Training is a big-budget item every year. Making decisions about what your team needs to learn and where they should learn are important decisions. Those decisions can impact how much time they spend away from their day-to-day duties and how much time they can dedicate to upskilling. New training technologies, techniques, and learning systems can help you train your employees more efficiently and cost-effectively. It pays to think about the best ways you can reach your training goals, whether that’s through remote online training, in-person workshops, or a blended learning approach.
Computer-based training makes it easy to offer unified training across vast geographic distances. However, some topics are better delivered in a live setting. But using a blended learning approach means you don’t have to choose between the two training methods.
Remote Online Training
For many agencies, remote, or virtual training, is the clear answer. It’s a useful, cost-effective way to give your staff new skills or refresh ones they already have. Plus, it’s safer than sitting in a conference room with dozens of other people during a pandemic.
An online course is one where most or all of the curriculum is presented online. It’s very fast, and it’s often less expensive than other options. It can be, well, remote. The best online courses should be created to be engaging and relevant.
On-site training requires that everyone be in the same place at the same time to learn. Most organizations do this through workshops, seminars, on-the-job peer training, or other face-to-face methods.
In-person training can be effective and it’s often required for some jobs. Expect to pay more for this kind of staff learning, however. You may have to pay for trainers to come to your location or pay for your staff to go to another location.
Blended learning, sometimes called hybrid learning, merges traditional face-to-face methods with online learning. This is a common method of training that addresses many of the shortcomings of a purely online or a purely in-person strategy.
In a blended learning program, workers would complete online courses or parts of online courses. Then, they would meet up in person for demonstrations or workshops that work best in a live format.
Take the example of the Office of Healthy Communities (OHC) at the Washington Department of Health. The Office of Healthy Communities combined the best elements of in-person and online training to implement a blended learning model for their statewide community health worker training program (read more in the case study). OHC allows its network of facilitators around Washington to supplement a brief live session with an in-depth online course that contains assessments, assignment tools, and collaboration.
The training model is efficient, lean, and scalable. This allows it to meet funding variables and limitations. It also makes training fast and easy, which can be difficult in Washington. It’s a large state with rural pockets not easily accessible for traditional in-person learning programs.
“E-learning allows us to reach remote areas of the state to teach community health workers. Staff only need to stay one day in each location so it lowers costs of delivering the training significantly,” says Debbie Spink, instructor and community health worker training system coordinator. “We need the support of the online curriculum. It would be cost-prohibitive to offer this training only in-person.”
Blended Learning: How To Use It at Your Agency
Is a blended learning approach right for your organization? Here are five secrets of what it takes to build a winning program.
Set educational goals
Saving money and expanding training capacity might be the overall goals of moving to a blended model. But you should set educational goals that fit the new strategy.
Setting and reaching goals is also important to your staff. They need to see how their work fits in with the larger objectives of your agency. Taking the time to work with them to set targets helps them understand how they’re part of the organization and positively affects their performance.
Find ways to set small reasonable goals from the beginning, such as offering short courses for skill enhancement or in languages for a small set of your learner audience. Start small, document successes, and then plan to expand.
Include Trainers from the Start
A new training strategy does not mean your training staff will be out of a job, but they might not realize that. Remember to include your training staff from the beginning and remind them that the technology is a complement to their work in a face-to-face setting. Work with them to identify ways to use technology as a tool rather than a job replacement.
Support Learner Needs
Not all learners learn the same way: Some are better visual learners, some do fine with self-paced study, and others may have different language skills.
When you start planning for a blended training program, minimally start by looking at what your workers and your organization need. Likely, your organization will have more factors you’ll need to assess.
Doing a needs assessment will allow you to match your findings with a learning technology or other solution, that matches your learner population.
Get Your Employees Excited About Learning
Change is a frightening word in some organizations, and not always welcome. But if you want your training investment to pay off and help your staff retain knowledge and new skills, you’ll need to do some cheerleading.
Head off any pushback from trainers, participants, and administrative staff by focusing on excitement and motivation from the very beginning.
In general terms, this means ensuring your staff knows why they’re taking training and that the value is clear. It also means giving them educational materials that are designed for adult learners. Grown-ups need to juggle competing demands, preferred learning styles, and their own familiarity with the delivery method.
Be ready with a list of benefits and get buy-in early. Listening and being open is often the best way to address concerns. Here are some more tips on motivating distance learners.
Adapt and Evaluate
A blended learning model is new for many organizations, and new systems can be a challenge to implement.
Many administrators view evaluation as time-consuming and costly, but they shouldn’t. In fact, by ignoring how well (or poorly) your training program is engaging participants and making a difference in their work, you could be wasting time and money.
As you roll out your blended learning program, frequently evaluate it so you can quickly identify problems and address them.
The Best Training Is the Right Training
The most important takeaway when choosing a method for training your team is to find the right one that works for them. The best training—the kind that people remember and can use on the job right away—is the kind they relate to. It should be engaging, not intimidating, and empowering so when they have their new skills, they’re ready to go.