In every community, there are concepts that divide people into two opposing groups. Often, our stance is reinforced by the threat that we perceive from the other side. When I was first introduced to microlearning, informal learning and blended learning, I was a sceptic. How can you possibly build a skill or develop a competency in bite-sized learning? How can subject matter experts create courses? How can you expect people to be self-directed? Oh, and what does that do to my job and my skills?

Today, I am a firm believer in a blended learning strategy. Today, I design courses with SMEs and teach others to create, curate and blend. And, today, I help upskill learning professionals to the new model. Let me talk about how I saw the light…

A Short Story

Two years ago, I was managing learning strategy and innovation for a large tech company. I consulted with the portfolio manager on a two-day new manager course (both face-to-face and virtual) to turn it into an on-demand resource. We were bringing on more new managers than we could train. That meant that new managers were going as long as six months before they were equipped to do even the most basic tasks, let alone participate in coaching or learn more advanced topics. Even worse, when they did go to class, they quickly forgot what they learned.

We started by performance consulting with the instructors and students and quickly gleaned hot topics and many moments of need. Our first attempt at just chunking the content was overwhelming. We finally settled on a blend of digital and formal solutions.

At first, the instructors were reluctant to work with us. If this course went away, so did about 30 percent of their work. The original designers thought that they would lose a percentage of their work as well. The bottom line was that they felt that moving to a blended solution threatened their jobs.

We gradually addressed the pain points (moments of need, coaching and reinforcements) and redesigned the course to involve several pathways. We started by working with the instructional designers to create microlearning to address the moments of need: short bites of knowledge providing answers in the six topic areas. Next, we flipped the classroom, taking those bite-sized pieces and curating more content into a pathway. We shortened the class and made it more experiential using coaching. Finally, we added content, tied to the key concepts, that the system sent out as reminders.

The Reality of Today

While I am far from a millennial, my own habits and expectations have really changed in the past few years. I shop on Amazon, where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) make recommendations and help me choose products. I stream entertainment, relying on a great user interface and AI/ML to make it fast and easy. I do most communication on my mobile device, which I’m connected to 24/7. Now, I expect my work life to be easy, intelligent and intuitive. When I need to know something, I use Google. If it is a skill, I use YouTube.

We all expect a consumer experience. Work and demands have changed so that time is the most precious commodity. And, as we know, we forget 80 percent of what we learn from the sage on the stage. That is the real argument for blended learning and digital learning. The final blow is that the top skills employees will need five years from now do not exist today. The intersection of blended learning with digital learning is where we can build knowledge, grow skills and drive learners to adapt to today’s real world.

So, How Do We Adapt?

No surprise, while there is sometimes a methodology, each design requires different solutions. The typical blend uses microlearning, curation, creation and macro-learning. The right blend engages the learner up front and packages it all onto an easy-to-use platform. It blends internal, external, formal, informal and user-generated content in a variety of modalities.

There are several strategies that accomplish these goals:

  • Microlearning can help answer questions at moments of need. The new manager having his or her first difficult conversation can watch a video and find a job aid. Subscription vendors have some great content for this purpose.
  • Training professionals and SMEs can learn to use tools to develop short content, like drag-and-drop animation tools that work on any device.
  • Assessments can measure learner needs and allow them to jump to the sections that meet those needs.
  • We can flip the classroom and help instructors lead action learning with exercises and coaching.
  • Curation by SMEs or learning professionals allows us to dive deeper into a subject. That content can be timed (spaced learning), reinforcing all the messages.
  • We can add formal courses from an LMS or MOOC to immerse the learner in a subject.

Blended learning gives learners new ways to build knowledge and skills. Rob Lauber, CLO of McDonald’s, talks about a scan, dive and immerse approach: Learners can scan a number of short topics, learning just what they need at that moment. If they see something that is interesting or solves a need, they can dive in deeper, consuming pathways or using different modalities. And, if they need a badge or a certification, they can immerse themselves in the topic.

Today, designers need to know the best methods and how to use tools and content to address design needs. Learn more about the art and science of curation, content, subscription vendors and new tools. Upskill yourself to the strategies that address the needs of today.

Moving from strictly formal learning to blended learning does not take away our jobs. It gives us new perspectives and skills and breathes new life into what we do. Best of all, it addresses some of the challenges that we have had for years.