With digital transformation sweeping through enterprises today, it’s never been more crucial for organizations to close skill gaps in emerging technologies by having employees with the necessary skill-sets. However, hiring those employees isn’t necessarily the answer since there is a shortage of qualified applicants in many of these new technologies, with the possibility of those candidates commanding high salaries.
Alternatively, filling roles in emerging fields such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Data Science and other disciplines by training from within through upskilling your existing employees can be the smartest, fastest and most cost-effective solution. These employees are already part of the culture at your organization so won’t cause the disruption that onboarding a new team member can cause. They already understand many aspects of your organization because they’ve been working there, eliminating the costly need for training. With the right approach, they can be upskilled without being taken away from their current jobs when you choose a blended learning approach.
By combining online independent learning with virtual instructor-led learning, the blended learning approach enables an employer to offer online training in a more efficient and cost-effective way when compared to the single-method employee training of old.
The True Costs of Single-method Employee Training
There isn’t one set way to train employees on new technologies and employers have several methods to choose from, all with their advantages and disadvantages. For example, off-site classroom training—like the mainstay of employee Learning and Development (L&D) programs—can be expensive due to the costs of lodging and meals, as well as disruptive to daily operations as employees are removed from their regular jobs to participate.
Some companies choose to cut costs by doing this in-person training on-site. As Training Magazine says, “The most obvious advantage to staying on-site is avoiding expenses such as transportation, lodging, meeting room rental, and, to some degree, food and beverage, not to mention the resources spent on site-searching, and this cost saving becomes more significant as training needs increase.” However, while less of an interruption than sending staff off-site, instructor-led training at the workplace still causes employees to lose more time away from their daily tasks.
Online training videos are another corporate training option. In comparison to both off- and on-site training, online training videos are economical and low-impact, taking up to 40 to 60 percent less time, according to eLearning Industry.
However, eLearning also has drawbacks. Learner engagement and completion rates for many massive open online courses (MOOCs) are dismal, often as low as 5.5 percent. That’s evidence that simply curating content from various sources and providing this content through online learning libraries is not enough to reliably impart useful skills. Something else is needed.
What works best is a flexible combination of live instruction, online learning and practical projects, especially when mingled with other elements that reinforce the training through social sharing and management insight. This delivery method is called blended learning.
What Is Blended Learning?
At its most basic, blended learning is a combination of live, instructor-led classroom training with online content, usually in the form of on-demand videos that learners view outside of class. This scenario is already common in K-12 schools and higher academia.
Businesses, on the other hand, require a more dynamic application of blended learning than this basic approach, with additional options available. Beyond on-premises and online content, these other options can include:
- An instructor-led live virtual classroom (LVC) that delivers the personal feedback of face-to-face lessons but online, with the convenience of learning from anywhere.
- Real-world, practical applied projects that not only develop hands-on skills, but are immediately applicable to company initiatives.
- Online social sharing for interaction between fellow learners, even in real-time.
- Online teaching assistants who are available 24/7.
- A learning management system (LMS) that enables management to monitor employee progress and assist when necessary.
- Adaptive learning features that enable learners who have existing knowledge or skills to skip ahead and begin training at the level most appropriate to their knowledge.
- Gamification that adds game-like elements to the learning process such as dynamic interfaces, competitive rules, level badges and progress-tracking leaderboards.
These additional elements can help businesses to ensure that the learning is both convenient to the employee and practical enough to be applied right away, as well as engaging and supported.
Why Blended Learning Is the Ideal Solution for Upskilling Employees
At a glance, it’s easy to see that a blended learning approach is quite flexible and adaptable compared to a single-method approach. In addition to that flexibility, there are 5 reasons why blended learning is the ideal solution for upskilling employees for the quickly evolving digital economy.
1. Offers Unmatched Flexibility
We all know different people learn differently. Some are visual learners, some audio and some kinesthetic—or a mix thereof. In the need for training more than one employee and in their particular learning style, opting for a blended learning solution makes more sense for organizations. For people who learn visually or through reading on their own, online self-paced video delivery can be the best mode. Social and aural learners can gain the most from live instructor-led classrooms. Meanwhile, hands-on practice from engaging in applied learning projects can satisfy kinesthetic and logical learners. It also allows the learners to access course content from anywhere at anytime on the device of their choice--be it a mobile phone, laptop or tablet.
2. Improves Learning
Because it incorporates eLearning, blended learning can help to improve learning. Online learning expert Mark Rose says, “eLearning’s combination of multimedia and instructional design delivers a very rich learning experience that is, most importantly, repeatable.” And it is that repeatable aspect that can help employees learn. Moreover, involving multiple senses can help better. According to Dr. Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience Model, retention improves with the more senses that are involved in the corporate learning process. Through a plethora of training modes including multimedia, presentations, instructor-led training, classroom workshops, real-life projects, gamification, and more, the blended learning system achieves higher employee engagement levels.
3. Gives Learners More Control
According to author Bruce Gabrielle, people learn best when they can control the pace of their learning. This is important for corporate training, because employees are not conventional students and they might be contending with serious time constraints, along with having to balance heavy workloads and family lives. Establishing their learning schedule according to the company’s needs can result in lower quality learning, or the employees might even drop out. Blended learning enables learners to study online at a speed that they can conveniently manage, instead of having the pace set by the fastest or slowest learner in a group. In addition, they have the option to skip ahead past familiar information or to re-watch material as needed, plus seek out additional resources. They can also access the content when they are most alert and even take breaks as necessary.
4. Cuts Costs and Improves ROI
Because it requires fewer instructors and no physical space as compared to other modes of learning, the blended learning approach can significantly cut the cost of upskilling employees. It can also optimize ROI as it reduces costs for instructor fees, travel expenses and training materials. It enables distance learning at a global scale and can greatly soften the impact training has on daily operations and the employees themselves—which also saves money. According to one report, Ernst & Young reduced training costs by 35 percent with eLearning In addition, they saved time with a blended learning approach. They condensed about 2,900 hours of classroom training into 1,400 hours as a combination of web-based learning, distance learning and classroom instruction--a 53 percent reduction.
5. Improves Feedback
Blended learning is also a methodology that enables plenty of feedback. Periodic online tests, quizzes and projects demonstrate an employee’s retention level. Plus an employee can contact the instructor for assistance in resolving doubts. The instructor, in turn, can spot and address issues seamlessly and boost motivation levels, before assessing the employees.
Clifford Maxwell, a learning researcher at the Christensen Institute, says that blended learning represents “a fundamental shift in instruction that has the potential to optimize for the individual student in ways that traditional instruction never could.” For those organizations that need to upskill employees for emerging technologies quickly and cost-effectively, blended learning can be an ideal solution, especially when provided through a proven vendor to help them stay a step ahead of their competitors as we progress through this age of digital transformation.