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Frank J. Troha
is it there is never enough time to do a job right, but always
time enough to do it over?"
hope you'll never hear an outside consultant tell you that it will take
another $250,000 and an additional six months to complete your e-learning or
blended learning project. By blended learning I simply mean e-learning (or
online learning) combined with another venue, typically classroom training.
learning is hot and understandably so, combining the best features of online
learning (e.g., 24/7 accessibility) with the best features of classroom
instruction (e.g., live, face-to-face interaction). No doubt it's here to
stay. But why do so many blended learning initiatives turn into
frustrating boondoggles, consuming far more time and money than anyone
anticipated? The answer -- just as with most troubled initiatives -- can
be found in poor planning (i.e., instructional design), the bitter fruits of
which often appear during the implementation of training, or long after
substantial amounts of time, money and enthusiasm have been expended.
you and your staff have experience designing e-learning or blended learning,
it's critical that you at least attempt to define the major aspects of your
project before consulting with any outside service providers. The
rationale is simple. By deliberately thinking through, specifying in writing
and confirming -- with all internal parties involved -- who your
audience is, their learning objectives, the exact content to be covered,
constraints, etc., you'll be better positioned to: 1) understand the true
scope and nature of your
project 2) gain the support of all internal stakeholders early in the
process 3) efficiently and accurately communicate project scope and
requirements to potential providers 4) hire the best provider for the job,
and 5) confidently manage and monitor project tasks to ensure success.
First of Its Kind Model for the Design of Blended Learning
Bulletproof Model for the Design of Blended
Learning is intended to help guide you and your team through the
process of blended learning design. By virtue of its checks and balances,
you are essentially assured of a successful outcome.
the model is a list of sections for an instructional design document (Figure
1), which -- as it's developed and fine-tuned -- provides a vital discussion
document and focal point for all parties involved in the project.
Note: The following design model presumes a performance analysis has indicated the need for training, as opposed to another type of performance improvement intervention.
Based on the confirmed learning objectives, outline the topics and
subtopics that must be addressed by the training. Essentially, you and
your team (including any subject matter experts) should answer this question
for each learning objective: "If the audience is to be able
to accomplish this objective, what exactly do we need to cover?"
The output of this step should look like the table of contents in a
textbook, i.e., highly detailed, comprehensive and logically sequenced.
Next to each item listed in the content outline, note the type
of learning activity that is best able to convey the item of content to your
audience in a traditional classroom setting. The premise for noting only
in-class learning activities at this point in the design process -- instead
of both classroom activities and online activities -- is two-fold: 1) By
working within the context of the classroom -- a venue with which you're
probably very familiar -- you're establishing on paper the "ideal"
learning experience: live, face-to-face, instructor led and
peer-collaborative. 2) By virtue of having designed the
"ideal" learning experience, you have a tangible blueprint
("Content / Learning Activities Outline") that you can -- later in
the process -- pare back as much or as little as your particular
Develop a transfer of learning strategy, outlining what can be done
before, during and after training to make it
"stick". At this point, having produced a "Content /
Learning Activities Outline", you and your team would have a sense as
to how the manager of a participant might encourage his/her on-the-job
application of the content specified. This step is crucial, yet often
neglected. If learning is not transferred from the place of learning
to the place of work, there can be no return on investment. Prior to
training, the manager could, for example, review the course's learning
objectives with the participant and discuss their relevance to his/her
particular developmental needs. After training, the manager and participant
might discuss, fine tune and commit to implementing an action plan drafted
by the participant during training. Additionally, a second look at the
"Content / Learning Activities Outline" -- from the standpoint of
ensuring learning transfer -- might reveal additional opportunities for
skills practice and the distribution of quick reference tools (e.g.,
checklists, templates and memory joggers) for on-the-job use. The transfer
of learning strategy, which can include methods beyond those referred to
above (e.g., linkage to performance review criteria), is captured in writing
Develop an evaluation strategy, outlining how the effectiveness of
the training can be determined. A look back at the learning objectives
and the "Content / Learning Activities Outline" can help answer
these types of evaluation questions: After confirming the accuracy of course
materials with subject matter experts and other reviewers, will you test the
relevance, value and appeal of course materials (in the final draft stage)
by conducting "walk-throughs" with a sampling of your target
audience? Will you conduct a dry run so decision makers, influencers,
training personnel and others can assess the course prior to rollout? How
will you measure the target audience's degree of learning and behavioral
change? Given the nature of the training, can its impact on the organization
be determined? If so, which metrics will you use? How long after the
delivery of training should you wait before measuring its impact on the
organization? Answers to these types of evaluation questions are documented.
Identify and catalogue any existing documentation that may later be
used to facilitate course development (and thereby avoid reinventing the
wheel). In addition to detailing all topics and subtopics to be
addressed, the "Content /
Learning Activities Outline" represents a sort of shopping list for
directly relevant materials that may already exist in your organization
or elsewhere. Do your best to locate pertinent reports, articles, books,
videos, CDs and training programs that can potentially save time, money and
effort by eliminating the need to create your entire course from scratch.
Pre-packaged e-learning lessons related to a number of your training's
topics/subtopics may also be available and can be searched via the Internet.
Any subject matter experts working with you and your staff should prove
especially helpful in locating and assessing the potential value of existing
materials. Certainly, by virtue of their own expertise, subject matter
experts should be able to close any informational gaps left un-addressed by
your search for existing documentation. However, this should not occur until
after approval of a blended learning design has been received and the
go-ahead for development of courseware has been given. Here, in this step of
the design process, only a detailed listing of what is available and what
is lacking needs to be prepared.
Organize all outputs of the process thus far into an instructional
design document (i.e., discussion document) that will be used later (in Step
10) to communicate your preliminary design. See Figure 1.
Using the instructional design document, identify elements within the
"Content / Learning Activities Outline" for potential online
delivery. Since the intent is to combine the best of both worlds -- the
24/7 availability and efficient global delivery provided by online with the
live, face-to-face human interaction of the classroom -- elements of the
outline that appear to lend themselves to effective online delivery should
be highlighted by you and your staff. Such elements tend to include
content / learning activities
that are easily understood, straightforward or basic, e.g., key terms,
process overviews, guiding principles, self-assessments, etc.
Brief all internal people involved in the project on your design,
elicit their feedback and gain approval to proceed.
Getting buy-in from project sponsors, decision makers, content
experts and others at this point in the process is crucial. First, this
meeting should confirm whether you're on track in terms of what the target
audience needs and what management wants. Second, by virtue of providing the
opportunity for all involved to weigh in on the design, their continued
support is better ensured. And, third, you (and they) can feel confident
that you're ready to begin talking with blended learning experts who --
after being thoroughly briefed by you -- can offer their views on how they
would take your design to the "next level". Note: Because
technical questions may arise about the eventual delivery of proposed online
learning, it's recommended that your organization's IT function be
represented at this meeting.
Meet with blended learning providers with an eye toward: increasing
learning efficiency through 24/7 accessibility, fully optimizing precious
classroom time and ensuring optimal return on investment. Using the
design document as a roadmap for your meetings with providers, your
intentions and questions can be systematically addressed. Key outputs of
your meetings should include: 1) a clearer understanding on your part as to
what should be delivered online versus offline and why 2) a decision
as to which provider seems most appropriate for the job 3) which aspects of
the project can be accomplished using internal resources and 4) a revised
instructional design document ("Blended Learning Design
Document"), specifying in the "Content / Learning Activities"
section how each element of content would be addressed, including the venue
to be used and estimated time required. Other sections of the design
document (e.g., Duration [total online time vs. total classroom time],
Constraints, Evaluation Strategy, Transfer of Learning Strategy, etc.)
should also be adjusted, depending on decisions reached. Note: At these
meetings it's critical that your organization's IT function be represented.
Many of the outside experts' recommendations are likely to require a clear
understanding of your organization's current technological capabilities and
With your outside provider, present the blended learning
design to all in-house stakeholders (as in Step 10), elicit their feedback,
gain approval and identify next steps. A key part of this briefing is
comparing and contrasting the first approved design document (based on the
live, instructor-led classroom venue, but including the highlighting of
certain elements for possible online delivery) with the second design
document (based on the optimal blending of online and classroom venues
within the context of your organization's unique circumstances). By doing
so, the full extent of paring back (or extraction) of certain content /
learning activities (deemed suitable for online delivery) from the
classroom-based design document can be clearly seen, explained and
discussed. In the end, the potential benefits to be derived from a blended
approach should be made apparent to all. Typical benefits include:
reaching large numbers of learners "anywhere, anytime" and usually
much faster (and cheaper) than multiple classroom deliveries alone could;
reducing yet optimizing in-classroom time by limiting its use to instances
where the presence of a live instructor and face-to-face interaction among
participants is truly needed; automating training administration via a
proven Learning Content Management System; and reducing training costs
overall. Once the blended learning design is approved, next steps are
discussed and agreed upon before adjourning the meeting.
Ounce of Prevention...
often, corporate learning and development professionals delegate the design
of blended learning to their chosen outside provider. Perhaps they believe
they lack the time, instructional design skills or knowledge of the latest
learning technologies needed to effectively orchestrate and lead the
planning effort. The design model explained here is worth the time,
requires only basic instructional design skills to implement and even
includes learning firsthand about relevant, leading-edge technologies (step
With so many e-learning and blended learning initiatives, ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions, aren't the stakes too high to do anything less than take control from the very beginning?
J. Troha is an adult learning consultant and instructional designer with
over 24 years of experience, serving many of the world’s leading
corporations. Additionally, he’s Adjunct Associate Professor of
Instructional Design at Fordham University Graduate School of Education (New
York City) where he trains corporate learning and development professionals.
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