I’ve always reached for a glass of orange juice (OJ) in the morning, but through the years I found I needed a little bit more than my daily dose of “Florida Sunshine.” I’ve blended in various fruits and other juices to add some variety to my morning routine. Some items I found around the house, and others I purchased specifically for my mad scientist blends. I created combinations that were good, and others were never to be repeated. I included strawberries, kiwis, blueberries, almond milk, protein powder and unusual items like dragon fruit, star fruit or Asian pears.

What does this have to do with the learning world, aside from the knowledge that a quality breakfast sets you up for a great day? This example illustrates a blended approach. One size does not fit all for our own tastes or nutritional needs, so why would a one-size-fits-all approach make sense for your learning department?

Instructor-led training (ILT) has long been the go-to method for disseminating information, just like orange juice is a staple in a smoothie. But, that doesn’t mean OJ is always the best ingredient, nor does it mean you MUST use it. If the situation calls for a different approach, dig into your learning cabinet and see if a workshop, a small group session, or interactive e-learning might benefit your learners more than traditional ILT.

Blended learning is a great approach that combines digital and in-person learning to create learning programs that are impactful and interactive. Blended learning is flexible, customizable and can appeal to all learning styles and needs. We know people learn and retain information differently, and if learners are learning in their own way, they have a greater chance of truly remembering, and applying, what they have learned.

Allowing for several different styles, types and modes of learning, learning managers will give staff members a better chance of absorbing new information in a way that makes sense for them. Plus, it fits in with tight schedules! Taking a whole day to sit in an eight-hour ILT class can be disruptive. But taking four or five one-hour e-learning courses throughout the week can help you manage your time and keep you from missing out on important daily tasks.

Creating a Blended Approach

Blended learning is proving to be very effective, but it’s not always the easiest approach. A glass of OJ in the morning is simple. Shake, open and pour. You’re done! Blending does take more thought and effort. Do I have everything I want in the house? Do I need to shop? Will it taste like I want it to? A training organization with a staff of trainers can add or remove classes to and from a training calendar with much less effort than a full blended solution.

Creating a blended solution will take an analysis of budgets, resources, talent, risks, sponsors, technology, and more. Which modalities do you choose? Will they be embraced by the learners? Will the training provide the results desired? It can be a daunting task and can mean a complete change to your department’s business plan. However, the results of a fully scoped blended learning solution can be extremely beneficial for your organization. Sales increase. Employee morale is boosted. Customer satisfaction goes up.

Customizing the Blend

Once you have a good handle on what types of trainings you can offer, what you may already have and what you may need to ‘shop’ for, you can get started. A blended approach with many different learning ingredients ensures that you are giving employees a choice to make themselves a learning smoothie that works best for them. Some people learn best through a directed learning program and others learn best building their own. A personalized, blended learning program may include digital learning, social learning, mentoring or lectures.

Just as some people like pineapple juice better than orange juice in their morning smoothies, each learning choice is going to be unique. When you offer diverse and easily accessible learning options, learners can wake up and make themselves the smoothie they need from the various ingredients provided them.

In some cases, you may not have enough of one ingredient and may have no choice but to blend in something else. Maybe you wake up one morning and only want a glass of orange juice. You reach for the OJ only to find there isn’t enough in the carton to have a full glass of juice, so you have no choice but to blend in other ingredients.

This applies to learning departments, too. Smaller departments or organizations may not have an in-house, full-time instructor, nor the budget to contract out. But, they may have a great staff that can design quick reference guides, monitor group study sessions, or host interactive workshops where everyone contributes.

What if you work for a larger company and need to deliver a new system training to your staff, scattered around the country? What if you think ILT is the only way to go? Are you confident you can stay in budget and reach all types of learners with just instructor-led classes? That may not be the right approach…for your team, or your wallet.

If you don’t have enough staff to deliver the training, other work would have to stop, costing bottom line dollars. If there isn’t enough budget to hire a contingent workforce, then you can’t send trainers to every location. Plus, you may be working around vacations, holidays or other events that may keep some of your staff from attending the classes.

It’s time to blend in other modalities to make it happen. The best approach is to work with what you have and create a customized learning smoothie.

ILT should be used where it makes sense, like at your headquarters where most, if not all, of your staff sits. Virtual instructor-led training (VILT) can be added to accommodate remote staff and cut down on travel expenses. VILT can even be used on-site to train a large group of attendees who may not fit in one conference room or auditorium. And don’t forget, e-learning can be created from original presentations to provide training for those who were on summer vacation, or those who may join the company at a later date.

Certain Situations Call for Certain Ingredients

I’ve often equated creating the perfect breakfast smoothie to learning challenges that are shared from our clients. The standard in the past was to go for ILT – the orange juice – but through the years we’ve made learning smoothies with computer-based training, simulations, graphic novels, gamification, and more. There are times now when the orange juice never even makes it to the blender. With technology constantly evolving, I wonder what the next ingredient will be that we can add to the smoothie. Whatever it is, we will be eager to give it a try.