by Jennifer Gibson

In the first article of our series, Blended Learning: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in High School, we shared the three critical elements for blended learning success: structure, support and accountability.  Let’s now focus on the first of those three elements – structure.

When we took our trip together in the Wayback Machine to our glorious high school days, we were reminded of our structured overall learning experience.  We were provided with a schedule of our classes and each class had its own unique syllabus that laid out the schedule of assignments and deliverables for the entire semester.  We knew in advance what chapters we had to read, when we would have quizzes and tests and when assignments such as research papers and reports were due.  This allowed us to plan in advance and better manage our time to ensure we were able to meet goals and complete our assignments on time.  I realize that not all of us were consistently diligent and that sometimes we might have checked a syllabus and thought, “Oh no! I completely forgot about that assignment!” (and then tried to complete it on the bus ride to school).  But the point is that we were told what to expect and when to expect it, so that we were able to plan accordingly and we could be held accountable.

In high school, we know that this approach worked because it gave us the information we needed to plan our time, stay on track and complete our goals.  So why do a lot of learning programs implemented today leave out the critical element of structure?  In my career as a consultant, when I’ve recommended a structured approach, most often the reaction is extremely positive.  But I have sometimes been met with resistance in the form of, “These employees are adults.  We should treat them like adults and they should take responsibility for getting this done.”  When did providing structure around a learning program become spoon-feeding?  Yes, we are adults but we are busy  adults with busy lives and most of us are running around at a million miles per minute trying to get things done and not drop any balls.  We need help!  And that’s ok!

Just like when we take on a project at work, having the right tools makes all the difference; we use project plans, we create milestones, we allocate resources, we schedule regular meetings, and we create status reports to keep everyone on track.  This structured approach works just as well for learning programs and can result in higher completion rates, a more effective learning experience and ultimately bigger organizational impact.

One way to provide learners with the structure they need is to create a comprehensive Program Guide that includes a detailed schedule along with all the additional information they need to participate –right at their fingertips.  You might be thinking…how do I build a Program Guide? What goes into it?  Below is a list of recommendations that you should strive to incorporate into any Program Guide:

  • A link to the recorded Program Kick-off (every learning program should have a kick-off!)
  • Program objectives
    • Include the WIIFM (What’s in it for me?)
    • Include how their participation will benefit/impact the organization
  • Expectations for participation
    • A high-level timeline for the program with milestones
    • Approximate time commitment on a weekly/monthly basis
    • Recommendations for finding the time they need to participate, i.e. speaking to their manager, avoiding distractions, carving out time over lunch, etc.
    • The consequences of not participating, i.e. if the program is a performance goal or if it will impact their performance review or eligibility for promotion, bonus, etc.
  • A detailed, week-by-week schedule
    • Include any/all activities such as reading assignments, watching videos, completing an e-learning course, performing a task, etc.
    • Provide due dates for when assignments and activities should be complete
    • Provide the approximate duration of the assignments and activities, so participants can allocate adequate time to get them done
    • When possible, include hyperlinks directly to the documents, videos, courses, and even the LMS, so that participants can click and go
  • How to get help
    • Contact information for technical support
    • Contact information for questions about the content of the program
  • Detailed, step-by-step instructions for accessing the learning resources
    • If using an LMS, walk participants through the process of signing in and navigating to the materials
    • If materials are hosted on another platform, such as a SharePoint site or intranet site, provide step-by-step guidance, with hyperlinks when possible, for accessing what they need

By providing your learning program participants with a “one-stop-shop” document containing all the program information, tools and resources, you’re giving them the STRUCTURE they need to succeed!

What other information might you include in a Program Guide?  Can you think of a learning program that you participated in where a more structured approach might have helped you be more successful? What are some reasons why organizations may not leverage a structured approach to their learning programs?