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The Best Learning Blends Online and Instructor-Led Courses

The Best Learning Blends Online and Instructor-Led Courses

by Adam Hickman and Shane McFeely

Story Highlights

  • All companies have to focus on development to compete for top talent
  • Blended learning techniques are best for adult learners
  • Learners retain more when they immediately apply what they've learned

Professional development is a critical concern for managers, L&D pros, HR leaders -- anybody in charge of leading or managing other professionals.

Companies invest a lot in their educational programs: well over a $1,000 per worker each year, on average. For that kind of money, a business needs to see and feel a substantial return on its investment.

That's why Gallup continuously evaluates the best way to teach and train adult workers.

With the explosion of online learning platforms and courses, the question of mode effectiveness becomes paramount.

Is learning more effective in live, instructor-led courses or online modules?

There are two schools of thought on that, and research is pointing to an answer: both are best, blended together in a program that reinforces learning.

But efficacy depends to some extent on learner preferences and needs, too.

Different Attributes

Perhaps the biggest advantage of instructor-led courses is that they engage learners in the material.

  • When a learner has trouble grasping a concept, a course leader can answer questions.
  • When learners do not see the relevance of the course content to their jobs, course leaders can help make those connections immediately.
  • And when learners want more information because they're excited about the subject matter, course leaders can encourage their discovery process and dive deeper.

Digital learning has other, but equally useful, qualities.

  • The on-demand nature of these learning platforms ensures workers can schedule learning around their calendar and workspace -- a big plus for remote workers or employees who work in offices far away from HQ.
  • Digital learning can also be scaled to reach a large number of workers and is not limited to physical classroom spaces.
  • And because digital learning is delivered over time, this mode of learning has the benefit of more natural opportunities for practice and reinforcement.

Applied Learning

Managers who want their teams to get the most out of learning need to know the learning preferences best suited for each worker, and then individualize.

However, studies indicate that whether the course is led in-person or delivered online, the material is reinforced when students can apply the content to their personal situations during instruction.

Adults need to participate in their own learning, so dynamic, interactive and cooperative courses work best -- involvement initiates ownership of the material.

It also helps when students get step-by-step, guided practice in class and "homework" assignments for independent practice later. This allows learners to master the material in different contexts.

That said, students should use what they learn right away.

Putting new knowledge and skills to work locks them in and allows for the learning content to transfer to on-the-job behaviors.

It also shows learners that their performance is on the right track, especially if they also receive feedback to reinforce and redirect it.

Workers Strive for a Culture of Development

There's something deeply satisfying about learning something new, especially when that learning removes barriers, reveals new approaches and improves employee performance.

That feeling is especially important for millennial workers -- who demand opportunities to learn and grow from their employers and who will leave if employers don't deliver them -- but all workers benefit from employer-offered learning opportunities.

And businesses know it.

Companies increasingly see the need to have workers who are continuously learning -- which is to say, they see the need to be a culture of learning and development.

In a competitive, market-driven business environment, success can depend on workers who can develop and apply knowledge, who can take advantage of opportunities and who can create more.

But to be a learning organization requires a culture of development and that takes a real investment in employee education.

That investment, the research shows, will get the best return when it's geared toward individual learning preferences -- which is the great advantage of a blended learning approach.

Blended learning strategies are most effective to help managers and their teams learn and grow. Bring blended learning to your organization:

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

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