Designing and building a blended learning programme can be both exciting and daunting at the same time! It is a great opportunity to create a learning solution that delivers behaviour change and successful outcomes for both the learners and their organisation. With this much impact, it’s important to get it right!
So where do you start? Well, certainly not at the beginning, that’s for sure.
7 steps to build a blended learning programme
Here are our 7 suggested steps to build a blended learning programme:
- Purpose, purpose, purpose.
- Ask “Who are your learners?”
- Decide on content.
- Communication and engaging your learners.
- Maintaining momentum.
- End with a bang!
We will explore each of these steps in detail below:
1. Purpose, purpose, purpose
We always begin with the very end. Purpose, purpose, purpose. What is this programme setting out to achieve? What are the outcomes that it needs to deliver for their learners and the organisation? What do your learners need to be thinking, feeling and doing differently as a result of this programme?
For example, are you looking for a behavioural change? An improvement in service? An uplift in sales or better engagement scores? Increased readiness? Better management? The list is endless.
Once you have established what outcome you are looking for, the next question to ask is; how will we know when we have achieved it? Is it something that can be measured in numbers or is it more observational?
Then, also ask, how does the required outcome compare to the reality now? Identifying this is important, because it highlights the gap in your learning that you are looking to meet.
It is key to take the time to establish the purpose/outcome of the programme before planning anything else, as once this is clear, the overall planning of the programme becomes much easier. Every decision you make about what stays in and what is left out becomes clearer and cleaner by asking; does it help us to achieve our purpose? If not, it doesn’t make the final edit.
2. Ask “Who are your learners?”
This is helpful to establish early on as, once again, it will inform some of the choices you make in learning approaches that you will build into the programme.
For example, where are they based? Are they all in one location or grouped across just a few locations that will allow for a lot of Face to Face (F2F) training? Or are they remote/spread out across many locations which will make F2F learning more challenging?
Asking questions like this means that you will know whether to build in F2F sessions or whether to drop them in favour of more virtual workshops to facilitate learning together.
Different locations around the world can also mean different time zones. These will need to be taken into consideration for any synchronous learning.
Also take time to consider the working environment and the demands of learners’ roles. Are they able to flex their work to make time for the learning required?
An example of this not working so well was a year-long blended learning programme for managers in a retail environment we became familiar with. In smaller stores, with less staff and busier times of year, they just couldn’t take the time off from their shop floor duties in order to invest in the learning required from the programme. This left some of them stressed, falling behind and ultimately losing their enthusiasm for the programme or their belief that they could even complete it.
3. Decide on content
Our advice is to steer away from how you will deliver the programme at this stage and instead focus on what the topics and areas of learning are; what models, knowledge and processes are required in order to meet the required outcome.
Get creative and come up with more ideas than you need so that you have plenty of choice when it comes to prioritising and editing. Think of it as creating a smorgasbord of what could be used.
Next part of this step is to begin editing, prioritising and deciding on ways to deliver each piece of content. It is best practice to separate this step as “choosing the content” stage and “choosing approach” stage, but the reality is that they overlap. Sometimes you might find yourself debating whether a topic stays in or is left out, but then decide that you could leave it in as an optional extra for those wanting to extend their learning further, or who might have additional interest in this topic.
Say for example, the topic is “Building Confidence”. You might have considered a Virtual workshop on this topic, but then opt instead to point those with an interest/need in this area to complete a couple of Ted Talks instead. You could even organise some 1-1 coaching for those who need even more guidance.
Now that we have chosen the content, the next step is to build it into the blended learning programme.
Combine a mix of approaches that will compliment the learners’ working styles and ultimately deliver the required outcome. Remember that everything should point towards moving your learners closer to the outcome that you are looking to achieve.
If you would like some ideas on the different building blocks that can make up a Blended Learning programme, we have another blog which explores your options – here.
- Virtual Workshops
- F2F Workshops
- … and more!
As you build out the programme, consider timing; what will need to be done synchronously and what can happen asynchronously?
Be super clear to your learners on what is required to be completed and what is optional. We often see learners in blended learning programmes get really frustrated when they have spent time getting learning that they thought was a requirement and it turned out to be an optional “if you have the time”, then found themselves with not enough time to complete other aspects.
As you build out the programme, that is the time to get organised in booking suppliers and trainers, planning in time for design work and thinking about your overall branding of the programme; titles and engaging with your LMS is you are using one.
5. Communication and engaging your learners
You will no doubt be super excited at this stage. Your blended learning newborn is coming on well, but your learners know very little about it yet.
As you begin to engage with your learners, it is essential that you get your communications right. We’ve seen organisations get this wrong on many occasions. An example is where the L&D team were excited about a blended talent programme they had created. They were convinced the learners would love it too, so kept as much of the information back as they could, to share as a surprise with them on the first day of the programme. As the group weren’t in on any of the surprises, this meant they also had no idea why they were there in the first place.
As a minimum, learners need to know:
- The purpose of the programme
- Why they have been chosen to take part
- What personal purpose they can gain from the programme
- The rationale behind why it has been designed in such a way
- Timelines of what to expect
- Overview (ideally visually) of what the programme entails
- Expectation of their involvement; time required etc
- Clarity on optional vs required activities
- Key points of contact
- Who else is on the programme with them
- How to navigate, update any LMS system you may be using
- What to do if they have any concerns or need any support
It is also helpful for the managers of the learners attending the programme to also know all of the above, along with clear expectations of their role so that they can fully support their team member throughout the programme.
6. Maintaining momentum
So you have got your programme off to a flying start; well done! The learners are full of enthusiasm and determination to get stuck in and that’s great. So, what next?
Too often, the energy and hype that (quite rightly) flares around the kick off of a programme dissolves over time and the learners can be left moving through the programme, but somewhat forgotten.
How to combat this?
Keep the communication going throughout. A forum, (WhatsApp group, Yammer, Discord) is a great way for learners to stay connected, share ideas, ask questions and celebrate successes along the way. You can also find other ways of ensuring they feel supported and of interest. If, for example, you have a senior manager kick things off at the start, have them check in with the group a few times throughout the programme to show they are still interested and care about the progress the group is making.
Check with the managers too, to ensure they are continuing to be able to give the necessary support to their team members, and that they know what is happening.
Also, make time to check in with the individuals on a 1-1 level from time to time to see how they are getting on and if they require any support.
Make notes of any feedback, either formally or informally, throughout so that you can tweak the programme as necessary and thus remain responsive to the needs of the group.
7. End with a bang!
With many blended learning programmes involving elements of self-directed learning, it can take real effort and gumption for learners to maintain the required level of focus until the end. This determination and progress that they have made needs to be recognised and their success celebrated.
Consider how you will conclude your blended learning programme on a high!
Of course it depends on the size and length of the programme as to how this might look. A longer programme might deserve some sort of graduation celebration, either via F2F or virtually. Will your learners receive a certificate? Or an e-badge that they can upload proudly to their LinkedIn profile?
What happens next? Have you considered any next steps or follow up? Will the group network stay in touch with each other?
Perhaps you could record some talking heads of what the learners achieved from the programme and what advice they could offer to others about how to get the best from the programme that could be shared with future learners?
By following through these steps and especially paying close attention to establishing the proper foundations to your blended learning programme, you will be able to build an engaging and successful blended learning experience for your learners.
Remember the key points to success; always start at the end, have the required outcome at the front of your mind throughout and keep your group feeling supported and relevant until the end of your programme. Good luck!