Recently I presented a facilitated session on the importance of managing business value within our organization. While this may sound like a routine training class to you, it was not.

  • The information that I covered during the two-hour session is on our company intranet site.
  • There are several e-Learning modules which present this same information in great detail.
  • Several of our teams engage in this process on a daily basis.

So why was I facilitating this class? Because the team members had requested that a facilitator guide them through the process; they wanted to “put a face on the training.” I am working in India — self-paced learning is still very new here.

Moving from standard instructor-led classrooms to more self-paced and blended learning solutions has many benefits, but it also presents a challenge: the reduction, or elimination, of face-to-face contact. While it is important to focus on developing strong training content and optimizing the use of technology, we need to remember the true heart of the blended learning experience. It’s not the actual content or the fancy packaging that speaks loudest to the learner, it’s in the connection to people — the trainers, coaches, SMEs, managers, or coworkers — who share their experience, facilitate activities, and help transform theory into practice. It is the people in your organization who most easily influence the learning process, and this is especially true in the global training environment where context may need to be clarified or defined further.

So as we continue moving towards using more blended learning, are we truly getting the “right mix”?

Words, alone, do not teach us. We need to make the connection between information and experience to truly learn. Although we can gain experience through virtual simulations and interactions, I’ve found the right mix for blended learning includes a balance of self-paced and face-to-face activities. For example, if we are using e-Learning to level-set our learners, at what point do we add a facilitated workshop to reinforce the concepts? What about the concept of “try and apply?” Utilizing simulations gets us very close, but person-to-person interactions can help make that connection to reality even more “real” by allowing us to ask questions, share personal experiences, and apply knowledge.

Although the most powerful interactions are in person, face-to-face interactions don’t necessarily need to be in the same physical space. We can leverage technology to help us bridge the gap. Thanks to video conferencing and online workshops, we can connect with each other in real time across thousands of miles. Video conferencing brings the best of both worlds — the real and the virtual — together in collaboration. There is power in presence. People connect and emit energy, even on screen!

Since moving to India to deliver training at our Target India offices, I've realized the value of connecting our learners directly with people to effectively optimize the learning experience. In a land where traditional pedagogy is still widely accepted, shifting the Indian corporate learning environment towards more self-directed e-Learning and Web-based training is, indeed, a challenge; but it's also an opportunity to introduce a genuinely blended learning experience. By optimizing the sharing of experiences between learners, and the enthusiasm of a live person (or “almost” live, in the case of video conferencing!), we help to guide our learners to the information, and to the people who can help them navigate through the process.

When considering a blended approach to training delivery, here are some questions to consider:

  • When does the role of face-to-face interaction and application become more critical than presenting the information alone?
  • When will our content raise questions best answered by a facilitator?
  • How do we assist our learners to connect the information to experience?
  • How could an open lab, workshop, or facilitated session help to reinforce the application of my training content?

The true heart of blended learning is creating a shared experience. You can support the success of this connection by:

  • Optimizing face-to-face contact;
  • Applying theory into practice on the job;
  • Enhancing the facilitator’s ability to lead by example; and
  • Leveraging the power of presence.

Let’s continue to embrace technology, encourage self-directed learning, and support the development of online knowledge management tools. At the same time, let’s also remember to keep the head balanced with the heart. Let’s remember the value of human contact and the benefits of sharing our experiences, for in that connection is the true heart of the blended learning experience.