It seems logical to always be looking for the “best” solution in business. But trying to pinpoint one “best” way of learning – and therefore educating – ignores the well proven theory that learners are individuals and there are many relevant and valid learning “styles”.
Delivering content in one “best” way will undoubtedly miss the mark for many of the individuals involved in the training. Think back to when you were at school, perhaps there were some teachers, subjects or lessons that resonated for you in a way they didn’t for other pupils. Why is that? Why do students naturally go down one route over another as they move through their education, only for us to put everyone back in the same training room once we get to the world of work.
That “one best way” will also miss the opportunity to reap the benefits of different delivery methods; cost savings, networking, practical experience, value add from case studies, the ability to ask questions or revisit resources – to name just a few.
In 1982 Peter Honey and Alan Mumford developed David Kolb’s earlier theory of “experiential learning” into one of the best-known learning styles models. Their work focused on how people use learning in practice, particularly in a work setting. They identified four distinct styles: Activist, Pragmatist, Reflector and Theorist
- Reflectors want the opportunity to gather information and reflect before they come to a conclusion.
- Theorists prefer the chance to learn new ideas and fit them into existing theories before they put them into practice.
- Activists relish the opportunity to “jump in” at an appropriate stage of the process, and learn and try out new techniques.
- Pragmatists see the techniques they’re learning firmly grounded in reality, with practical benefit and relevance to the workplace explained from the outset.
VAK is a model proposed by Walter Burke Barbe, an educational psychologist, to refer to Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic (movement, touch and physicality) modes of learning. This is very helpful in thinking about a learner’s preference for physical experiences, diagrams or lectures in their education.
But none of these models help us to identify one “best” way to train. Rather they underline the difficult truth that whatever we are doing right now as a facilitator, we are probably turning off more people in the group than we are engaging. It is also true that the science is not that strong for placing learners into only one category per model. Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield says “Humans have evolved to build a picture of the world through our senses working in unison, exploiting the immense interconnectivity that exist between the senses in the brain. It is when the senses are activated together – the sound of a voice in synchronisation with the movement of a person’s lips for example – that brain cells fire more strongly than when stimuli are received apart”
So how should we tackle this issue in our approach to training and coaching in the modern business world?
The concept of blended learning is not new, but the application has often been clunky, with elements of e-learning, face to face and assessments being developed and delivered by different suppliers, different parts of a business or without proper reference to the learning experience or objective as a whole.
In her 2018 paper “Blended Learning”, Kate Cobb, Director of the Learning Design Studio defines blended learning as;
She notes that blended learning solutions should include reference to face-to-face and on-line learning elements, but also consider the degree of participant control.
The benefits of a blended learning experience are profound – better engagement across intergenerational workforces, cost savings, flexibility in delivery and easier application of new skills in the workplace.
At GBB Coaching & Consultancy, we have been developing “blendable” elements to training solutions for years – video assets, on-line assessments, actor-led role-plays, telephone coaching, experiential modules, live case-studies with industry speakers, immersive events, apps, bespoke board games and many other examples.
As technology, particularly mobile platforms, has developed, we have seen an increasing move towards “snackable” bite-size training, delivered at the point in time and place that it is needed most. This has allowed us to look at the whole learner journey as one blended experience, rather than a series of stand-alone training interventions – e-learning pre-work, face-to-face classroom session, email survey for evaluation, web-hosted quiz for assessment.
Now a 1-day training programme might look more like this:
- Delegate receives link and log-in details to the training portal
- Video introduction to the topic and training structure
- Self-assessment of current competence and confidence in these areas through an on-line tool
- Delegate is able to upload specific questions or objectives that they have for the training to allow the facilitator to shape the face-to-face training to the individual
- Delegate completes an e-learning exercise on the topic which starts to shape their understanding of the tools that will be used in the facilitated session
- Delegate attends a live, facilitated workshop. This may be delivered face-to-face or in a virtual classroom. During this session, on-line workbooks and further video and technology assets may be used
- After the live sessions, the delegate completes a post-course exercise to check their understanding and application of the skills. They upload evidence of this to the facilitator via the portal
- Delegate receives a scheduled video coaching session with the facilitator to give feedback on their post-course exercise
- Delegate completes a further self-assessment of current competence and confidence in these course topics through the on-line tool
- Delegate receives a further scheduled video coaching session with the facilitator to support them with the implementation of their new skills
- Delegate completes a final evaluation survey on their learning experience and the result
The 1-day “shot in the arm” has now become a truly blended, engaging and supported experience spread over 3 or 4 weeks, with the timescale driven by the learner. There are multiple touch points, a real mixture of different styles of learning and a focus on implementation and changed behaviour. There is repetition of themes and knowledge to aid retention and there is measurement before, during and after the programme that allows facilitators to make interventions that ensure success. On-line elements are two-way communication opportunities that allow learners and facilitators to establish goals and paths that work for each individual.
There is an old training adage – tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. In the new blended learning world, this simplified training structure takes on new power as different delivery channels, learning styles and modes of interaction are employed throughout the experience.