One of the impacts of the digital transformation is the rise of online asynchronous training, ranging from short YouTube videos to learn one simple task up to and including multi-day training courses that replace traditional instructor-led training classes. Given the price points of a number of available online course libraries, their use is attractive to organizations that are looking for ways to reduce training budgets yet still provide meaningful learning opportunities for their employees.

Yet one needs to be careful, because there’s a notable difference between knowledge delivery and learning. As David Kelly notes, we can obtain a book or video, but we still have to read or view it. Even if we read or view it, if we don’t do anything with that information, we likely won’t retain as much knowledge and be able to apply it going forward to each new project or task that requires that skill set.

A powerful approach to address this issue with training is blended learning. According to the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, blended learning melds traditional classroom-based learning with virtual and technology-based learning opportunities, giving students some control over the time, place, path or pace of learning. The result is an adaptive, personalized learning experience that facilitates maximum understanding of knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge to real-world problems. Yet, while a blended learning program can certainly produce cost savings, that doesn’t mean learning and performance effectiveness is a given.

Set yourself up for success with the right learning environment.

Whatever the delivery for online training, be it virtual instructor-led or self-paced (which may or may not offer interaction with a subject matter expert), learners need to be set up for success. Are they expected to review self-paced modules outside of business hours? Is there an expectation to stay at the office, but then learners aren’t provided the right equipment or quiet location to “attend” the training? Is there support from leadership to allow learners to execute training options?

Success also means making all formal and informal sources available so learners have what they need, when they need it. If a YouTube video, a blog or a user group helps answer a question, then it’s a real form of learning and shouldn’t be viewed as “goofing off” just because it’s not formalized, easily trackable or verified. The question here is whether this ad-hoc learning is now a repeatable skill. Does that learning method help ensure project success or recovery?

Think beyond online and classroom.

Some of the most creative blended learning solutions have actually come from interaction with clients where we dared ask the question, “What if…?”

  • Combination of self-paced learning with subject matter expert-led practical labs or coaching: This is a unique approach designed to improve the completion rates and effectiveness of self-paced training by integrating it with customized instructor-led practical labs. Learners gain information in levels, starting with the foundation in self-paced learning, and then practice what they’ve learned before they move on to more advanced learning. It’s ongoing, it builds and it works with flexible time schedules.
  • Real-time experiential learning workshops with intact project teams: Led by one or more expert instructors, these workshops provide intact project teams the skills to assess and implement the relevant disciplines, processes and artifacts to effectively launch or recover major initiatives in your environment. That way, they don’t leave the office, and they’re doing real work while the learning is occurring.
  • Mentoring programs that help people learn from each other: I have become a big proponent of mentoring, as it has helped me immensely in my career. Having a couple of individuals who can help a younger professional with difficult situations can be invaluable, not just in dealing with that current situation but also by providing the framework for a younger employee to learn to deal with complex interpersonal situations going forward.

As I was thinking about all of these factors impacting performance, I couldn’t help but recall the adage from Albert Einstein: The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results. If we see our leadership role as working to improve the performance of those who work for us (and as a result, the overall organization), rather than viewing performance improvement as just a training need, then we can develop scalable creative solutions to increase our organization’s performance.