Companies continually strive to improve their training programs and meet learning objectives amidst changing cultures and evolving talent needs. As a part of meeting those objectives, companies are delivering a strong baseline of knowledge to their employees through self-directed online learning. It is an efficient and direct means of sharing information to employees, saving time and enabling training to happen that otherwise would be impossible.

But self-directed online training has downsides as well. Organizations face four common challenges with online-only training that a blended learning format can help to solve:

  • Lack of networking opportunities
  • Limitations of a virtual environment
  • Lack of accountability
  • Not specific enough

Organizations can easily minimize these challenges by augmenting the online training with live facilitated peer-coaching sessions and assigning accountability partners with whom participants implement inter-session exercises.

To demonstrate how this blended learning format can overcome each limitation, below is a case study of a $1.5-billion technology company delivering training focused on geographically dispersed women in early, mid- and senior leadership. We’ll outline each common challenge and then provide a description of the blended learning component and how it helped overcome the limitations.

Challenge #1: Lack of Networking Opportunities

Participants find it challenging to establish and extend their internal network in online-only training. The format limits opportunities to make connections and restricts exposure to a broader understanding of how the organization operates.

With the blended learning format, once participants engaged with the online training module, they joined a 15- to 20-person cohort in a facilitated peer coaching discussion of the lesson topics. These sessions took place either in person or virtually. After the group session, participants were assigned exercises to implement into their everyday work lives and met with accountability partners for support.

The outcome was that women networked across the cohort in a direct and meaningful way. Instead of the casual, more ad hoc networking that typically arises in training, participants connected across the organization, creating a more personal, meaningful and stickier learning experience.

Challenge #2: Limitations of a Virtual Environment

While technology has improved dramatically, it is easier for participants to “opt out” of virtual training than in-person training. Technological challenges and the remote environment can cause frustration and negatively impact learning.

During the peer coaching session, facilitators called on participants to share the challenges they faced as they implemented the exercises and involved the group in providing advice to their colleagues. Overall, the session was highly interactive and engaging for the participants, maximizing the peer learning format. Especially as they engaged over time, the participants increased their level of interaction and connectivity with each other.

Challenge #3: Lack of Accountability

Although learning and development organizations can track participant engagement, most online programs place accountability directly on the participant, making it less likely that they will make sustainable changes.

In order to reinforce accountability and commitment, participants had to apply for the program and sign a letter committing to attendance and their future accountability partners. This upfront expectation of accountability created a higher demand that they tune into the online training, so they were more fully prepared to engage with the content and their colleagues.

Challenge #4: Not Specific Enough

Online content is typically pre-programmed, even when there is a learning program based on progression.

The cohort sessions provided an opportunity to deepen their understanding of specific aspects of the online curriculum and enabled groups of participants at similar levels to focus on the challenges they were collectively experiencing. The sessions were adaptive in the moment, shifting discussion based on the specific challenges raised within the cohort.

The purpose of this blended learning approach is to transform the purely online program into a hybrid training program where facilitated peer learning deepens the integration of the skills into everyday situations. This format simultaneously overcomes many challenges of an exclusively self-directed online curriculum. Blended learning takes the best of both worlds and maximizes learning outcomes for participants as well as for the organization.