If you are lucky, your learning and development (L&D) team pulled off a near-miracle during the coronavirus pandemic: Your blended learning model shifted from mostly instructor-led training (ILT) to virtual instructor-led training (VILT) at rapid speed. Perhaps you saw engagement levels among your learners take a hit during this shift. If so, you weren’t alone: According to LinkedIn Learning’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, increasing learning engagement was one of the top three areas of focus for L&D professionals.
To improve learner engagement in blended programs, consider the five questions below.
Question No. 1: Is your blended learning program connecting remote learners?
Remote learning can leave participants feeling isolated, both socially and intellectually. As a result, when they’re faced with a challenge, they may be more easily demoralized and disengaged. When stymied learners feel supported, they’re more likely to overcome whichever obstacles come their way.
To minimize learner isolation, integrate the following elements into your blended program:
- Social learning: Interacting with peers not only enhances knowledge, understanding and comprehension, but also builds camaraderie and fosters collaboration. Facilitators can pair off trainees or place them in small groups in virtual breakout rooms so they can work on solving problems together. There are also a variety of tools integrated into video-conferencing applications that enable social learning. For example, quizzes and polls allow trainees to respond quickly to instructor questions and whiteboard apps are effective for brainstorming new ideas.
- Instructor interaction: Whether addressing an entire class or breakout groups in a live VILT session, virtual facilitators provide learners with more than just instant support, feedback and answers. The expressive qualities of two people interacting both audibly and visually help reduce remote learners’ social and intellectual isolation.
- Recognition for achievement: Appreciation and recognition are essential to employee well-being. They also help support engaged learning and a sense of belonging to the team and organization. When launching a blended learning program, make sure to recognize the achievement of new levels of proficiency, grant certifications and badges, and draw attention to quality performance. Instructors, leadership and a modern learning management system (LMS) can all help recognize learners’ achievements.
Question No. 2: Have you taken full advantage of the flipped classroom?
In a traditional in-person classroom, the instructor shares the new concepts, then assigns exercises (i.e., homework) that help learners apply and retain this new material offline. In a flipped classroom, learners prepare in advance for the live video discussion by studying and absorbing the new concepts on their own.
Instructors as Coaches
During live video in a flipped classroom, the instructor enacts the role of coach rather than of someone who simply transfers knowledge. They may assign exercises to small groups in virtual breakout rooms so that learners can collaborate in real-time. Instructors then circulate among these groups to facilitate problem solving. This helps learners move from passive recipients to active participants in their learning journey.
To deliver engaging interactions and provide actionable feedback, instructors must thoughtfully plan their flipped classroom. By moving from group to group to provide instant feedback and support, the instructor enhances engagement by helping when learners applying new concepts are most likely to stumble. Technology, such as a learning management system (LMS), can also help learners to prepare for and attend training through the use of reminders and notifications.
Autonomy Empowers Learners
When flipped classroom sessions are recorded, learners can use them as a reference, replaying and stopping them as needed. Controlling training’s pace and flow enables learners to access information when, and where, they need it. A modern LMS supports this engaged interactivity with a variety of tools, such as threaded forums, polls, surveys, quizzes, screen sharing, and seamless integration with a video-conferencing and group chat platform.
Question No. 3: Is your blended learning program gamified?
To enhance engagement, consider gamifying your blended learning initiative by taking advantage of game design elements (e.g., a master story, fun, competition, points, badges, leaderboards, etc.) to fulfill your training objectives. After all, research shows that gamification is effective for skills-based learning and as a way to increase motivation.
Here are a few gamification options you could explore:
- A quiz can be designed as an obstacle course to be navigated. Answering the questions allows the learner to make the next move in the game. Certain answers get bonus points, and a minimum score enables the learner to progress to the next level.
- An entire learning path can be designed like a board game with scores, badges, leaderboards and different proficiency levels.
- Teams of learners can play against each other. Using their mobile devices, learners can respond to questions and have results displayed in real time.
- Simulation scenarios can be developed through authoring tools to create immersive games that replicate real-life situations. For example, a learner’s avatar is placed in a simulated customer meeting or product demonstration. The learner, through the avatar, makes decisions and takes actions based on what they are learning. These scenarios give learners a safe environment in which they can test new knowledge and hone their skills.
Question No. 4: Have you overlooked microlearning?
Microlearning is starting to get the spotlight it deserves as a valuable boost to training engagement. Microlearning modules take less than fifteen minutes to complete and focus on nuggets of information that have a precise, action-oriented performance goal.
The high completion rates of microlearning modules help counteract the “forgetting curve” that follows training that is not reinforced. The modules can be presented in both online and offline media, such as a video, an infographic, a cheat sheet, a puzzle or an interactive image or game.
Implementing microlearning into your blended learning program can enable your L&D team to:
- Supplement your main training: For example, after training your team on your new human resources (HR) software, you can develop microlearning modules to refresh employees on specific procedures within it.
- Personalize training: You increase engagement when your training is personalized to learner challenges. For example, your onboarding program could have microlearning modules that utilize various delivery formats to meet the preferences of more learners.
- Fit into on-the-job training: When teaching learners to assume new tasks or roles, just-in-time microlearning can help your employees train in their moment of need, as challenges arise on the job.
Question No. 5: Are you measuring engagement?
By measuring engagement, you find out about the “stickiness” of your training, how the learning helps your team members get better at their work, and how it contributes to their career growth. At the same time, measurement also lets you know how and where you can improve.
According to LinkedIn Learning, the top four methods for defining an engaged learner are, in order of rank, course completions, learner satisfaction surveys, minutes of learning per month and repeat visits (two times or more per month).
The following methods also provide useful insights into engagement:
- Online quizzes can reflect how much learning is being retained, and where you can fine-tune your instructional methods and delivery tools used.
- Gamification statistics, such as points awarded and badges earned, can reveal what learning activities are attracting and stimulating your learners. The number of shares on social media or an internal platform is also telling.
- Forum activity can show how many learners are contributing, asking questions, and answering them. The greater the activity, the greater the engagement.
Digitally integrated blended learning programs benefit from reporting, data visualization, automation, and analytics tools that track learner engagement over time.
Ultimately, improving engagement in blended learning programs will remain a top priority for learning leaders in the future. By consistently asking fundamental questions about the training content they build and offer, they can continuously improve their programs for increased learner engagement and, as a result, improved performance.