Is Blended Learning on the menu for future courses?   
29 Sep 2016

Is Blended Learning on the menu for future courses?  


categories: Experiential Learning

All of us in Learning and Development know that our subject is undergoing massive change. E-learning, in its various forms, seems to be the main topic that academics and many practitioners talk about – but I can’t help feeling that we need to separate the practical facts from what is theoretically possible, and assess what is likely to be delivered in the training market over the next couple of years.

That is the timescale that the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) set itself in its latest (17th) annual Learning & Development survey. The authors asked 485 industry practitioners what were their most used categories of learning: and what were the most effective.

That allows us to get a more definitive than usual handle on four important questions:

  1. What do we do now?
  2. Which method works and which doesn’t?
  3. Where are the big disparities?
  4. How will things change in the future?

Here is how the different identified categories fared:

Most used % Most effective % Disparity %
On-the-job training 48 47 -1
In-house development programmes 46 34 -12
Coaching by line managers/peers 32 40 +8
E-learning courses 29 12 -17
External conferences, workshops, events 27 15 -12
Instructor-led training, off the job 27 20 -7
Blended learning 19 19 =
Formal education courses 17 12 -5
Coaching by external practitioners 12 16 +4


Let’s look briefly at how each of these techniques were rated:

On-the-job had a solid result – it’s consistently the most trusted way of training someone, and for obvious reasons. It will probably always be so.

In-house programmes had a bad rating – nearly half of companies are using them but only a third find them effective. I would ask, can in-house trainers expect to achieve best-in-class results without external assistance?

Coaching by managers and peers was one of only two techniques to be rated more potentially effective than to actually be in use: this is really a subset of on-the-job training but a more focused one, not strictly learning the nuts and bolts of the job but looking at the person involved and finding the best way for them to perform well.

E-learning: well, this is the big one. This is where the mobile learning revolution is supposed to take over all other methods. In which case, the verdict of experts so far is a thumbs-down. This has the greatest disparity of results versus application of any learning method. Not that we should deny the important role that it will play – but these results should warn that mobile, individual e-learning needs to be carefully controlled from the centre, and that the content and context of the learning are critical. Another finding in the report was that there is a skills gap in L&D, with a lack of confidence in using learning technology. This is a barrier to e-implementation.

External conferences, workshops, events: this may seem like a fairly big black mark for learning companies  – but the category is very diffuse. ‘Conferences’ in my experience never teach a great deal. They are usually morale-boosting and social exercises. ‘Events’ covers a wide spectrum. ‘Workshops’ are closer to what we for instance at ProfitAbility provide: but we have to be careful with our terminology because other workshops can be underwhelming, PowerPoint-heavy awaydays.

Instructor-led, off the job: I never advocate the use of an instructor. I am proud of my role as an expert facilitator, drawing out of the participants the innate capabilities that they possess, yet in most cases have never realised it. They learn by their own mistakes: and they learn by doing – not by being instructed. Only this way do they remember the learning, and implement it back at work.

Blended learning: for those who have yet to practise it (81% of you, if this sample is representative), this is a mixture of formal face-to-face courses with a degree of participant control over when, where and how the rest of their learning takes place – which in practice increasingly means e-learning (often m-learning, AKA mobile learning) rather than reading textbooks. More on this method below: just to note that for effectiveness this scores way better than pure e-learning.

Formal courses are of course often undertaken with employer assistance to help the worker gain a qualification – sometimes but not always to the benefit of their in-work effectiveness. The person is paid more in recognition: but becomes more marketable and often leaves.

Coaching by external practitioners: this is where we at ProfitAbility occupy a bespoke niche, and the operative word is ‘coaching’ – not telling. Most of our work is done with directors and managers, albeit at many levels, and when you tailor a course for an organisation’s specific needs, the effect is massively powerful. Note well that coaching, internal and external, are the only methods that get better ratings for effectiveness than for actual usage.

 Blended Learning – the way forward

It is likely that the forecast growth in e-learning will have a heavy bias towards on-the-job and in-house training where the more mechanistic learning can be computerised.

When it comes to more complex, nuanced learning programmes, I believe that our approach will win out, focusing (as we increasingly do) on the blending of computerised preparation for a course, a mix of hands-on and computer learning in-course, and the creation of action plans and follow-through being carried out on mobile devices.

Another use of blended learning is in cascading learning down through a company, following pure face-to-face courses for the most senior levels.


If you doubt that this is the way of the future, then consider that 40% of respondents in this CIPD survey forecast that blended learning will grow ‘in the next two years’. That result was arrived at last year – and I am already seeing the forecast coming true.

And I co-host regular free opportunities for you to sample the best in experiential learning techniques – when we put you and fellow L&D and HR professionals through two shortened programmes. It’s a fun and very worthwhile day, usually held at the IoD in London. Secure one of the places in the next Open Day now

Richard Young is Practice Head, Leadership, Teamwork & Team Building, at ProfitAbility



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