex and often last many weeks or months. Without the proper coordination and oversight, participants will tend to complete the “easy” parts of the blend, or only participate in the scheduled (read: live) components.

Other potential issues with a complex blend is that participants will not read everything they receive, so they don’t become aware of requirements, and the facilitator may be overwhelmed by the amount of items that need to be managed. 

Challenge #10: Solution

A visual course map with a suggested schedule for self-paced work can help participants get organized. You can accomplish this on a course web site, which also has all of the links for content, virtual classroom, and materials. Contact information for the facilitator and technical support should be easy to find on this page.

Also, a frequently asked questions section can provide a forum for participants to work through logistical and technical roadblocks.

Make sure you have a solid communication plan—with template content and dates for each communication—keep a copy of each email on the course web page so participants can access them when they are away from their primary computers.

Example and evidence

Your organization has implemented a new blended training program that is delivered to participants over a period of eight weeks. Evidence your organization, facilitators, and participants may not be ready to participate in this blended learning program includes:

  • A lack of communication about the requirements of the blend, especially the self-paced lessons.
  • The facilitator does not have a full understanding of the lessons that are not delivered in the live format.
  • Supervisors do not fully realize the necessary time commitment required by blended learning.

Conclusion

The success of any blended learning implementation is determined in the planning stage. When you plan for blended learning challenges from technical, organizational, and instructional sources, your organization will reap the benefits of investing the time and resources in creating a well-equipped workforce.

More Design

You May Also Like