Which ingredients make the best chocolate chip cookies? Salted butter or unsalted butter? Milk chocolate chips or dark chocolate chips? A surprise ingredient like cream cheese or pudding mix?

Regardless of your answers to these questions, it is the blend of ingredients that produces a memorable first bite. Similarly, in adult learning, the combination of learning methods can create a memorable result. Whether it is a behavior change, a shift in mindset or stronger skills, something sticks.

Adults retain approximately 10% of what they see; 30% to 40% of they see and hear; and 90% of what they see, hear and do. And we have preferred learning methods, including visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Much like how we mix ingredients to form a scrumptious batch of cookies, we can incorporate a variety of learning modalities to appeal to the diverse preferences of adult learners — and drive greater engagement, retention and outcomes in the process.

Defining Blended Learning

Blended learning has a variety of definitions and flavors. Although a quick Google search will render multiple descriptions and tactics, the Association for Talent Development describes blended learning as the practice of using several media in one curriculum and combining formal and informal learning events, such as classroom learning, online resources and on-the-job coaching.

It is important that each organization defines what blended learning means for its employees, clients and customers. Does it include specific tools? Does it include a specific format? Organizations that have the strongest approach to blended learning identify delivery options that will both meet goals and objectives and be well-received by employees. This strategy should go a level deeper with customization to enhance the performance of specific teams, such as customer service or sales.

Optimizing the Learning Experience

One advantage to using a blended learning approach is that it offers flexibility; it typically includes self-driven components that individual learners can complete at the time, place and pace most convenient for them. Another benefit is that it allows for differentiation; because blended learning leverages a variety of instructional approaches, it can accommodate numerous learning preferences. When learners have the opportunity to engage with content through multiple different activities, there is often a higher level of comprehension and retention when compared to using a single learning modality. Finally, blended learning can make content that might otherwise be uninteresting more fun and dynamic.

Consider the example of learning how to bake the perfect batch of cookies. You could read recipes, listen to experienced bakers discuss their methods or apply hands-on practice by attempting your own batch. Any of these approaches could help you advance your cookie-baking skills, but if you combined all three, you would likely achieve better results at a faster rate.

Enabling Blended Learning With New Technology

Blended learning also opens up possibilities for the use of new technologies and platforms. When selecting a new technology, however, be realistic about the program’s launch. The introduction of new technology can be the most challenging element of implementing a blended learning program. New technology often requires a bit of change management and a shift in mindset.

Finding, budgeting for and launching the right technology is a challenge, considering the plethora of tools on the market. It’s also easy to forget to consider the user experience in the spirit of launching a curriculum expeditiously. On the flip side, training professionals can become so hung up on the logistical issues of a technology launch that they overlook the quality of the content.

To ease the difficulties on both sides, put a plan in place for troubleshooting the user experience and for additional change management support. Be sure to provide context to the learners around why you are using the tool, and provide a resource to help answer questions, particularly around access and navigation. Put on your sales hat, and reinforce the benefits of the new tool (consider delivering short bits of content or using gamification). Let them know that ultimately, the goal is to use the blended learning approach to meet and exceed company objectives and goals.

Evaluating Effectiveness

How will you know if blended learning is making a positive impact at your organization? You will likely see a measurable improvement in at least one of the following areas:

  • Improved training survey results.
  • Greater “buzz” of excitement and deeper conversations during the learning event.
  • Increased proficiency in job-related knowledge, skills and attitude.
  • Increased confidence during customer or client interactions.

Blended learning can enhance the employee experience if it contains the right ingredients for your organization and if you launch it with a clear strategy and plan in place.